We had been biking for many days, visited with numerous local groups who cooked for us, boiled water for us to drink and provided lodging. As one point we were in the close vicinity of Mt. Tai (Taishan), the leader of the ‘Five Sacred Mountains’. We were biking in the center of Shandong Province. I climbed stairs to the top where the Emperor’s Temple is located and maintained. This is about 5,029 feet high. In ancient times, the first thing an emperor did was climb Mt Taishan
The walk up and back reveals additional temples, numerous stone inscriptions and stone
tablets. It encompasses more than 345 miles in circumference, rises steeply and majestically in the middle of Shandong Province about 45 miles from Jinan.
When some members of our bicycling group began the climb up 6,566 steps to the top of Mount Taishan we honestly did not know what we had signed up for. Remember, this was in 1983. We joined many Chinese nationals that were of advanced age. Many of the women were from an era when their feet were bound at birth. At that time, bound feet were a status symbol, the only way for a woman to marry into money.
Mount Taishan, located in Shandong province, is one of five Chinese Taoist peaks. It has been favored by monks and emperors since Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC). As a huge tourist attraction, especially at Jade Emperor’s Summit, at 1,545 meters above sea level tourist traffic has increased from a few hundred in 1983 to 3.4 million in 2011. As footfalls increase, the task of protecting this national treasure becomes more demanding.
The people I met on the way up did not speak English, had never seen a foreigner before and were very suspicious of us. Our guide, who spoke both Mandarin and English, explained what we were doing. They allowed me to photograph them and they offered their names. They believed that they must climb to the top of the mountain to be ensured a better life in the next life. They practice reincarnation.
They believed if they could spend the night at the top, they would obtain a blessing of health, wealth and happiness and not come back as a toad, for example. While I fully admired their commitment and dedication, I found it very sad. My heart ached for each of them. And. My heart ached for American’s who have every opportunity to live in freedom and Truth and chose to just let life pass them by. Clearly I prayed for them, smiled and spoke with them as long as they wanted. I could not change their beliefs and could not change their situations.
The stairway, while long and seemingly endless, was wide, making room for groups coming up and going down. There were a few younger people but the culture was already changing and it was mostly the elderly that made the climb.
I took many pictures of the cypress trees with twisted branches, the rock formations and a few people. This was a help at causing me to think about something else but the never-ending steps. There were indications of many people having make the trek before me with small rock towers along the way as if persons wanted to make a mark that they had made it this far.
You cannot imagine the clothing worn by these lovely people as they climbed. It was cold and yet required a great amount of energy. They were nearly all dressed in their Mao suits with slippers on their feet. We, of course, had tennis shoes and support for our feet and bodies as we climbed. I sometimes wonder about the emperors making this climb. They likely were carried up on litters.
A treat along the way, and I am not an art scholar, were the ancient artists’ carvings making inscriptions on rocks that were formed hundreds of millions of years ago. These natural masterpieces remain a source of study today as scholars are still drawn here as they have been for centuries.
When we climbed the mountain, it was a solemn quiet trip for the most part. I understand today, 2015, that the noise level and the pushy vendors is an issue. Kiosks are set up offering food, drink and trinkets and generating a lot of conversation. This is currently turning many tourists away from the area. During our visit, this phenomena did not exist.
Chinese culture honors their old, this I learned from an employee who was from China but working here in the USA. However, in 1983 as we made this trek, the older ladies traveled together in groups of 2 or 3, the gentlemen usually alone and I did not see families supporting their parents
We climbed all the way to the top. It is beautiful to look out over the country side but treacherous going back down. By that time, my legs were weak from the climb, event though I had been riding my bike. However, I must add that going up a mountain has always been much easier for me than going down.
I have learned during my creating this writing in 2015 that there is now a tram to take you up the mountain. Incredible. Must be for tourism because it seems to defeat the purpose. But, I am glad to this day we were among the first to visit Mainland China before she opened her borders to unending tourists.
We did have a guide at all times and were supervised, usually by afar at each turn. We always ate with our very communist looking ‘guards’ in the same room but clearly separated from us. They did not speak to us but seemed to enjoy their work.
Along the path to the top of Taishan, people stop to offer prayers and burn incense in the small temples by the wayside. We, obviously, did not take part in any of the rituals nor really even go inside the temples.The final 2,000 steps appear to travel straight up. This includes the 1,630 tortuous small, steep steps made of Tianshan schist, The Road to Heaven. Now, I wear a size 11 shoe, was 5’ 10“and weighing about 145 pounds. These steps were really small! They were narrow front to back, very steep and difficult.
Today, I understand, there are shops along the way and at the top to offer warm clothing, etc. to spend the night. This did not exist in 1983. But… we did not plan to spend the night anyway. We made our way back down to our bikes and our night was spent in a typical small room with cots with thin mattresses. We slept really well.
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