Mount Emei is one of the ‘must visit’ sites of China. Located in the Sichuan Province, it is an 80 minute high speed train ride from Chengdu, home of the Giant Panda. It is the highest of the ‘Four Sacred Mountains’ within Buddhism, at 3,099m. Named as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, it is home to the very first Buddhist temple to be built in China in the 1st Century A.D. Although, some consider that Mount Emei has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years.
Covered in a thick and luscious forest, you’d be forgiven for not noticing the Buddhist temples and monasteries that are scattered throughout the mountain. And that really is part of the appeal of Mount Emei, its sprawling natural beauty dotted with architectural beauty.
But what about the monkeys that attack?!
During the planning of our trip to China, Nicky and I had read a number of websites that warned of the danger of being attacked by monkeys on the ascent of the mountain. We brushed this warning aside as mere hyperbole. This was until I was speaking with a friend who had been to Mount Emei. He also warned me that I needed to walk within a big group to reduce the risk of being attacked and to also ‘find a big stick to carry as soon as you get to the mountain’.
So, it was with some trepidation that we started the climb of Mount Emei. (At this point I do need to point out that we didn’t hike up the whole mountain! The quickest way to the summit is to take a bus the majority of the way, jump on a cable car and then hike the last section to the Golden Summit.) Unfortunately, there were no sticks to be found so things were not looking good in terms of our defences. But, there were plenty of other tourists around. So, if push came to shove, we could shove someone else into the path of a rabies ravaged monkey!
As we started to climb the mountain the crowd of people moved fairly quickly. That was until we rounded one corner where a huge crowd blocked most of the path…monkeys! Despite all the warnings and signs what were people doing?
Trying to feed the monkeys.
Trying to pat the monkeys.
Trying to take selfies with the monkeys!
While we didn’t see any monkeys attack anyone, they were definitely not shy! They would run up to people and steal bags, food and anything they could get their hands on! And, when people tried to retrieve their belongings, this was met with what appeared to be a mix of aggression and stubbornness. Thankfully, the stupidity of others playing with the monkeys meant we didn’t have to protect ourselves at their expense. We kept hiking up the mountain and rode the cable car towards our final destination.
The second highest peak of Mount Emei is appropriately named ‘The Golden Summit’ (3,077m) and is certainly a highlight. Atop this summit is a golden temple and an imposing, 48m high, golden Bodhisattva Samantabhadra. It is at the Golden Summit that you also get a real insight into the sacred status of Mount Emei. There are candles being lit, incense burned and pilgrims adopting postures of worship.
As we started to approach the summit there was one group of people who didn’t fit the mix of tourists or pilgrims. There were countless men and women who were carrying sand in baskets on their backs. These baskets looked like they could have weighed anywhere between 40-70kg! The only respite from carrying them seemed to come in the form of small planks of wood that they also carried. When they needed to rest, they simply propped them under their basket and stood there without the basket resting on their shoulders.
At first, we couldn’t work out what this was all about. Adding to the confusion was the fact that people were giving them money as they climbed to the summit. As we got closer to the top a few of our questions were answered but many more were raised. At the summit there was a giant crane, scaffolding and plenty of construction taking place. Obviously, they’re carrying the sand up for the construction. But the natural question was, why not use a truck to carry it? Well, there didn’t appear to be any access roads up this high from what we could see. But this actually led to a bigger question…How did they get the crane and all the other building materials up?!
It was hard to ponder such questions for any amount of time because it wasn’t too long before I was distracted by the 360-degree views! They are spectacular! Mount Emei is definitely worth putting on your list when visiting China. And don’t worry about the monkeys…just let others’ stupidity be your safety net!
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