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A night pilgrimage to Mount Tai

Popularity 1Viewed 1703 times 2014-5-28 10:28 |Personal category:locality|System category:News| traveling, experience

I had longed to climb Mount Tai ever since I was young. The old Chinese sayings and poems related to the mountain were always so beautiful and fascinating to me in my childhood. At that time, I was especially impressed with an essay named “ Mountain Porter”, in which the author described how difficult mountain porters carried the food and water to Mount Tai.


Over the years, I learned more about Mount Tai. Being a Shandong girl, I feel proud  as Mount Tai locates in the City of Tai’an, Shandong province. Known as "Chief of the Five Sacred Mountains", it enjoys a world-famous reputation for its perfect harmony with the natural landscape and rich culture of the ancient China. Millions of tourists from all over the world come to visit it every year.


The year when I graduated from high school, some of my classmates organized a tour  to Mount Tai, but I did not go as for my dissatisfying grade of the college entrance examination. Regretful as I was, I always hoped to go one day.


I was finally able to climb the mountain with a college friend around the May holiday last year, setting out from Tianjin to Tai’an. And we planned to start a night journey of ascending for the sunrise on top of the mountain if we were lucky.


It was about 4 hours’ journey of train from Tianjin Station to Taishan Station. I set off with my friend in the early morning.


At noon, we arrived in Tai’an. The moment we got out of the train station, the familiar Shandong accent struck me. Looking around the old city, I had a feeling of being back in my hometown.


The local driver passed us a map of Tai’an, telling the way to Mount Tai. As we had abundant time before climbing Mount Tai at night, we decided to walk there.


En route, we stopped off in the Dai Monastery. With traditional red lanterns and colorful flag hanging on the gate of the ancient ramparts, the old monastery seemed in a blossom to welcome every coming visitor. The simple but old ramparts saw the long history of Chinese culture.


We kept heading towards Mount Tai by asking the way from local people. Everyone was nice and patient. “You have already been at the foot of Mount Tai!” A middle-aged uncle told us.


Looking to the direction he pointed, we could see the the vague outline of Mount Tai, covered by the verdant trees and tough rocks. Up to the way, there were many small shops selling souvenirs and delicate handcrafts.


Stepping on the uneven road made up of flagstone, we spent the rest of day visiting the shops and appreciating the local culture. Among them, one textile shop was attracted by many visitors. A beautiful girl, seeming the same age as us, was spinning and weaving the textile on the traditional wooden machine by hand.


Seeing the day got dark slowly, we started to prepare for our night journey. I bought a stick and a small torch with my friend after listening to the advice of the experienced villagers.


Climbing at night was a great challenge for body and mind. We set off at 8 o’clock in the evening though we were already at a certain altitude above the sea. “Let’s go!” we headed together. The image of mountain porters flashed in my mind.


The early period of stone stages were flat and the road was wide. Souvenir shops were still seen but not as close as those down the mountain. But the light from the delicate ancient-styled house kept us warm at night.


When passing over the road without a shop, we turned on our torch. Voice could be heard ahead or behind us and I knew they were friends like us, making their way toward the top of Mount Tai. Most of the time we could see nothing but the dark but we were brave to step on the road that had been walked by numerous people.


On a turning platform of the journey, several big trees twining around by red silk ribbons caught our attention. They were so beautiful under the shadow of the light. We made best wishes under the tree.


About two and a half hours later, we got to a place that was bustling with noise and excitement. There were stands renting coats and stores selling food. One waiter came to ask what we needed and we wondered where we were.


“You’ve already arrived at the South Gate, half of the journey to the top of Mount Tai.” The first half seemed easier than we had imagined, so we decided to stop for a while and take a rest here. 


According to the waiter, the place was a transitional stop for visitors. Some people, if not so strong, just stopped here and went back. “As for us working staff, we usually go down the mountain every 2 or 3 weeks for it is not so easy to return. ” The waiter talking to us had worked on the mountain for years.


As Tai’an is a famous tourist and historical cultural city, many local villagers make their living by providing service for tourists. Ever since the new tourism policy adopted by the government of Tai’an, with tens of millions of visitors every year, the average annual per capita income in the village have increased a lot.Perhaps mountain porters need not do their old job again, I guessed.


After leaving the waiter, we began the second half of the journey. This time we rented the coat in fear of the coldness up the mountain. As we kept walking on, the stone road became narrower with each stage steeper.


There were no shops or stores any more. Soon we were extremely tired and had to stop for a rest every 10 or 15 minutes.When we stopped for a while, we felt cold and thirsty. But once we went on, sweat and exhaustion attacked us. That kind of mixed feeling was like being engulfed with fire and rain intermittently but we chose to enjoy from the suffering.


As we headed on, we found more climbers had already come before us. Whoever took a rest would be surpassed by those who kept going. It was just like a marathon march. People might stop but never turn back.


There was an old Chinese saying, “the rest ten miles’ journey was as hard as the first ninety’ when walking 100 miles.” which could best expressed our feeling on the journey toward the peak of Mount Tai.


The journey was more difficult than before. We stopped almost every flight of stairs. Some stairs seemed vertical while we were nearly exhausted, not to mention the complicated feeling of our body. What’s worse, every time we stopped, it would be harder for us to start again as we started to feel sleepy. We drunk bottled water and ate  bread to refresh our energy.


“It was almost there. Come on!” A boy cheered up for his friends.


“Come on!” The word not only motivated his friends but also inspired the rest of climbers who had heard of it. There was a moment I felt my heart quivered. I gave my  appreciation and good luck to everyone including myself.


It was true that I was moved by myself just like I was moved by the mountain porter many years ago. We conquered all the difficulties to climb the mountain with a an elevation of 1,545 meters. And most importantly, we conquered ourself, hoping to see the first sunrise in the early morning.I had even thought that I would cry when I reached the top.


But I did not cry even though we knew we would not able to see the sunrise. Instead of the sunrise, what waited for us was the nearest rain from the sky.


At 2 o’clock in the morning, we finally reached the top. Looking up the ancient stone gate, I saw “Tian Jie”, two characters written in Chinese meaning “ Heaven Street” in English.


There was a short time I imagined we were in heaven street. Bustling with the noise and calling of people, we could see hotels, restaurants, stores and numerous people and tents. Things seemed blurred and unreal.


But we had no time to worry about this. Finding a space to sit down, we just wanted to close our eyes without saying a word. That kind of exhaustion was unique and unforgettable in my memory.


And we did sleep by lying down in an open space until we were woke up by an expected rain. It rained.


There could not be sunrise. Maybe we were not so lucky, heading all the way but failing to enjoy the magnificent sight of the rising of the sun. But I was not pitiful because I had achieved my goal. The incomplete result just gave a second chance to climb Mount Tai in the future and I believed I would do it again.


All of a sudden, the sky went bright while the dark night disappeared. It was 5 o’clock and I woke up my friend. “OK. Let’s get back.” She said.


The blurred mist and soft vapor mixed together in the early morning of the early summer. Somehow, I could not tell whether we were in a dream or reality until I felt the first chilly wind toward my face.


Looking down, we could see the road we had passed snaking through the mountain, disappearing in the distance. The trees, valleys and rocks became clear, stretching out toward us. Inscriptions on cliff faces and stones were everywhere, giving insight into the development of Chinese characters and denoting different styles of calligraphy. No wonder Mount Tai had always been a source of inspiration for Chinese artists and scholars and a symbol of ancient Chinese civilizations and beliefs.


As we walked down, there were people kept heading up. Maybe they were delayed by the rain and stayed until the rain stopped. But they did not gave up. The returning journey seemed a little faster until I saw the mountain porters going into my sight.


They were mountain porters, carrying boxes of instant noodles or beverage. I stood aside to let them pass. Step by step, I did not know how many years they had been doing this. For the old days, I appreciated their hardworking but somehow I got a kind of complicated feeling now.


“If not for the tourist, they would not be so laborious. But they had to make their living by doing this. A pilgrimage to Mount Tai should be an experience, not the constantly toilsome work.” I said, and my friend agreed.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Comment Comment (2 comments)

Reply Report KIyer 2014-5-28 14:17
A good read! makes me want to climb up this mountain
Reply Report angelalulu11 2014-6-1 12:27
KIyer: A good read! makes me want to climb up this mountain
thanks a lot. It will be a great experience

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