Mount Emei, China

I arrived in Baoguo, a village at the base of Mount Emei in the Sichuan province, in the early afternoon. Soaring at 3,099 metres, Mount Emei is the tallest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains in China. Over 30 temples and monasteries, linked by stone-paved paths, staircases, and bridges, dot the mountain range. My plan was to spend two days exploring the mountain, staying in monasteries overnight, preferably with a travel companion. Since I had arrived in China ten days ago, I had always traveled alone, but I really hoped to find someone to hike Mount Emei with.

The restaurant/lounge area of my hostel in Baoguo conveniently faced the reception desk. I set up my laptop on the loft overlooking the reception desk, keeping an eye out for any solo female travelers passing through. About an hour later, a woman in her early thirties entered the hostel with her luggage. I watched her as she checked into the hostel. When she asked the hotel attendant whether she could visit Mount Emei in one day the next day, I knew this was my opportunity to get myself a travel partner. Before she had time to go up to her room, I got up and quickly approached her.

“Hi there. I couldn’t help but overhear that you were planning to go up Mount Emei tomorrow. I’m by myself and I was looking for someone to go up the mountain with. I was wondering if you’d mind if I joined you,” I said. “Oh, sure!” she replied enthusiastically. “I’m planning to go up by bus and cable car, though. I have a bad ankle, so I can’t do much hiking. And I have to be back down that evening anyway so that I can catch a bus back to Chengdu the next day,” she added. Though I had intended to spend two days on the mountain, I thought that I could go up Mount Emei with her the next morning, spend the night near the top to catch the sunrise at the summit the next day, then slowly hike back down to Baoguo on my own. I was thrilled to have a companion, even for just half a day.

We arose early the following morning to catch the bus to the Leidongping bus station near the top of the mountain. The two-hour ride took us through winding roads to the highest point the bus could reach. We then trudged up the 1.5 km-long path through steep steps, stopping often to catch our breath and admire the views. At the cable car station, we joined the long lines of people waiting to get on a cable car to the top. Another hill and staircase later, we finally reached the Golden Summit where pilgrims and tourists alike were busy posing for pictures, lighting incense, and offering their prayers.

Mount Emei is renowned for its summit views of rolling mountain peaks floating on an endless “sea of clouds.” It was a cloudy at the top that day, which meant we were not treated to the famed sea of clouds, but one could see the dark contours of the mountains on the horizon admist the layer of clouds. In the far distance, the tiny silhouette of the monastery atop the adjacent Wanfo peak, the highest point on Mount Emei, could be made out.

After spending half an hour on the Golden Summit, my travel companion and I parted ways. I decided to hike back down the mountain that same day, taking the bus as needed; she was going to linger at the top a bit longer, then take the cable car and bus back to the base. Half an hour into my descent, I ran into a Venezuelan/Spanish couple with whom I had shared a dorm room the previous night and the bus ride that morning. I was delighted to have travel companions, and even more so, that I had the opportunity to dust off my Spanish.

It was a grueling knee-numbing two-hour descent to the Leidongping bus station, but we made up for it with lively conversation. Along the way we encountered Mount Emei’s infamous Tibetan macaques. While they may look cute and innocent on the surface, these mischievous monkeys are fearless, commonly stealing food, water, and whatever they can get their hands on from tourists. Sadly, Chinese tourists have made matters worse by feeding the monkeys junk food for amusement. Though young macaques are relatively shy and tame, the adult ones have become more aggressive as a result of the inappropriate feeding.

A young macaque curiously peeking at the tourists

When we walked into one of their hang out zones on the trail, an adult macaque stole a Chinese girl’s pocketbook which contained her money, ID, credit cards, and keys! A park employee who was on the scene fired his slingshot at the thieving monkey, shouting at it to ward it off. The monkey dropped the pocketbook somewhere along the cliff, then leaped to the opposite edge of the cliff to observe the situation. As the park guard continuously tried to shoo the monkey and its companions away, another park employee proceeded to rappel down the face of the mountain to retrieve the pocketbook. When the girl got her pocketbook back, she was so grateful to the man who had retrieved it that she insisted on giving him a monetary reward, a happy ending to a story that would not usually end so well.

Once we reached the bus station, my travel companions and I rode to the Wannian bus station further down the mountain. Tired and hungry, we stopped for noodle soup at a local restaurant nearby before we hiked up to the Wannian temple. Even in the shade of the forest, we sweltered in the heat as we plodded up the interminable stone steps. Upon reaching the temple, we were outraged to find that the temple charged an admission fee, a common practice in China; we had already spent a good deal of money on the mountain entrance fee and bus and cable car rides, and were reluctant to spend more.

We hiked down to the Qingyin Pavillion, one of the eight main temples on Mount Emei, in the middle of the mountain, then passed through a dense green forest at the foot of the temple. A red pagoda stood in the heart of the lush foliage, flanked on each side by two stone arched bridges like a pair of wings beneath which the Black Dragon River and the White Dragon River flowed. The picturesque scene resembled a Chinese watercolor painting.

As it was getting late in the afternoon, we began to make our way toward the Wuxiangang bus station near the bottom of the mountain. Crossing a small suspension bridge over a glassy jade lake, shrouded in mist and encircled by thick forests, I had the eerie feeling of being on the set of an Indiana Jones film. If I had shared this with my mom, who’s been calling me a Malagasy Indiana Jones ever since I told her I was going to go backpacking in Asia, she’d have said “didn’t I say you were a Malagasy Indiana Jones?” But the lake was not infested with crocodiles and I was not chased by bad guys, so I couldn’t claim to be any sort of Indiana Jones. On Mount Emei, the only danger that lurks are the vicious monkeys that will bite if they can’t get their Pepsi fix.

Bridge over jade lake

For more pictures, go to the Flickr page

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4 Responses to “Mount Emei, China”

  1. Kate May 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Cinthia, those are stunning photos. You captured some wonderful shots of those mischievous monkeys. I’m glad you didn’t allow them to grab any of your belongings! I’m enjoying reading about your travels and can’t wait to read more!



    • Cinthia May 20, 2011 at 12:11 am #

      Hi Kate! Thank you for your nice comments. It’s lovely to hear from you. The monkeys didn’t seem interested in my belongings. I think there were plenty of other people to keep them entertained/fed. I also did my best to stay away from the older monkeys, only coming close to the young ones.

  2. AMP May 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Cinthia – I love the picture of the pagoda in the forest! So beautiful!

    • Cinthia May 20, 2011 at 12:11 am #

      Alida, hello! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Yes, the pagoda in the middle of the forest was quite charming. I’m sure you’d have loved it!