Mountain Monastery




October 2009 • Canon 40D camera

UNESCO World Heritage site
Mount Emei Scenic Area,
including Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area

It was an exciting day ahead of us. We were going to hike up one of the four sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism to stay at a Monastery for the night. The mountain was Emei Shan 峨眉山 and standing a over 10,167 ft, it is visited by pilgrims and tourists. The plan was to take a cable car to the peak to see the view of the area and then hike another section of the mountain to spend the night in a Buddhist Monesatry. It was a cold, cloudy day and as we arrived by public bus to the cable car station that would take us up to the summit. Ollie, our guide, said it was no point going to the top. The weather was so bad we would not see anything. The peak or Golden summit had a temple and fantastic views of the surrounding area. It was a shame the weather was not great, but I was looking more forward to the hike.

So we headed back down the mountain to start the hike to the Monastery at one of the designated gates. As we started the hike the weather had warmed up. Because so many tourists and pilgrims come here the path up was man made—paved or wooden steps. Each of us in the group carried a wooden stick we got at the start of the hike. This was primarily to scare the wild monkeys away that lived on the mountain. They are known to snatch bags smelling of food and bottles of drink from visitors. By tapping the stick on the ground it would startle the monkeys and run away. It would also serve as a good walking stick to lean on.

The hike would take around 5 hours. Accompanying us on the hike is a local guide, Nathan, who would explain the flora and fauna of Emei Shan. After passing through a section of local people selling foods like a local market, we entered into the mountain forest. Everywhere was green. At the beginning I saw so many butterflies. I have never seen so many in one place in all my life. It was wonderful to see. There was a river that was to the right of us in the valley below as we slowly made our way up into the forest. Through we went crossing over a lake via a wooden bridge deeper into the mountain.

It was a nice gentle hike up. I was expecting a much tougher experience, but it was pretty easy going. The paved path and steps was set up for tourists and pilgrims, so it made it easy to navigate. You was surrounded by forest of trees and bamboo in some areas. The sound of birds singing in the air along with the sound of the river that seemed to follow us on our path. Half way up the hike we arrived at Qingyin Pavilion. A small pavilion sits in a middle of flowing river streams of water.

As we continued we passed by other monasteries that we visited along the path. At one point we descended slightly to walk along a gravel bank crossing over the shallow section of the river via some rocks. Made the hike a bit more adventurous in this section. From here we ascended again and walked along some wooden platforms to the side of the mountain cliff.

Did you know...

Emei Shan literally means "Delicate Eyebrow Mountain". The name comes from two peaks which face each other and look like the delicate eyebrows of a Chinese classic beauty.

Tibetan Macaque

(Macaca thibetana)

We had now arrived at the famous area of the mountain where the wild monkeys lived. This reminded of the video game Donkey Kong. You can walk over the swinging wooden bridges that criss–cross each other with small pavilions at the intersections. The monkeys were Tibetan Macaque found only in East Eentral China, living in subtropical forests. Males are slightly larger than females and they are Frugivore. Unfortunately they are currently classified as Near threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to deforestation.

As we continued to walk past some of them would follow us. We would bang our sticks to keep them at bay. From here it was a peaceful, scenic walk to the final gate and steps up to Monastery we would be spending the night. We had to ascend the last 1200 steps to reach the Monastery. Just before the entrance we passed a small family run cafe ‘Hard Wok Cafe’

Hong Chung Ping Monastery

A stature of Buddha behind a glass case greeted every visitor at the front steps, along with the smell of burning incense in the air. We entered a courtyard surrounded by the building's three floors. It was quiet and we found ourselves almost whispering to each so we would not disturb the monks that stayed here. Our room for the night was big, with a large double bed and electric blankets. But it smelt quite bad of molding and dampness. Because of the cold and moisture this high up on the mountain things tend to be damp for a long time. After we were shown our rooms we were told where the toilets would be. This was important, as at night there was no electricity. So if you had to go, you had to have a torch to see your way around. The toilets were just a hole in a ground, but you face directly into the open air landscape as there was no wall in front of you. After looking around the monastery for a bit, we headed back down to the cafe for dinner. They were famous for their pancakes.. and boy did they not disappoint. I had 2 pancakes together with chocolate, banana and honey sandwiched together. It was amazing. It was now dark and very cold. With our torches on we headed back to the monastery to sleep.

Just before sunrise we woke up to witness the 4 monks that stayed at the monastery pray. It was an interesting experience to witness – one you could not avoid as a loud bell would ring to wake you up for the start of the prayer. The prayer itself consisted of a monk ringing a bell and chanting in front of a Buddha stature. Next another monk would bang a drum. It was in a fairly quick rhythm and it sounded like we were going into battle. After 10 minutes of drumming another monk came and the three of them would begin chanting in front of the stature. After a while a 4th monk appeared to join in the chanting which went on for 30 minutes before it was over. In the middle of nowhere, high on a mountain, 4 people have dedicated to live here, spending their time praying to their deity. Makes you think...

Final thoughts

This was one of the highlights of the trip to China for me. The scenery is amazing and the journey up to the Monastery was easy going. I would not say this was a proper hike as you walked on paved steps. But there were a lot of steps and the walking stick came in handy. You had a wonderful mixture of nature, wildlife and temples to admire as you hiked.

You don't need to bring any special clothes or shoes for the hike—there were a lot of local tourists dressed in jeans and trainers. But always carry a raincoat with you just in case it rains. If you are planning on staying at the Monastery bring warm clothes—temperatures got really cold during the night. Pack snacks, as food options during the hike are limited.

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