Qingcheng Mountain is one of the birthplaces of the Taoist religion. Located in Sichuan Province, it is an area rich in temples and religious sites for Taoism and has numerous buildings demonstrating the Sichuan style of architecture. It is a very scenic area surrounded by numerous peaks and lush vegetation. It’s divided into two parts – the front part and the back part. The front part is the main area for visiting the temples and palaces. But today we’re here to hike up the back part.
It took us a couple of hours to get from our hotel in Chengdu to Qingcheng Mountain, using a taxi, metro, train and finally a local bus. We’d been well advised to purchase our train tickets two days ahead of time. It is such a popular area to visit that the trains are consistently running at full capacity. The train journey alone takes about an hour. On arrival you then need to take a small local bus to the ‘backside’ (yes that is what it says on the front of the bus) of the mountain. This is quite an eye opener of a journey, the drivers tooting away and overtaking on blind bends; a relief to finally get to our destination.
The ticket office is a short walk from where the bus drops you off. I would suggest following the crowd. Once you’ve purchased your ‘mountain pass’ the fun begins. You head up through the historic town of Tai An passing through a very ornate archway (main image above). This is where the trail starts. We were told that it would probably take us between 3.5 and 4 hours to get to the top. The path is mainly steps but there are a few areas where it levels out and then it’s more like a boardwalk.
There are stunning waterfalls and bridges to distract you on your climb and quite a few areas to stop and shelter out of the midday heat or just rest your aching legs for five minutes. About half way up you come to Cuiying Lake, here you have to take a very short boat ride in order to carry on upwards. This was another experience in itself; a flat bottomed boat almost like a punt with the capacity for about thirty to fifty people operated by a man using a very long bamboo pole. The lake wasn’t particular deep and the water was crystal clear.
We get to a village where the cable car runs from and for a minute we think we’ve reached the top, then reality hits us, we still have a way to go. Onwards and upwards, at one stage passing some beautiful statues lining the steps sadly quite a few were damaged during the 2008 earthquake which had a devastating effect on this area.
Eventually, after 2.5 hours we reached the Baiyan Temple. The Laughing Buddha greets us apparently smiling on all tourists that make it to the top.
People spend some time here at the temple lighting incense sticks and reflecting. Some purchase medals to acknowledge reaching their goal, others get padlocks engraved by the monks for a small fee and then attach them to the rope ‘handrail’ that guides you up and down the final flight of steps. Many people choose to attach prayer ribbons to the trees.
We take a well earned rest before slowly wending our way back to the village where the Baiyan Cable car leaves from. There is more evidence of earthquake damage here but some redevelopment is taking place. I kept asking myself how they got the building materials up this far, there are no roads.
We caused quite a stir as not many foreign visitors make this journey. It’s very much a local tradition. Lots of people asked for their photo to be taken with us. Many of these people climb in their ‘Sunday Best’, with the whole family in tow, quite amazing. All generations from grandparents right through to babies.
After a quick refreshment break and taking in the hazy view we head down on the cable car thinking that we had plenty of time in hand. The scenery was something else, you can really appreciate how green and unspoilt the area is suspended high above it all. This cable car traversed the mountains. There are two separate cable car routes and we thought it would be quite obvious where the second one departed from. This was not the case. We never found the second cable car and ended up on a completely different track and having to run down about a third of the mountain. The route was a lot busier on the way down which slowed us up. Needless to say we missed our allotted train back to Chengdu.
It’s worth remembering that your train tickets are non-transferable and there were no seats available on other trains for another three hours. Some local students took us under their wing and helped us to purchase a couple of bus tickets; this was not done by going to a ticket booth and waiting in line to be served. It was through a very formidable lady with a small table sat on a stool and when she was ready to sell tickets all hell broke loose. We were very grateful for our friendly student’s intervention.
It was a truly fascinating day with the local people so eager to help; keen to practice their English with us. I have lots of happy memories to take home with me and I really hope that I’ll get the chance to return; who knows next time perhaps I’ll take the more leisurely and temple clad route up the front side