If you can picture the quintessential Chinese mountain scene painted on a rice-paper scroll, with mist-shrouded mountain peaks and long stone stairways connecting ancient pagodas perched atop cliffs, then you can picture Emeishan. Emeishan is home to the first Buddhist temple in China and the place where Buddhism is said to have taken hold in the country in the 1st century. Pilgrims and tourists come in droves to see the key sights but for those looking to trek the 10,000-foot mountain and enjoy its 100 plus monasteries, temples, and pavilions over the course of a two-day hike, it’s a heavenly ascent.
If it weren’t for our twenty-thousand-stair warm up trek to Annapurna Base Camp we might have been shocked by the sheer volume of steps on Mount Emei, but with much smaller rucksacks, and storybook images at every turn, we climbed from monastery to monastery without complaints.
Every hour or so, a temple like this would appear in the forest. We would pop in to admire the Buddhist art, take a whiff of the heady incense, watch the monks minding the holy grounds, and take a chug of water before carrying on.
This massive carving cut into the side of the mountain depicts the scene of the Kangxi Emperor’s visit to Emeishan in the 17th century. Carvings like this dotted the mountains as we climbed, each revealing a new layer of Emei’s history.
I honestly don’t even need to say anything about this photograph (but I will), as you can hopefully just imagine yourself sitting there with us, with the towering mist-shrouded cliffs in the background, funneling their small streams into a flowing fall.
Just above Niuxin Pavilion (the double-bridge pagoda in the first image) is the curious Qing Yin temple. People wishing for good luck in business, a healthy pregnancy, safe travels, and ever-lasting love come here to tie engraved locks to the temple banister. This was the first time we saw this phenomenon but later realized this happens in holy places all over China.
As day one of our trek came to a close, we pulled into the Hongchungping Temple where we would spend the night alongside the monks who call this place home. Though the accommodations were beyond than basic, it was cool to live like a monk for a day.
We have no idea what this says (if you can read Chinese, let us know what it says in the comments below), but we imagined it was some wise words to live by or the breakfast menu.
At a higher elevation, the second half of our hike was accompanied by a mystical fog. If you look closely you can see the trail, snaking its way around the base of this beautiful mountainside and around the second peak in the distance, before it dissolves into the ether.
When petite pagodas support both ends of a suspension bridge…well…you just have to cross, even if they aren’t leading in the right direction.
Sections of the Emei trail are monkey territory and dangerous territory at that. This critter, while seeming a cute old man stuck in a monkey suit, had devious thoughts running through his head. I held my bamboo walking stick high to let him know we wouldn’t be easy tourists to pick off.
As seen above at the Taiziping Temple, due to the sheer cliffs of Emeishan and limited real estate along the mountain spines, the trail often leads directly through a monastery or temple. One minute you have views of tree-tops and waterfalls and the next minute monks in a kitchen washing vegetables for their evening meal–possibly our favorite part about the hike!
Whether you go for the jaw-dropping scenery or its magical history, Emeishan will surely capture your spirit.