Emei Shan (a.k.a. Emeishan, Mt. O-mei or Mt. Emei), in Szechuan province, is one of the four Buddhist sacred mountains of China. At 3,099m, Mt. Emei is more than 1,000m higher than the other three Buddhist sacred mountains.
Mt. Emei has been designated a World Heritage Site thanks to its breathtaking scenery, mysterious natural wonders, and historical Buddhist sites. The full day's hike to the summit is an unforgettable experience undertaken by many, but minibuses and cable cars make faster alternatives for travelers short on time.
The slopes of Emei Shan have been inhabited since as early as 10,000 years ago. It was originally a Taoist retreat, but became a sacred Buddhist mountain by the 3rd century AD.
Pugong, a medicinal plant farmer, built the Puguang Hall on the Golden Summit in the 1st century AD. In the 3rd century, the Puxian form of Buddhism (which centers on devotion to the Bodhisattva Puxian, or Samantabhadra) became dominant on Emei and the Chinese monk Huichi built the Puxian Temple (now the Wannian Temple) at the foot of the Guanxinpo Terrace.
In the mid-9th century, the Song Emperor Zhao Kuangyin sent a Buddhist mission headed by Master Jiye to India. On his return he was authorized to build temples on Mount Emei, where he preached and translated the
Indian Buddhist texts. He was also authorized to cast a Puxian bronze statue, 62 tonnes in weight and 7.85 m high, now in the Wannian Temple.
Ever since, Mount Emei has been one of the most holy places of Buddhism. Extensive rebuilding during the Ming dynasty finally converted most of Emei's Taoist temples to Buddhism.
The natural beauty and sacred significance of Emei Shan has been drawing pilgrims and tourists for 2,000 years. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1996.
What to See
Emei Shan literally means "Delicate Eyebrow Mountain" — it derives its name from two peaks which face each other and look like the delicate eyebrows of a Chinese classic beauty.
Emei Shan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring many temples, natural wonders and breathtaking scenery. The slopes incorporate several different climates and much wildlife, especially birds and trees. Some of the trees are more than 1,000 years old.
There are also monkeys, who are accustomed to tourists and assertive; they aren't dangerious but will beg for food and grab at bags as hikers walk along the trails. Many hikers carry walking sticks to shoo them away.
There are over 30 Buddhist temples on Emei Shan, 10 of which are large and very old. They are considered masterpieces of creative ingenuity in the way they adapt to the natural enviroment and beauty of the holy mountain.
At the mountain base is Baoguo Monastery, built in the 16th century. The monastery has serene gardens with rare plants, a library of sutras and a huge porcelain Buddha. In the stone staircase of the rear hall are figures of the Eight Immortals, betraying the temple's Taoist origins.
Further up the mountain lies the Crouching Tiger Monastery (Fuhu Si), Emei's largest temple. Once associated with the Taoist martial-arts master Zhang Sanfeng, today it is a Guanyin nunnery. Notable features include the 16th-century, 7m-high bronze Huayan Pagoda, which is engraved with 4700 Buddha images.
The Qingyin Pavilion, built against the mountainside at the foot of the Niuxin Ridge, is an ensemble of pavilions, towers, and platforms, the earliest dating from the early 6th century. Its location and the streams that run through it have earned it the name “The Mountain Garden.”
A few hours' walk or a cable car ride leads to the Golden Summit(Jinding), at 3077m. There are two temples here (the friendly Woyun Nunnery and the large Huazang Si) and thousands of padlocks inscribed with couples' names to symbolize eternal love.
Huazang Si on Jinding was founded as early as the 1st century as the Puguang Hall, later becoming the Guangxiang Temple and receiving its present royal name in 1614. It was extensively rebuilt and refurnished in the 1970s, but every effort was made to preserve its original appearance.
Jinding is the best place to experience the Four Wonders of Mt. Emei: the Buddha's Halo (rainbow-like rings that surround and move with your shadow), the Sea of Clouds, the Holy Lamp (or Divine Lights) and the Golden Summit Sunrise.
From the Golden Summit you can ride a monorail along the ridge to Wanfoding (Ten Thousand Buddha Summit), the true summit of Emei Shan.
Mt. Emei lies 150 km away from Chengdu, 130 km from the Shuangliu International Airport and only 28 km from Leshan city. Access to the mountain is via Emei Shan town, 7km from the base. Minibuses and public buses leave from Emei's main street depot to the trailhead at Baoguo.
It is five kilometers to the top of Emei Shan, much of it consisting of stone stairs. If you walk it all, plan for a full day up and a full day down (around 10 hours on foot). Monasteries along the way offer reasonably-priced lodging, and there are several comfortable lodges on the summit. Dress in layers - a 20° variance between base and summit is normal.
Minibuses and cable cars can take tourists most of the way up the mountain. Most opt for tours from Chengdu, about three hours to the mountain base, then another two hours to Jieyin Dien, where you already feel the air at 2,540 meters.
A Swiss-style cable car soars over pines to Jinding, and a final hike of about an hour, huffing and puffing in the high altitude, to the peak. Some spend the night to see the sunrise, others quickly turn around and head back.
Quick Facts on Emei Shan
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|Coordinates:||29.519722° N, 103.332500° E (view on Google Maps)|
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Map of Emei Shan
Below is a location map and aerial view of Emei Shan. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.
- Mt. Emei Scenic Area, including Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area - UNESCO World Heritage List
- Getting to the Top - Gluckman.com, March 2005.
- Emei Mountain - China Travel Service
- Mt. Emei Map - Route to the top and location of monasteries (in Chinese).
- Qingcheng Shan via Leshan to Emei Shan - Travel diary with photos, February 2004.
- Emei Shan - Go Historic
- Photos of Emei Shan - here on Sacred Destinations
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