The 5 Taoist Great Mountains of China

November 18, 2011 by

Asia

Part of imperial China‘s “nine great mountains” from Taoism and Buddhism, the five sacred mountains of Taoist China are not only symbols of a natural wholeness, serving as major pilgrimage destinations for the natives, but are also amongst some of the loveliest natural landmarks in the country.

Located in varying points on the easternmost parts of China, a trip to each is a feasible venture for those interested in the philosophical, religious and altogether cultural history of one of the world’s most renowned countries.

East Great Mountain: Tài Shān

Listed as a World Natural and Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO, Tai Shan Mountain in Shandong province is the breeding ground for a number of Chinese poems, as well as a place for historical scholars to have a think. Given its scenic beauty and array of spots, including historical temples and other structures, it’s not hard to see why.

West Great Mountain: Huà Shān

Also known as “Splendid Mountain”, Hua Shan, is located in Shaanxi province about 74 miles (120 km) away from Xi’an. It has a prosperous history in religion, as well as in the past having been a destination for pilgrims looking to use locally grown plants to concoct a medicine said to make you immortal. Though this may longer be the case, the views from any one of this mountain’s five peaks is simply breathtaking.

The view from one of Huà Shān's five peaks - photo courtesy of chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons

Though some of its paths require walking up the steep natured mountains, the exercise and majestic beauty of its surroundings are well worth the mission. If you decide to take a pre-dawn hike up to the East Peak from one of the many nearby hostels, get ready for one of the most thrilling sunrises in the country.

South Great Mountain: Héng Shān

Situated in central Hunan province, Heng Shan Mountain is considered one of the most beautiful of the five great mountains. Rich in numerous peaks, the mountain has more than 70, towering one behind and aside the next, the tallest reaches 4,230 feet (1290 meters) above sea level.

Translated as the “balancing mountain,” at its foot lies some of the most ancient structures in Hunan, including the Grand Temple of Mount Heng, believed to have been built more than 1300 years ago. Though it has undergone numerous renovations, it is still an iconic structure in the area. Guests can stay at a nearby resort, from where you can explore both the historical centers and the mountain itself.

North Great Mountain: Héng Shān

Also called Heng Shan, this lovely temple-laden mountain in Shanxi province contains one temple in particular you are going to want to see, the Hanging Monastery, located at the foot of the mountain. Placed right along a cliff, the temple has more than 1,400 years of history — 1,400 years more than one might think it should have lasted, as it is held up by merely a few wooden supports.

The Hanging Monastery of Héng Shān - photo courtesy of Patrick Streule via Wikimedia Commons

The mountain itself, just 38 miles (62 km) from Datong City, has spectacular views, rare flora and grass, and even a few lovely hidden pockets of caves all for your perusal. The mountains’ numerous landscapes are a photographers dream, creating dream-like natural paintings that are as peaceful as scenic.

Center Great Mountain: Sōng Shān

Song Shan: the 4,921 foot (nearly 1,500 meters) high “lofty mountain” located in Henan province is not just the center mountain of the five great mountains, but just may be considered the centerpiece of any naturalist’s day out in China. Boasting a plethora of cultural relics, such as the Zhongyue and Fawang temples, the Songyue Temple, at 15 stories high and 1,500 years of age is an astounding polygonal Buddhist structure nestled between the sky-reflected blues of the mountains and the greens and yellows of nearby flora. With 36 peaks and spanning more than 37 miles, (60 km) this destination is as wonderful as its name suggests.

- Philip Heijmans

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