“Where there is no struggle, there is no strength,” Oprah Winfrey said.
With those words in mind, I wished myself good luck and began to climb the 7,200 steps that lead to the top of Mount Tai, a famous, sacred mountain in China. It’s also the leader of China’s five great mountains. It contains historic and cultural value in Chinese history. It has been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as a “Nature and Culture World Heritage” site. Mount Tai has been managed by this organization for around 15 years.
Mount Tai has been worshipped on and to for about 3,000 years. Many people have paid tribute to the mountain, including Huang DI, the first Chinese Emperor, and many other successful emperors. They paid tribute to the mountain during the Feng-Shan sacrifices. Feng was the ritual that ancient emperors provided offerings to heaven on top of Mount Tai. Shan was the offering ceremony to earth on a lower hill of Mount Tai.
Considered a spiritual mountain, Mount Tai is still visited today by many Chinese people who want to seek good fortune and protection.
The altitude of the mountain is 5,029 feet. The 7,200 steps lead visitors to its top, Nantian Men. An average person will likely spend 7-1/2 hours to complete the journey.
Going through the north gate, there is the option of taking the cable car from beginning to end or climbing the whole way. The other option is to enter through the “Red Gate” at the south end of the mountain, where you have the option of hiking halfway to Zhongtan Men and taking the cable car to Nantian Men.
We decided to enter the “Red Gate.” Most people enter through the Red Gate and still climb the whole way because that was the exact trail Confucius took, and it is the most traditional route. Also when walking the Red Gate’s trail, you’ll get to see more historical and cultural sites. During our climb, we saw temples, shops, and animals. The temples we passed were worshiped by the Chinese for over 1,000 years; their faith has been associated with Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. These shops were filled with burning incense and other goods and food.
Mountain climbers were greeted by many natural habitats, peacocks, chickens, hens and dogs. When we reached the halfway point we were exhausted and definitely didn’t want to climb another few thousand stairs. We climbed into our cable car which swayed its way to the top. We were high up from the mountain and had fantastic bird’s eye view. The trails appeared as never-ending, tangled threads bounded by lush green covered mountain side. Visitors were like tiny ants crawling along the threads.
When we were nearing the top, we saw the so-called “Shibapan,” which means 18 levels of stairs. This is the most adventurous and difficult part of the 7,200 steps. The Shibapan are the 1,827 steepest set of stairs on Mount Tai. When people arrive at the Shibapan, they are already exhausted, but they have to climb this more difficult part to reach the finish line. We began heading up even higher. Clouds surrounded us and helped us float to the top. It was a sight to see.
When we reached the top of the mountain, there were hotels, stores, restaurants, and campgrounds. Some people decide to stay for a couple hours and head back down. We decided to stay in a hotel and spend one or two nights to enjoy the sunrise, relax, and explore nature.
The Jade Emperors Peak, the very tip of Mount Tai, is where we watched the sunrise very early in the morning, about 4 a.m. The early morning is cold. Local hotels offer large army coats to rent.
We left our hotel at 3:40 a.m. and spent 20 minutes hiking and readying our cameras for the sunrise to appear. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day, so we couldn’t see it very well. Instead, we decided to walk around.
The Jade Emperors peak is north of the Temple of Princess of Rosy clouds. There is also a large rock with words inscribed in Chinese. One of the most important rock inscriptions was Tang Mo Ya by one of the most prominent Tang Dynasty’s emperors, Tang Xuan-Zong (r. 712-756). He went to the Fung-Shan ceremony on Mount Tai. He later wrote about his experience. He ordered his words to be carved on a rock and inlaid with gold.
The inscription is 13.2 meters high, 5.3 meters wide, and contains 108 words. Another famous rock is inscribed “The Most Revered of the Five Sacred Mountains,” which is 2.1 meters high and 0.65 meters wide. According to an original document, there were about 2,500 stone inscriptions. Now, there are around 1,000 still standing.
In ancient China, Chinese thought that nature was like a God. The Chinese philosophy is to connect their inner spirits with nature. They write on stones to represent their desire of being in harmony with nature. If an emperor made a wrong decision that offended nature, the country could be punished by floods and earthquakes. If he made a good decision, there would be clear skies and good harvest. They decided to write holy inscriptions on stones to be in one with nature.
When it was time to leave, we rode the cable car down half the mountain and hiked through a small trail to a bus, and then we rode a bus to return to the Red Gate.
Visiting Tai Mountain was a great experience. I got to see Chinese culture that was passed down generation to generation. The sacred mountain was the vehicle and symbol of Chinese civilization. The 7,200 stairs to the top serve as a reminder of our long and difficult spiritual journey to reveal the inner connection between us and nature.