Emei Shan - foggy on top and icy on the way down...

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March 2nd 2013
Published: March 17th 2013
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The holy mountain of Emei Shan is a sacred site, and has been for the last two thousand years, of the Buddhist people. Though it was originally a Taoist retreat in the sixth century a famous Buddhist pilgrim, who was accompanied by a six tusked elephant, visited the mountain where after all the Taoist temples were converted to Buddhism. Today it is also a very popular tourist destination as the mountain is situated in a very picturesque area. For many years the mountain has been a magnet for western tourists, and more recently young Chinese backpackers, who choose to take the long and very difficult trek to the summit. And it is a gruelling trek - the long route up sixty kilometres of steps whilst the short route is a mere forty kilometres of steps!

Emei Shan rises 3099 meters and on it's slopes are over one hundred temples. It's close proximity to Chengdu, and the fact that it is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, increases the amount of visitors. Most of the Chinese visit as a quick overnight stop or come as part of a group package tour so Baoguo, the town we stayed in at the base of the mountain, is lined with many hotels and guesthouses - most aiming solely at the Chinese guests. We were definitely not trekking up - that many steps is my idea of torture - so took the easy option of the bus to close to the summit. The bus station was well organised - in fact apart from trekking it is the only way you can access the summit as private vehicles are banned from most of the road up. The return bus tickets to the summit stop were 90 yuan each. There are two bus stops - one halfway up where the short trek starts from and the one near the summit. There were dozens of buses, though as it was off season, most were still unused in the parking area. Whilst we were in Baoguo they installed scanner ticket stations in the station, in preparation for the summer onslaught of visitors. After purchasing our two day passes (Jerry concession 80 yuan, my ticket 150 yuan - no single day ones are sold) to the site - that office was nowhere as efficiently organised as the bus station - we headed up to the summit.

As expected upon our arrival we found an enormous bus park, mostly empty and a surprising amount of local tourists. Also it was much colder than at the base so another couple of layers went on. The path to the cable car station (which we had decided to take to the summit) was wet, icy and slippery. There were piles of dirty snow beside the path and at a couple of spots some very nasty looking monkeys. The Chinese tourists were feeding them, despite the signs requesting they didn't, and as we edged past one group of people throwing all sorts of snack food at the monkeys I got a touch of perverse pleasure when one of the young men was suddenly attacked by one... We weren't sorry to finally pass the groups of them - they are not our favourite animals. We purchased tickets for the 'small' cable car (65 yuan) and piled into the little capsule with four members of an obviously poorer family out on a special treat. They were all very excited. The large cable cars, which operate only in high season, carry 100 passengers each! When we left the cable car it was still a bit of a slippery climb up to reach Golden Summit, the highest accessible point at 3077 meters. It was very foggy and we knew we would get little or no view. To reach the summit you climb a long flight of steps which is edged with statues of the six tusked elephants. As we climbed the fog lifted and we had a view of the gilded statue on the peak - a multi-faced figure of the owner of the elephant, mounted on four elephants. It was quite impressive.

We spent the next couple of hours wandering the stone paths around the summit area, being given glimpses of the surrounding cliffs every so often when the heavy fog lifted. The peak is usually surrounded with a sea of clouds and it was very evident that day. We did get a great view of the Golden Summit and the surrounding area for about ten minutes when the fog almost disappeared, leaving a bright blue sky on show. On the peak there are two large temples, one of which was painted silver and is a nunnery. There were many Chinese people paying homage to the statue, lighting long incense sticks and walking in a clock wise direction around the base of the statue. They were also paying to have tiny candles lit in glass lanterns which surrounded the base of the statue. We had decided to spread some of David's ashes over the edge of the peak but upon seeing that the sides had been used as rubbish bins by the tourists we quickly changed our mind. We did end up however spread them amidst the forrest of tall incense sticks in a long brass burner at the foot of the statue and just in front of the main temple hall. Maybe it was a blessing the fog usually covers the peak as it covered up the majority of the litter!

We had decided to walk back down to the bus station - a two hour walk. We thoroughly enjoyed the walk. It was on a stone footpath, majority of which was steps, and through pine Forrest. Most of the lower branches were hung with icicles, heavy snow carpeted the ground either side of the path, and yes - the path was also piled with compacted snow and ice. Thankfully as we left the hostel that morning I hired a couple of sets of ice claws - metal spikes which you tied to the sole of your shoes - or we would have not been able to do the walk. You could hire the claws at the summit for a totally outrageous price - we would have had to pay 100 yuan instead of the ten we gave the hostel. It was a slow walk as we had to be aware of where we placed each foot. It was also bitterly cold. We were surprised by the groups of Chinese tourists walking up the mountain path - lots of family groups (the cable was probably too expensive for family groups) and teenagers. All were inappropriately dressed - no ice claws and most of the women were wearing high heels. If you have a day out in China the dress code for women seems to be heels - it doesn't matter whether you are going shopping or climbing mountains.... It wasn't the most peaceful walk - there certainly were times of solitude - which were wonderful but as we were wearing the ice claws we tended to have to balance on the steps as they edged past us without letting go of the handrail. We did enjoy the day - but dread to think what it must be like during the summer season.

There really wasn't a lot of open space at the top so the push and thrust of crowds then must be terrible. We reached the bus park without incident and caught the next bus back to Baoguo. It was late in the day - the park was only open for another hour but we still passed many buses enroute to the summit. The people on board would have had a very quick visit - cable car up and down and ten minutes on the summit itself. It hardly seemed worth the hour and half drive to the top and the cost of the entrance ticket. Not a cheap day out for many Chinese I would think - entrance, bus fares, cable up and back (without any snacks which they could purchase from the many vendors scattered along the paths) would cost them each 360 yuan or approximately AUD$ 60 each.

We were spending another day in the area before heading to Chengdu airport so next day was spent quietly enjoying the serenity around one of the local temple sites - the pretty Fuhu Temple which is situated amidst pine trees a couple of kilometres from the township. It was a lovely shady walk to reach the temple grounds, set as usual up a few too many stairs. There were local families picnicking amongst the trees and enjoying the sunshine. Fuhu Temple is the largest place of worship on the mountain and was built in 1661. Today it is a nunnery and we saw a few of the nuns, all with shaved heads and dressed in grey loose trousers and tunics. In the centre of the temple grounds is a bronze 16th century pagoda which is engraved with 4700 Buddha images. There was also a hall with hundreds of praying figure statues - some of them decidedly weird!

Another quiet evening in - we seem to have had a lot of them in China! Probably something to do with the fact that our rooms are usually the warmest place we can find after dark. Not that any evening is particularly early as just finding food can be very time consuming each day. Most evenings it's around 9pm before we actually get to our rooms. Most days are pretty long and bed is always welcoming. Up early next morning and at the bus station to purchase tickets back to Chengdu. We had a late afternoon flight booking for Jinghong in Yunnan. Looking forward to spending time in warmer weather.

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


Young monk Young monk
Young monk

Had a lovely smile - happy to have his photo taken - but instantly put on the serious look...

17th March 2013
Faces in the sky

Only been to the top of Emei in a blizzard...visibility difficult. Nice to see clearly what we could not. One of our favourite places in China though. What a great trip you are having.
17th March 2013

Thanks for sharing your story
Fantastic photos.

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