Mount Taishan in Shandong Province is one of China’s five sacred Taoist peaks. My wife Claudia and I had the opportunity to climb Taishan in November 1996.
The gateway to Taishan, the town of Tai’an, is a nine-hour train ride from Beijing. When we visited it was well off the normal tourist track. We did not see another Westerner on the train ride to Tai’an, in the town, on Mount Taishan, or on the train ride out of town. It was great.
The route to the top of Taishan begins right in the town of Tai’an. By the time you get back to town you will have walked well over ten miles and climbed over 4000 feet.
If you want, you can take a bus half-way up the mountain and then take a gondola to the top. We wanted the real experience so we walked the entire distance and are glad we did.
It is a mountain walk like no other. With over 3000 years of visitation any semblance of a mountain trail is long gone. The entire route is paved with flag stone and stone blocks and has over 6000 stair steps. If you like public stairways, you are home.
It is not a stairway for fitness training or for attempting personal bests. It is a stairway that varies in size and pitch as it winds up the mountain. It is more like a linear village than a stairway. The route is lined with cultural attractions and businesses all the way from the base to the summit. There are shrines, temples, side paths, nooks and crannies to explore the entire way up.
But the most interesting are the people you’ll see on the way up. You’ll see families in their best clothes and smooth sole shoes walking up the slick stone stairs as if good traction was only for sissies. You’ll see laborers struggling with heavy loads of supplies to keep the business establishments along the way and at the top of the mountain going. The loads will be dangling from the carry sticks on their shoulders. I wonder if this is still the practice in 2013.
I wish I had taken pictures of them but I didn’t want to be invasive at the time. I certainly had my picture taken by other walkers as they wanted that strange looking Westerner in their photo album. I’m not sure if I have ever been as popular. I must have been included in at least fifteen different family portraits.
Speaking of pictures, my first reaction in looking at my pictures is how different it is today with digital cameras. What seemed like a lot of pictures at the time now seems like a pittance. And why didn’t I take a picture of this, or this, or that. I guess that’s why you bought post cards.
But let me at least share some of the pictures that I did take to give you some idea of what Taishan is like. For me it was an incredible experience. And if I ever do go back to China, it is the one thing in China I would like to do again.