Tai Shan mountain has been revered as a mystical place for several thousand years, and the earliest summit temples were erected in 354BC. It remains the holiest of all Taoist mountains in China and attracts millions of visitors a year.
However this chill December day it feels like I’ve got the place to myself. Over the centuries wide stone steps (6660 of ’em) have been erected along the full length of the climb, but it’s still a challenge to mount the last, very steep section to the top. As the temperature was well below zero there was ice and snow on the upper steps, though thankfully a handrail has been added to prevent slippage. And it’s definitely worth the climb! The summit has several vantage points in each direction, all offering truly spectacular views up to 200kms on a clear day.
But the most amazing thing to do, apparently, is to watch the sun rise from North Prayer Rock. So I booked into an empty hotel for the night so I could do just that. In the summertime I’m sure it’s a buzzing place but right now it’s on skeleton duty, with just four caretakers sharing a dorm room and administering the few casual guests who stay. There are no other guests tonight, and though the room is toasty warm the toilet I’m sharing with the staff is, erm…. rustic in the extreme. At least it’s cheap, with rates 1/3 of normal (rates are triple normal in peak holiday season). Food, on the other hand, is far from cheap.
The dawn experience was lovely, though not out of this world. I had a prime perch all to myself, and waited patiently for the sun to rise above the distant clouds. It was not perfectly clear but neither was it foggy. While waiting a photo tout came along, and in the end I succumbed and allowed him to take a few photos both with my camera and his. He then took me to a few other photogenic spots for some posed shots, then we started talking turkey. The most amazing part of the whole experience for me was how they were printed. Photos were taken with a digital camera, and afterwards from a shed he and a mate carried out a large black metal chest. Inside the chest was a computer, inkjet printer and laminator! All photos were printed on the spot, and some of them are quite good. But the funniest thing was that it was so cold (somewhere around -10 celcius) that they had to use a hair dryer for several minutes to heat up the computer and printer enough so they would work. True story!