When you mention Mount Emei to any Wuxia aficionado, images of Emei Sect and its high skilled female pugilists and the beautiful Zhou Zhiruo 周芷若 would come to mind. But the truth was so far different. First, it’s a Buddhist temple instead of Taoist. And there’s no Zhou Zhiruo.
Coming Round The Mountain
Mount Emei is 3,099m tall and is the highest of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China. Mount Emei is also notable for its exceptionally rich vegetation, ranging from subtropical evergreen forests to subalpine pine forests. Covering an area of 15,400 ha in two discrete areas – the Mount Emei and the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Areas – the property is an area of natural beauty into which the human element has been integrated with skill and subtlety.
The way to top of the mountain will take two steps – firstly, you take a shuttle bus from the visitor centre at the feet of the mountain to the mid-point stop.
Thank goodness, they have figured it out – it’s one way up and the other way down so you do not need to risk your life driving along the steep mountain roads.
At the mid-point, there are restaurants and toilet stops. Make sure you go to one before the final 1.5km trek up the second part of the ascent, which is a tramway ride. I don’t recommend eating before strenuous exercise though. I meant it’s good advice to clear your bladder here.
If you don’t have proper shoes, like I didn’t, you can buy shoe craws that can be tied to the bottom of your shoes. They provide the grip onto the slippery ice, very critical if you do not want a sore bump at the end of the excursion. Remember that melting snows can be wet (it’s essentially water), so if you want to have dry feet, the souvenir shops sell a shoe cover that provide some form of grip as well.
And then you start walking up. There’s still a bit more trekking before reaching the pulley tramway to the peak of the mountain.
Of course you can enjoy the beautiful winter view along the way. And there’s the red-faced monkeys that are native to the mountains that have been overfed by the tourists. It is suggested to give the monkeys some peanuts and then hands up and palms out in order to show you don’t have anymore food. Never fool them or touch them as they may act wildly and hurt you. And if you get too tired to climb the way up, there’s always hired hands that can carry you to the tram station. It’s ¥200 one way, I paid ¥300 being overweight 🙂
Surmounting the Peak
The first Buddhist temple in China was built here in the 1st century A.D. during the Han Dynasty in the beautiful surroundings of the summit Mount Emei. The addition of other temples turned the site into one of Buddhism’s holiest sites.
On Mount Emei, there are over 30 temples, ten of them large and very old; they are in local traditional style and most are built on hillsides, taking advantage of the terrain. They include the Wannian Temple 万年寺 founded in the 4th century containing the 7.85m high bronze Puxian Buddha 普贤菩萨 of the 10th century, and garden temples including the Qingyin Pavilion 清音阁 complex of pavilions, towers and platforms dating from the early 6th century; the early 17th century Baoguo Temple 报国寺 and the Ligou Garden (Fuhu Temple 伏虎寺) turned the mountain into one of Buddhism’s holiest sites.
The only way up and down the summit these days is using the tramway. And still you are not at the summit. There’s still the final 500m walk along a steep slope to reach the top. And this time there are not handlers to help carry you up.
Finally, you will come to the Temple Gate after these steps, you are finally at the foot of the temple mount.
Huazang Temple 永明华藏寺
The temple on the summit was built in Eastern Han Dynasty 63 AD, and was burnt down and rebuilt several times during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It became the Guangxiang Temple 光相寺, receiving its present royal name of Huazang Temple 华藏寺 in 1614.
During the Cultural Revolution, the temple was converted into a radio station. It was burnt down in 1973 due to an accident. This current temple was built in 2002 and paid for by the Sichuan Provincial Government. The current statue of Puxian Bodhisattva in the worship square was completed and ordained in 18 June 2006.
Mount Emei is the Dojo of Puxian Bodhisattva 普贤菩萨. It was said that Puxian Bodhisattva appeared on the summit in 63 AD and a temple was established to worship him. But the worship of Puxian only happened 300 years later in 399 AD when Puxian Temple was built (which later was called Wanguo Temple where an ancient stature of Puxian is still being used for worshipped).
To prevent fire in the monastery, all worship and offering of incense have to be done in the open space below the steps.
The white elephant with six tusks is the ride of Puxian Bodhisattva. The elephant symbolises great power, but its nature is demure. It represents the nature of the buddha being benevolent and powerful. White symbolises purity and six tusks represent completeness.
This is a common manifestation of Puxian Bodhisattva 普贤菩萨. On the base is the sutra of Puxian and murals of His appearances on earth. The buddha sits on 4 elephants with six tusks representing the four directions of earth. And multi-faces of the buddha look at 10 different directions, representing the different levels of life and death.
大雄宝殿 The Mahavira Hall is the hall of worship of Siddhārtha Gautama 释迦摩尼, which we would refer to as Buddha and the founder of Buddhism. Technically, Puxian is not buddha but bodhisattva 普萨, which is one level down from buddha. So He is not worshipped in the Mahavira Hall.
金顶 Golden Summit is the proper hall of worship of Puxian. Also called the 普贤殿 Puxian Hall or 金殿 Golden Hall, it housed a smaller version of Puxian in another manifestation sitting on his elephant.
Besides the Golden Summit, there is the 银顶卧云禅院 Silver Summit Woyun “Spreading Cloud” Monastery and a newly completed 宝顶观音殿 Baoding “Summit” Guanyin Hall. The monastery is now a vegetarian restaurant, bookshop and souvenir shop.
And many would recommend that you stay a night on the summit. There’s a hotel that was built along the cliff next to the tramway. The sunrise is stunning, as they say. and the night sky on the summit is incredible.
As it was a day trip, I can only attach some photos that I found on the Internet of the beautiful scenes at the top of the mountain.
What goes up must come down as they say. You have to walk back to the tramway and then take the cablecar back to the mid-point, walk back the 1.5km of icy paths and get to the waiting shuttle bus and go back down the mountain.
On the way down, you will come across an ancient tomb of one of the founding abbot of the temple hidden among the shrubs and covered with snow. So if you walk too fast, you will miss it. Lucky for me, I was pacing myself.
This has been an item struck off my bucket list. The peak has not been too commercialised but give it another year or two, I can bet with my bottom dollar it would not be the same anymore.
Visited in Dec 2021