“In China, where sacred mountains are a dime a dozen, the one that matters most is Tai Shan”
China Travel Guide,Lonely Planet.
One of the wonders of the world’s modern cities is the amount of available means to leave them. With the new high speed train running between Shanghai and Beijing, being able to exit these mega metropolises is even easier. A perfect weekend away for the ardent adventurer is to get dropped off at the stop in between the cities at Tai’an in Shandong Province, the gateway to Mount Tai. This magnificent mountain is the site of an amazing pilgrimage that predates Christ. Be warned, there are over 6000 steps to the peak on this journey, the route helped along with cliffs and caves covered in carved Chinese characters, traditional poems to read on the way.
The rush to get onto the carriages of Chinese trains is similar to scenes at a shopping complex during a once in a lifetime sale. The Chinese will RUN, PUSH and BARGE all that is around to commandeer a space. This base instinct, a survival of the fittest mentality, is futile for all seats are pre-reserved with well trained ushers on hand to control any up-spurs. The train as well as being super fast is super comfortable. The dining carriage offers drinks if you are that way inclined, however it would be wise to keep the barman’s attention focused on restocking his tiny fridge whilst the contents are being emptied. Unless of course you’ve been in China long enough to be accustomed with drinking warm beer.
Tickets for the fast CRH trains can be bought at offices around the cities or through C-trip online who also deliver. Don’t bother lining up to buy tickets at the station, the wait is longer than the trip.
China prides itself on its long history and the trail to the tip of Taishan is regarded as ancient. The climb up up up Mount Tai, passing through Taoist monasteries still in operation today. Expect to see pilgrims burning holy incense and monks chanting or just pottering around. You need to enter these monasteries in some instances as the steps keep ascending through the numerous gates of the ancient religious buildings. There is no escaping the hoards of tourists who will also be on the trail. Expect to stop for photos with excited mainlanders who rarely see ‘foreign devils ‘. At the start of the climb this posing can be fun, but just like your legs, will become tiresome as the day progresses. If you are lucky to find a local with enough English, you could ask for a translation of one of the many poems carved into the rock face.
Give yourself an hour or two to wander around the peak, packed at the main gate and entrance, but still large enough that you can walk around the mountain and find a hidden spot to relax in solitude. The views are spectacular on a clear day. It was here that Confucius proclaimed, ‘The world is small‘ and also of historically significance, the place where China’s first emperor united the ancient kingdoms, around 200 BC. The peak is also a great place to have a Qingdao, relax the legs, take in some fresher air than found below and contemplate. Contemplate the walk down that is!
(All photos @ nickisalwaysonholidays)