人山人海 on Taishan – the quintesential China

Its 5.45am an pitch black when we step out the door. As out eyes accustom to the light, shapes emerge from the shadows – thousands of them. Dressed in in Army winter coats, they march through the dark streets on Taishan’s mountain top. The sunrise we came to see, becomes marginalized by the spectacle of 人山 (People Mountain) that unfolds before us.

We have climbed the over 6.000 steps of Taishan (Mount Tai). The climb is said to reward not only with a beautiful sunrise but also a life of onehundred years. Lets see.

But most importantly, the climb of Taishan is the essence of China itself: Beautiful nature, tranquil temples, and people, people, people.

Day 1, 13.10.
We take the EMU train from Shanghai to the city of Tai’an in Shandong province. Due to the 19th National Party Congress, security controls at Hongqiao Railway station are doubled. But soon after we slip through security, we zip along with 309km/h in the EMU train. Tai’an railway station has no taxi line but with some broken 汉语 we negotiate our way to our hotel. We take advantage of the low hotel rates outside the major cities and stay at the Wanda Realm. In the entrance hall, we are greeted by an huge carpet picture of Taishan.

Day 2, 14.10.
After breakfast, we make our way to the red gate, the main entrance to Taishan. The red gate is the start of the main path that the Chinese emperors  used to climb Taishan. As we get in a taxi in front of the hotel we realize, its the same driver as last night (in a city of 5M people). We stroll through the temple buildings around the red gate and, at 10.30 start our ascent (after paying 125RMB entrance fee, each).

The way up is one single staircase with over 6.000 steps. The first part is easy, as steps and flat parts alternate. We make good time, climbing 300m per hour.  Small temples line the way. But mostly, its stairs, stairs, stairs

Up to the cable car station, the steps become steep and continuous. We rest at the middle station and enjoy the view on the Heavenly Gate in the distance, about 700m above us. At the middle station, some climbers take the cable car, while others came here by bus to climb the rest of the way (both options do not qualify for the 100 year life). And, of course, its photo time with Chinese friends (aka random people asking for pictures).

The second half is as steep as the last part up to the middle station and very crowded. With a slow and steady pace, we move forward – literally – step by step. Its quite crowded not only because of the several school classes also walk up. Finally, we see the South Heavenly Gate from below.

At 15.00 we reach the top. We take some pictures and look for our hotel. We stay at Yunchao, a temple like structure at the end of the food street. The hotel is huge and it takes us over almost 5min to walk to our room. The room is very simple (esp. considering the price; we prebooked on ctrip and thus do not enjoy the local negotiation rebates), but ok.

On top of Taishan sits a town / temple area with the Jade Emporer Temple on the highest point on the mountain. There are roughly four areas, (1) the town with hotels and food directly behind the Souht Heavenly Gate, (2) the Bixia Temple complex, (3) Riguan Peak with the “life abandoning cliff” and the sunrise viewing spots, and (4) the Jade Emporer Temple on Yuhuangding Peak. We take a stroll around the entire complex. Important to note is that there are some more stairs on top of the mountain in order to reach the temples and the peak. There are few people here. Afterwards, we find a touristy restaurant with good food (beef noodles, mountain rabbit, garlic vegetables and Taishan beer).

 

We go to bed early, since we are tired from the climb. Also, the alarm will ring at 5.00.

Day 3, 15.10.
The hotel alarm, in the shape of a fellow Chinese traveler, which bangs on every door, rings at 4.45. After a short exchange of opinions with him, we get up and get ready for the sunrise view. We step out of the hotel and into a huge crowd of people in army coats, waiting outside in the dark. It is an invasion – of sorts, but the military coats are only rented to people that did not bring sufficiently warm clothes (which seems to be almost everybody). As we walk towards Baixin Temple, we are enveloped by an even bigger crowd of thousands of people. We are completely surprised by the number of people – yes, even after 2,5 years in China.

We push and get pushed towards the sunrise spot. However, at this point, we have almost completely lost interest in the sunrise but are fascinated by the crowds. People occupy every spot on the eastern face of the mountain. It literally is a people mountain.

Nonetheless, the sunrise is beautiful and I happen to start a video at the exact time the sun comes up. We enjoy the warm morning and take some more pictures.


On our way back, we stop at the completely abandoned Azure Temple. I take the chance to get some drone shots.

Above the South Heavenly Gate, I launch the drone again to get some shots of the incredible staircase.

I am still nervous about potentially complaining security guards, so I try to keep a low profile. Once people start to gather, I bring the drone back and want to do a quick-stop (grab it and turn it on its head). But with my thumb, I find out the the rotor has a ton of force. Anyway, I got the shot and the thumb will survive (added benefit, I now know how to do drone-based amputations).

We decide to beat the crowd down the mountain. As we foresee the need for functioning knees in the future, we decide to take the cable car and bus down, rather than the stairs (no need to live to the age of 200).

We have some time, so we visit the Dai Temple (Daimiao), a huge, but beautiful and tranquil temple just south of the red gate.

At the end, some great advise found on the mountain>

Bonus: Smart Chinese know that the tomato is a fruit

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