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Tai Shan pilgrimage

Qingdao, Shandong, P.R. China5.07.2007It is said that all Chinese want to climb Mount Tai Shan at some point in their lives. It is the holiest of the five sacred Taoist peaks and is, therefore, the most climbed mountain in the world. So Mira and I figured that we would add our footprints to the old [...]

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Qingdao, Shandong, P.R. China

It is said that all Chinese want to climb Mount Tai Shan at some point in their lives. It is the holiest of the five sacred Taoist peaks and is, therefore, the most climbed mountain in the world. So Mira and I figured that we would add our footprints to the old upward path.

We were riding into town on the train from Shanghai and knew that we were getting close to our destination of Tai Shan. But we look out the windows and saw nothing but flat agricultural land and not much else. Where was this long sought towering peak? We look out all of the train windows that we could from our booths in the dining car. I saw a little hill. “Is that little hill it?” “No!,” Mira retorted, “it is the big frigging mountain behind the hill!” I have eyes but could not see Mount Tai Shan right before me! There it was, Tai Shan rising out of the fertile flatlands. Our train halted and we jumped out, ready to climb.

So we found a cheap inn and threw down our rucksacks and headed out to foot of the mountain. It was a bit of a circus but not as crazy as we expected. We fumbled around for a path, found one, and began tramping up. For the worlds most climbed peak there were scarcely few people out on the path. We walked on for a couple of hours and only came upon one other couple who seemed to be out for the summit, and they did not look like they were in any shape to make it. We though that this solitarity was a little funny.

Then, around two thirds of the way up, we came upon the circus. Pilgrims by the busload were piled around in a parking lot. I suppose it is convention to take the bus most of the way up the mountain and then climb the final ascent.Thousands upon thousands of people were muling about, buying stuff, and eating cucumbers and watermelon. Mira and I made our way to the ascent route, which was now a stine stairway, and continued on.

The stairs were packed with Chinese. Little kids, old men, women in highheals, plump business men, and girlfriends being dragged by boyfriends were clamering together up these stairs. Mira and I jested about the masses expedited flight up this mountain, but did not really know what the final ascent entailed.

We walked on and on, up and up through the throngs of the ascending circus. Hours passed and we were still weaving our way through the crowd upward. Wherever we stopped to rest we were promptly set upon by Chinese people wanting to take photos with us or inquire about my tattooing. As soon as one person would get their photo taken with us more would ceaselessly follow. We put on our smiling faces and became an impromptu tourist attraction.

On we went and after a couple of hours the crowds began to drag a little. It did not thin out in the least though, just slowed a little. After another hour of this people were literally pulling themselves up the mountain; grabbing on to the railing or the rocks at the sides of the walkway. Everone seemed to be completely beat but none were giving up. It was as if the Chinse had to get up the mountain regardless of any discomfort- it seemed to be a matter of personal pride. It was a once in a lifetime opportuinity for most of them and they were not going to saste it by colasping by the wayside. I even saw an old man of over 70 years of age with a severely hunched back trudging it up, beat, but also smiling a big toothless grin and laughing with his younger family members. He too, would not give up.

Mira was also getting a little worn by this time, and she tried to rest at every siding. I kept on her until she soon got mad and yelled at me- just like all the other Chinese girlfriends were doing to their arm pulling boyfriends.

I have always been impressed by the fortitude of the Chinese, but watching so many people-there had to nearly 10,000 people on this mountain- who were neither climbers, nor hikers, nor even exceptionaly physically fit in the least way pushing themselves up this mountain was truly impressive. Especially as they were doing it for recreation…..to demarkate a point in their lives when they climbed Mount Tai Shan.

Women gathered around an old pagoda on the paths around the base of Tai Shan.
Vendors of souveniors that lined the stairs that lead to the summit.
Abandoned temple on Tai Shan
Tai Shan.
The hordes of Chinese climbing up towards the world’s most visited peak.

Filed under: China, Mountains

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3704 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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