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Russell Eagling


Wu Dang Shan

My guidebook reminds me that Wu Dang Shan is famous for being the birthplace of Tai Chi and also an important centre of Taoism.

Many of the signs that we encountered along the way refer to the emporer who was first interested in the rocks here as having cultivated himself here for over 40 years.  Eventually, feeling sufficiently cultivated, he jumped off one of the more precipitous rocks (There's a picture of it below) and flew up to the top peak (that's the highest of the one's above.  Having acheived this feat he decided that he was ready to become Emperor proper and left for the capital.

We didn't have enough time to cultivate ourselves enough to feel safe doing the same thing, so we climbed to the top instead.  I have yet to go to a Chinese tourist attraction that does not involve several hundred often very steep steps.  Wu Dang Shan is certainly no exception.

This is also the first time I've seen wild monkeys since I went to Gibraltar when I was five or six years old.

The trip was organised by our ever-attentive university.  The weekend including 8 hour, overnight train journey there and back, hotel for the night, food for the weekend, entrance and guide came to the excessively reasonable price of 50 quid;  and that's before you take off the university subsidy.


The first part of the trip was along a river bank up to a cliff face.  We passed a very large gathering of monkeys who were very happy to let us snap them whilst we fed them monkey nuts (Why do they call them that?)

The only problem was that it had been raining for three days solid prior to our arrival and the river was somewhat higher than normal.

Infact, the stepping stones that should have carried us clear of the water were up to a foot and a half under it.  Our guide offered us the chance to head back or take our shoes and socks off and carry on.

I'm glad we decided to carry on, because as we made our way through the fast flowing mountain stream, and then up the cliff at the other end, I began to feel like Indiana Jones.  There was even a rope bridge for the obligatory 'pretending to cut the rope' scene at the end of the second film.  The Harrison Ford feeling was especially intense when we reached to top and came across a little ruined temple that had all the hall marks of being the final resting place of the Cup of the last covenant.  Joseph of Arimathea didn't show though, so after taking a few snaps we went down again and did the whole walking-through-the-river thing the other way.




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Continuing the theme of rather lame film references when I should really be thinking of rather deeper Chinese cultural references, the next place felt as though we had been transported to The Goblin City in the film Labyrinth.  Anyone who doubts me look at the first few pictures below and you'll see what I mean.PICT0133.jpg (38934 bytes)

The monks here looked suspiciously young and clean shaven.  They also enticed us into the appropriately named "Pillar with Twelve Beams" room" in order to sell us beautiful mountain views of the region in the shop next door.  The significance of the one pillar, twelve beams thing was, I'm afraid, entirely lost on me.  Mind you, I also think it was lost on the so-called Monks.  Their flashy white robes looked very nice, but I've never seen a real monk look quite that eager to sell you a scroll with a picture of eight horses on it before.

The place itself, though, was charming.  We were also slowly getting higher and higher up the mountain and could now see views of the "Golden Peak" over to the South of the temple.




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PICT0166.jpg (38175 bytes)The following day we climbed all the way to the top (having been driven up the first 10,000 meters or so).  Rather worryingly, many people decide to opt out of the chore of climbing up to the top, by being carried to the top by groaning Chinese men who really don't look that big.  This nine kilometer journey, climbing to the top of the 1612 meter peak, will set you back a lot less than a tenner if you want to be carried up by someone else.  We had lots of offers but didn't take up any of them.  There were also lots of men carrying assorted building material on bamboo sticks along-side us as we climbed.  Ever one for a challenge I gamely offered to help them up one flight of stairs in order to see if I could do it or not.

It turned out very quickly I couldn't.

PICT0168.jpg (70424 bytes)The weight of the bags was incredible.  I couldn't walk a step on the horizontal, let alone up the hundreds and hundreds of very steep steps that they were negotiating all the time.  These guys get about 70 pence a trip and can manage three trips a day.  They also do it all in the not very substantial footwear that you see on the left.  Suddenly carrying rich Chinese businessmen up the mountain with a friend didn't seem quite so impossible after all. 

After climbing for the two hours that we were promised would get us to the top, we got a distant view of the peak still an incredibly long way away from us.  We finally reached the bottom of the top bit nearly three hours after we set off.  We had now climbed as high as the cable car could go.  We felt smug and superior that we hadn't had to use the cable car - but were nevertheless in need of quite a rest before tackling the rest of the peak.

The peak itself was very beautiful.  The swirling clouds below us made it feel really quite mystical too.  A favourite activity is to bring a lock with you, lock it shut with your lover onto one of the hand rails at the top of the mountain and the throw the key down into the clouds.  (You can see the piles of locks on the left here)

This very romantic gesture does make it a little hazardous to climb up to the top because you are in constant fear of having a hail of Yale keys being lobbed at you.

We spent nearly an hour on the very top before making our way down the (very) steep steps back to the bottom of the top again.  Grand gestures over, we gladly took the cable car back down again.

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Launched on December 25th 2003