Just a two-hour high-speed train ride south of Beijing lies Tai’an city in West Shandong that also borders with Shandong’s capital, Jinan. The first syllable, “Tai”, refers to Mount Tai and “an” simply means peace. A bustling city of nearly 5.5 million people, Tai’an is best known for hosting Mount Tai. Its soaring peaks, stunning sunrises, and sacred history will take your breath away. There is a belief in China that if you make a wish when standing closer to the sky – such as on a mountain – then it will reach the gods sooner.
There are 5 holy Taoist mountains in China, and Mount Tai is the most sacred of them all. It has been worshipped since the 11th century BC, and some can be traced back 3,000 years ago to the Shang Dynasty. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, and it now receives 6 million tourists every year. Of the 19 World Heritage sites in the world, Mt. Tai is one that combines both natural and cultural heritage. An old adage mentions, that if you climb Mount Tai, you will reach 100 years old.
Tai’an is the gateway city to the sacred slopes of Mt. Tai. The mountain is 1,532m above sea level, with a walking distance of 7.5km from the base to the summit on the central route. There is an option to take a cable car up part of the journey, or hike – over 6,000 steps – to the top where you will reach the South Heaven’s Gate. The cable car ascent is surprisingly steep, lengthy, and affords incredible views – deep in the clouds. Stay at the imperial palace (apartment) “Bixia Temple” if available during your stay. Peek through the thick clouds over the top of the mountain ridge into infinity.
Mt. Tai has always been known as a sacred place to the Chinese people. 3 founding emperors of China, Emperors Yao, Shun and Yu are said to have reached the peak to worship the Heaven. Ever since, all emperors of China, with no exception, have followed in the footsteps of their ancestral royal line. Worshiping the Heavens at the top of Mt. Tai became a due process to legitimize emperors to mandate their governance. On the mountain itself, you will find the oldest and largest Taoism temple in Shandong. It dates back 1,000 years, from the Song dynasty. When stepping over Taoist temple thresholds, boys should use their left foot first and girls should use their right foot first.
You might already be familiar with the concepts of feng shui and yin and yang, which belong to Taoism. At this temple, a goddess is worshipped, to help young couples to have children. Steep in history and supernatural allure, Mount Tai – and indeed, Shandong province – is legendary. In ancient times, people in China believed that the sun began its daily journey from Mount Tai. Watching the awesome sunrise, from the summit, is still a popular experience today.
The summit of Mount Tai is the highest point in Shandong province, as well as being the picture on the back of the 5 yuan bank note. When travelling in China, a fun souvenir is taking a photograph of the real life scene from each of the bank notes. See how many you can tick off!
The “East Route”, spanning more than 7,200 steps, is the most popular way to reach the summit. This route was often taken by emperors who travelled many miles to reach the top of Mt. Tai. The route starts from Dai Temple, passing the Midway Gate of Heaven and finally reaching the South Gate of Heaven. Although the climb can be strenuous, prepare to take anywhere from 2.5 to 8 hours to finish your journey. Not only will you be blown away by the sheer beauty of the landscape atop the mountain, but also hundreds of poetic calligraphies from well-known philosophers from past centuries of China’s history have their work here, including Ten Thousand Immortals Tower, the Arhat Cliff, and the Palace of Goddess Doumu. There are also Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian temples at the summit of the mountain, as well as a commercial street with cafés, shops, and hotels. There is a good mixture of both reasonable or luxury-type hotels to enjoy your stay.
The Dai Temple: Built in Qin Dynasty (221 BC-207 BC) and expanded subsequently in every dynasty onwards, the Dai Temple is the very spot where the grand ceremony of worshipping the Heaven takes place. The Grand Hall of the Dai Temple, The Grand Hall of Confucius Temple and The Grand Hall of Harmony in the Forbidden City of Beijing are called the top three grand halls in all of China. This is a triangular spiritual fulfillment. Confucius taught the Chinese to observe hierarchy and obey authority. The ultimate authority is from emperors outside the Forbidden City of Beijing. Emperors, in turn, listen to their father, the Heaven. It is no wonder no one else would build any other larger halls in China. Shandong nurtures Chinese culture.
Baotailong Underground Rift Valley: The collision between Mt. Tai and Mt. Culai years ago formed a huge underground valley. Those karst caverns were found to run 1,300m long in 2016. The entire story started with the ground collapsing 100 m in diameter in 2003. Fortunately, a village was relocated safely. It was not until 5 years later when a farmer lost his drill while digging a well in his backyard and the discovery continues. The Baotailong Underground Rift Valley officially opened in April 2016. The size is so vast that you can only see the rift’s magnitude by riding on the 28-minute rafting excursion. We believe this will be the next wonder of the world. This rift valley is larger than the Mammoth Cave (82.63 mi2) in Kentucky, and Luray Cavern (64 acres) in Virginia, both located in the U.S.
The city’s motto is officially interpreted as: Mt. Tai of China goes with a world of peace. What an ambition!
TRANSPORTATION – to Mount Tai
Option 1: Take a train to Taishan Railway Station and then transfer to bus 3 to reach Red Palace Gate or Tianwai Village. The starting point of the hiking route is the Red Palace Gate and Tianwai Village. It is the location to get a sightseeing bus to the Mid Heaven Gate. If you arrive at Tai’an High Speed Railway Station, then you will need to transfer to bus 37 or a tourism bus to reach the recommended locations.
Option 1: Take buses #1, #4, #6, #13, #15 East Ring Road Line or #33 or #39 East Ring Road Line from Taishan Railway Station to Dai Temple. After you visit the temple, walk north for approximately 1.2 km to reach Red Gate Palace.
Option 2: Take bus #16 from Taishan Railway Station to Peach Blossom Ravine. The bus schedule stops after 5:00 PM every day.
Option 3: Take bus 2, 3, 32, 36 from Taishan Railway Station and get off at Daizongfang Station. After that transfer to bus 19 to the terminal station at Tianzhu Peak. This bus stops after 5:00 PM every day.
Option 4: Walk north about 823 m from Tai’an Bus Terminal at No 1 Longtan Road to Taishan Railway Station and choose one of the routes mentioned in Mt Tai.
Option 5: Take bus 9 or 15 East Ring Road Line, 16, 25, 33, 37 or 50 from Tai’an New Bus Station at No. 139 Dongyue Street to Taishan Railway Station.
Option 6: Take the 14th, 19th, 45th, K37, K3, and K49 roads at the Red Gate Station to reach the Red Gate Entrance at Taishan.
Option 7: Take the 19th, K37, K39, and K39 outer rings; then K3 or K49 road at Tianwaicun Station. Get off at Tianshan Tianwai Village entrance.
Option 8: Take the 19th road and get off at Tianchanfeng Scenic Spot Station to get to Tianzhufeng Entrance
Option 9: Take K16 and K49 Road at Peach Blossom Station. Then proceed by car to reach the Peach Blossom entrance.
Mount Tai has four routes that can be taken to reach the summit:
The first is the East Route. This is also considered to be the imperial route because emperors took this ascent to make sacrifices. Along the path there is natural scenery, stone inscriptions, palaces and temples. On this route you will start from the largest and most well preserved temple Dai Temple. From there you will see Dai Zong Archway, Red Gate Palace, Jing Shi Valley, Hu Tian Pavilion, Eighteen Bends and more. The most famous which, as stated above, is Dai Temple, is where emperors stayed and offered their sacrifices. Dai Temple was first built in the Han Dynasty and was renovated and expanded in the Tang and Song dynasties. Eventually it became the largest and most well preserved temple on Mount Tai. There are 6,666 steps on this route (all 6s mean good fortune in ancient Chinese numerology). On this route, it takes roughly four hours to reach the summit. The East Route is the ideal choice for most tourists who want to see cultural relics.
The second is the West Route. This route can be divided into two parts: the high road from the Heaven and Earth Square to Mid Heaven Gate (notice that the names signify the ascent to Heaven), and the second part is from Mid Heaven Gate to the summit. The West Route is considered to be the most fashionable way to reach the Jade Emperor Summit because it has modern facilities such as the cable car from Mid Heaven Gate to the top of the mountain. Some attractions include Heaven and Earth Square, Black Dragon Pool, the Tomb of General Feng Yuxiang as well as the Longevity Bridge.
The third and most convenient way is the Peach Blossom Ravine Route. This route can be reached by taking the No. 104 National Highway and then go directly from the parking lot to the cable car. By taking this route, it is possible to reach the summit in just a few minutes. There is also a ropeway that is designed for sightseeing from the air. This gives a clear view of the scenery. The best time to take this route is in Spring and Summer when the peach blossoms are out.
The fourth and final route is known as the Tianzhu Peak Route. The word, Tianzhu 天烛 is also known as heavenly candle). It was given this name because of its candle like shape and the pine tree standing on top of the peak which looks like a flame on a candle. This route is the most rugged and difficult of the four. On this route you may also enjoy General Peak, Eight Immortals Cave, Big Tianzhu Peak, Small Tianzhu Peak and more. This route also offers a beautiful view of pine trees at Hou Shi Wu.