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Published: April 24th 2011
I’m not really sure where to start this blog other than to say that today was one of the most amazing experiences I have had to date, not just on this trip, but on any trip. My journey to Qing Cheng Mountain, one of China’s most famous Daoist mountains, began this morning at 8am when myself and four of my friends caught a cab to the Chengdu train station. As it happened, four of us already had our tickets, but our 5th traveler Anne did not. We arrived at the massive train station and headed off to the ticket booth to get her a ticket so she could join us on our journey to the mountain. After standing in line for almost 15 minutes, we got to the counter only to be told we had to go to a different counter. At the new counter, we found out that our train to the mountain was sold out, and the next available train was 3 hours later. It was not a good start. With only 5 minutes left to catch our train, Anne decided to head back to the hotel so that the four of us with tickets could get going. We
said our goodbyes and boarded the train, bummed and disappointed at what had happened. No one said it, but I know we were all feeling that this wasn’t a very good start to our adventure. We hoped that Anne would be able to round up some more people back at the hotel to join her in taking the later train to the mountain.
We brushed it off, and began our adventure to the mountain on a bullet train, reaching a top speed of about 120 MPH. It was awesome. As the modern city disappeared behind us, the vegetation got greener and greener until we found ourselves at the base of the incredibly beautiful mountains of Qing Cheng. After getting off the train, we boarded a gold cart type bus and headed to the entrance of the Daoist temple complex. On the bus ride, my friend Sean met a girl named Stella who was visiting the mountain with her dad for the 3rd time. She spoke excellent English and her and her dad offered to be our guides for the day. We arrived at the entrance to the mountain and I already knew I was in for a treat. Just passing
through the main gates I caught site of the stairs leading up the mountain paths, and I knew I had finally arrived at the type of place I have been dreaming about visiting for many many years. So began our journey up the mountain.
As usual, the place was full of people, but being that this is China, we were used to that by now. We climbed stair after stair after stair, slowly moving up the mountain towards the summit. As a group we had decided that our goal was to make it to the top, and then wind our way down visiting the various other temples and caves along the way. Little did we know at the time, but the wise old mountain had other plans for us. For the next 3 hours we hiked up, and up, and up, winding through narrow walkways and up sometimes near vertical stairways in the mountainside. It was surreal to actually be walking up the stairs of a legendary Daoist mountain, the kind I had only read about, dreamt about, and seen in films. Along the way we encountered many incredible temples, caves, and scenery that is hard to really describe in
words. With each turn around a corner another incredible view, or temple, or staircase would emerge. I couldn’t help but think of the countless other pilgrims and visitors who over hundreds of years had made the same journey that we were making now. It was a moving thought.
As we rounded the corner of the trial we were on, the summit came into view, and atop it an incredible pagoda style temple. We were close, and our excitement was almost tangible. We arrive at the final staircase to the summit a little while later, and with smiles all around we began the final ascent. We climbed and we climbed until we reached a small pavilion about 50 yards from the summit, and then, the mountain surprised us. With the summit in view, we could go no further, as the pagoda temple was being repaired from recent damage. For a moment our hearts sank, as we stared at the summit ahead of us, and the large red Chinese signs and gates blocking our path. Had we really climbed all this way and come so far only to be told we couldn’t get to the summit? Yes, in fact we had. We
all looked at each other and began to laugh at the irony of it all. It turns out the mountain wanted to teach us something, and that it did. Life truly is about the journey, and not about the destination. We smiled, we joked, and we sat for a while soaking up the lesson we had just been given. We had had an incredible journey up until this point, and so rather than be upset about not reaching our goal of the summit, we decided to continue on and make our way down the other side. For the next few hours we slowly journeyed down the mountain, winding back and forth along the stairs, stopping to soak up the incredible views and beautiful mountain temples. About half way down the mountain we stopped for lunch in one of the temples. We couldn’t read any of the menu, or communicate with any of the staff, but a lovely old waitress picked some dishes for us, and they turned out to be delicious. We ended up with some Kung Pao Chicken, the only thing I do know how to order, some spinach-like greens with garlic, a chicken soup, and an egg type
omelet dish. Once again the Dao had taken care of us in the guise of a sweet old lady. We gratefully enjoyed our meal, and after resting our legs for a while, headed off to continue our journey down the mountain.
At this point we had been on the mountain for almost 6 hours, and most of the crowds had disappeared, opting to take the cable car down rather than walking. It was if we were now alone on the mountain, and the staircases that had just hours earlier been packed with people, were now ours to enjoy alone. In the distance the sound of temple bells rang out, and all around us this chirping of birds and buzzing of cicadas was the only noise to be heard. This is what I had come to the mountain to experience, and finally it was happening. All of the stories, the legends, the images of pilgrims traveling to the mountains to find peace and harmony suddenly became real. I soaked in every moment, every sight, and every sound as we made our way down the mountain, finally returning to where our journey had began. As we left the temple grounds, ready to
head back to the train station, in the distance behind us we saw a familiar face. It was Anne. She had decided to make the journey to the mountain as well and ended up taking the later train. Once again the Dao worked its mysterious ways, and our group was reunited, to finish the journey as we had begun it.
And somewhere along the way in all of the excitement, anticipation, and journeying, I had found a peace that words cannot describe. And though the journey is over, and my body is tired, my soul is more alive than ever before.
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