Mount Taishan is considered one of most sacred mountains in China. Located in central Shandong Province, just north of Tai'an City, Taishan rises abruptly from a vast plain. The people and emperors of China have made pilgrimages to the mountain for over three thousand years. The most devote climbing during the night to arrive at the top in time to watch the sunrise.
Historical documents indicate imperial ceremonies were held here in homage to Heaven and Earth. Throughout the journey one finds tablets, inscriptions and temples left in harmony with the mountainside. They are elegant reminders of ceremonies held in tribute to the mountain. I was told of one, when Qin Emperor, Huang Di, paid tribute to the mountain in a sacrifice for the purpose of informing the gods of his success in unifying all of China.
The feature of Temple to the God of Taishan are the paintings which are considered Taoist masterpieces. There are also a number of ancient and significant trees, including six cypresses of the Han Dynasty planted 2,100 years ago; Sophora japonica of the Tang Dynasty planted 1,300 years ago, and the Guest-Greeting Pine and the Five-Bureaucrat Pine, both of which were planted some 500 years ago. When an important tree might fall, the people of Taishan support it off the ground enough so that it will have the opportunity to grow and strengthen it's roots.
One of the traditions on Mt Tai is to leave a red ribbon or lock clasped to something at one of the temples in memory of a loved one who has passed. The belief is that when a body dies the soul continues to live, these rememberances are left as a reminder to the soul to stay close to home.
I was advised to take a bus most of the way to the top because the round trip on foot is excruciating. Thank you Ernie! My climb down the steep, narrow stone steps, ran against the immense tide of pilgrims prepared to spend the night under the stars and watch the sunrise. The reaching the bottom was a long journey full of it's own challenge. Tiger balm was my friend for days after.
All along the trail there are makeshift cafes setup under ancient trees where you can get a cup of tea, an assortment of snacks or a whole meal. The mountain's most famous snack is the Tai’an Millet Crepe. This food culture has sprung up partially due to the fact that the pilgrimage to the top involves an overnight stay for many as well as to cater to this province's love of all things culinary.
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Photo credit: Julie Cecchini