Taishan- 7000 holy steps
Though there are many reasons to still be awake at 6:00am on Saturday, there is only one reason to wake up at that time – a train ride to Taishan. Blurry eyed and longing for a nap on the train or a vat of coffee, our group of interns assembled at the Railway Station at 6:30. By the time we had boarded the train at 6:55, we were already down a man from the original ten who had planned to come on the trip; a solemn text message was all we heard from the intern who had overslept.
After a quick three hour train ride (I was asleep) we arrived in Tai’an, the city nestled at the foot of Taishan, and hailed our taxis to take us to the bottom of the eastern route up the mountain. We paid our entrance fees – 127RMB, or 67RMB with a Student ID- then climbed the first set of stairs on our way to a total 7,200. The first part of the mountain is pretty average; it’s basically like any other stroll in the woods, if those woods were lined with souvenir shops. Taishan is a great place to get little gifts for friends and family back home because there are hundreds of shops selling all manner of “historical” Taoist and Chinese gifts. Unless you’re trying to buy a sword, most gifts can be bought for below 30RMB and many for as little as 2RMB. Souvenirs aren’t expensive on Taishan because the real money is made selling food and water. The closer we got to the top the more expensive subsistence items got; the highest price anyone tried to sell us a bottle of water for was the ridiculous sum of 20RMB for a half liter.
The real hiking on Taishan begins after the Middle Gate – it’s from this point that the peak taunts you, shouting obscenities at you like a crazy football parent. The most ridiculous part of the second half of the hike is that this is where the majority of the Chinese tourists join the game; having taken a fleet of buses up the first part of the mountain. The trail becomes more and more crowded the closer you get to the peak and the rate of requests for ‘pictures with the foreigners’ increases tenfold. It is also on this part of the trail that lazy wealthy women pay 200RMB every 20 meters to be carried up the mountain in a chair so that they can feel like an empress for a day. This is particular disgusting when you realize that the last 30 minutes of the hike are a near vertical ascent up very narrow steps.
We reached the top about 4 and ½ hours after we had started from the bottom, and looked out across the valley of rolling hills and pot-hole lakes with a sense of pride and accomplishment. The beauty of Taishan cannot be fully appreciated until you look out upon the view from the top, it’s one of the most breathtaking sights in all of China, and makes you realize why over 6 million people travel to see it every year. After pausing to take in the views for a couple hours and eating a relatively inexpensive meal at a restaurant in the mountain top village, we made our way to the hotel to turn in for the night so that we would be rested for the sunrise.
Once again, there are many reasons to still be awake at 5:00am on Sunday, but there is only one reason to wake up at that time – the historic Sunrise of Taishan. Along with around a thousand other tourists, most of whom were dressed in lovely green military jackets, we braved the morning wind and tried our best to keep warm until the sun came up. As the sun winked at us for the first time that day camera clicks and howls of joy could be heard from every direction. If the weather grants you a perfect weekend there is no reason to climb Taishan without seeing the sunrise, every tired eye or aching leg is instantly cured once you see it.
The weekend was an excellent break from the urban landscape of Qingdao and provided all of us with a healthy dose of fresh air. If you get the chance to take a trip to Taishan before you leave, I know nine people who would highly recommend it.