Mount Emei or Emei Shan (峨嵋山) is a must-see in China’s Sichuan province. It’s fairly close to the provincial capital of Chengdu and is one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China. We went during the heart of winter and wanted to experience everything we’d heard about the magical scenery “above the clouds.”
Turns out that getting “above the clouds”–as peaceful and serene as it seems (and was)–required a pretty intense trek up a mountain in snow and strong, chilly winds. It was quite an experience getting up and down the mountain. I’ll just say that Chinese tourists are seriously intense (two words: homemade crampons). But it really is an amazing trip to take, and the journey during the colder months offers a world between worlds. You’ll know what I mean as you read through this post.
Judy and I traveled there last year, but for all kinds of reasons, I never got around to sharing this trip on the blog. A few weeks ago while perusing old emails, I ran into some old trip booking confirmations and they reminded me of our great trip to Chengdu. That thought prompted me to look through my photo archives…which then made me realize what a lazy bum I was.
This brought me to my keyboard, and here we are. Some great photos of arctic temperatures for you all to enjoy in the warm glow of your laptop!
We first arrived at the base of Emei Shan in the evening, and the first priority was to find our hotel and then figure out how to get to the top of the mountain in the morning.
As always, Judy did some great research on the Ctrip (“C-Trip”) website and booked us at a really cool hiker’s hotel at the base of the park, conveniently located next to the bus station with quite reasonable rates. It was called “The Teddy Bear Hotel,” and it was a good place to stay (despite the name), frequented by a crowd of foreigners and domestic travelers alike. Also, is it just me or does it look like it’s straight out of an old kung fu movie (minus the scooter and the teddy bear signs, of course).
The rooms were clean and the staff was quite helpful with information. Best of all, you can find and book this hotel on Tripadvisor or Ctrip, and their staff speaks English! If we learned anything in Beijing, it’s that you just can’t always judge quality based on English names. (Teddy Bear Hotel? Saliva Chicken? Both quite lovely things!)
We explored the local area and had a quick dinner of meat and vegetable skewers. Options ranged from the traditional lamb skewers to pork, eggplant, long green chilis, and even the much-loved but terribly over-processed Chinese hotdog. (Needless to say, we went for the lamb.) Vendors would pop up on the street when nighttime set in, and they were a popular dinner option for visitors.
At one time in my younger years, I would have started from the base of the mountain and made the long hike up the next morning, but with limited time and the rumored wintery weather at the top of the mountain, taking a bus straight to the top was the prudent thing to do. So after dinner, we went right over to the bus station and found out that the first bus up the mountain was at 6:00 AM. It would take two hours just to get to the last parking lot where we could walk to the cable car station for the final leg of the journey to the top.
We bought the tickets for the first bus and were approached by a lady selling primitive metal crampons for 10 RMB a pair. She insisted we needed them on the mountain and, not wanting to take any chances, we forked out the cash. For those of you who don’t know, 10 RMB is about a buck fifty USD. They made great souvenirs from the trip, but as you will see later, they were essential equipment for the both of us!
That night we slept well, got up at 5:30 AM, grabbed a couple of freshly steamed mantou buns on the walk to the bus stop, and took our place on the bus. As some of you may have read in our previous travel posts, Chinese tour bus rides are measured on a scale that goes from “meh” to “god awful.” In true China fashion, the ride up the mountain was a harrowing experience through a narrow winding road. I know our bus driver probably had driven this route hundreds of times, but passing cars around blind corners was just something I was NOT used to.
After about an hour, we came to a stop behind a train of buses. We’d reached an elevation with freezing temperatures, and the road had turned into a sheet of ice. Out of nowhere, a bunch of guys in blue mechanics suits soon showed up to install tire chains on the buses.
To this day, I have no idea where they came from, but I could see the bus drivers paying these guys about 40 RMB (about 6 bucks) to put on the chains they had in the back of the bus and we were on our way again. This, along with the impenetrable icy scenery, had Judy on edge the whole time.
In about another hour, we reached the cable-car parking lot and found what Judy said was the best bowl of Sichuan noodles she’d ever had. The icy cold weather and stress-relief that a bowl of noodles can bring probably had something to do with that.
The uphill walk (“Climb!” Judy says) to the cable car is about 30 minutes on a sheet of ice. Our crampons went on thanks to the lady at the bus station, and yes, we felt very fortunate.
You can also tell from the picture below that we visited during Chinese New Year, when just about everyone in China is traveling and taking time off. But that’s life when it comes to traveling in China.
After our icy walk in on crampons, the cable car ride was a little disheartening, with almost no visibility in the fog and icy evergreen tree views. It was a surreal and, I’ll be frank, frightening, experience bobbing along the cable cars in thick frost and fog, surrounded by enormous pine trees.
But to our pleasant surprise, things looked much better after getting off the cable car. We literally saw the light. Blue skies, beautiful views, and clean, crisp air. It was the cleanest air we breathed the entire time we were in China (all three years!). The day was perfect again. We really were above the clouds, as promised.
This is one of my favorites – I had my binoculars so I could catch a beautiful view of the pagoda in the distance when the winds helped to clear the clouds. In the winter, the path to the pagoda is closed due to the snow and ice.
Here’s the temple at the golden summit:
And the steps leading up to and the statue of Samantabhadra at the summit of Mount Emei…
And the summit itself:
What was really impressive was the fact that a lot of elderly people took the pilgrimage up the mountain with their families to pray and give thanks to the Buddha at the top.
It was a great trip and a reminder of what an amazing history and heritage China has. And I don’t think we’ll ever forget the experience of standing above a bed of clouds.