(We visited Mount Tai and Qufu over the Fall Festival 3-day weekend, September 10 -12, 2011. )
It seemed only appropriate that we begin our adventure in the Middle Kingdom at some of the more holy and historically significant sites of China. It is also appropriate to begin the adventure close to home. We have been in China now for about 7 weeks. We live in Shandong Province and both of these locations are in Shandong. We are about 4.5 to 5 hours drive from them.
We were very fortunate to have Li Qi (Cindy) help us making arrangements for this trip. I have found her to be very good at what needs to be done. She is very capable and has been able to provide us with invaluable assistance in making the arrangement and in coordinating some very Chinese accommodations for us.
We departed Haiyang with our driver and his family for Tai’an about 4:40 pm (+8GMT) and arrived quite late due to circumstances that I have described in one of the Getting ‘There’ blogs. We were booked for lodging at the Ramada. Once we turned down the appropriate street in Tai’an it was obvious to me that we would be staying at the luxurious hotel at the end of the street. I believe that the Tai’an Ramada is a 4-star hotel and it looked very much like what I would have imagined the “large and spacious building” would have looked like in visions described in 1 Nephi 8 and 15. The lateness of the evening and the light fog actually contributed to the feeling I am sure. The slope of the road and the light fog with the hotel elevated on the side of the mountain made it appear as if it were floating on the fog.
We got checked into our room and set our alarms for 7:00am. The intent is to be ready to leave the hotel by 9:00am to start up the mountain. We went downstairs and had breakfast at the hotel restaurant. We found the food to be well prepared and appetizing with a large variety to choose from. We finished our meal and were ready to depart the hotel at about 8:45am.
We had determined that our approach should be to ride the bus to the mid-mountain drop off point rather than trying to walk the several km up the mountain road competing with the buses for space. I also needed to consider that neither LaDawna nor I would like be excited about climbing the stairs after fighting with the buses to get there. We arrived at the “Mountain” and the intersection was a bustling tangle of Chinese traffic. I am still amazed at the chaotic appearance of traffic in this country. We found a parking garage for the car and began our trek.
The entry to the “starting point” has many small monuments and granite blocks with inscriptions that leave no doubt that this place sees many visitors each year. The sky is slightly overcast with high clouds and remnants of the morning fog hanging about the mountain. We took a number of photos of us with the mountain as a back drop. I believe it is at this point that we are starting at the approximate 490m above sea level. I don’t mention to LaDawna that before the end of the day we will have climbed the equivalent number of stairs for four Empire State Buildings and be 5000 feet higher in elevation.
The cost to climb the mountain was 120RMB per person and another 30RMB for the bus ride to mid-mountain. We purchased our tickets, got on a bus and began the winding climb. I observed that there were people that were packing empty water bottles up the road and others packing full water bottles down. I suspect that the Chinese believe that the water for the mountain is some magic elixir or has some mystical power when it is drunk. I note that there was a small reservoir in a small neighborhood at the foot of the mountain. The reservoir has men in it swimming and would imagine that the waters are on the cool side.
We reach the mid-mountain bus station. We exit the bus into a crowd of people. There are many bodies mulling about, I am not sure which ones are going up and which ones are going down. We follow the crowd from the bus with the hope that their intent is the top, as is ours. We arrive at the bottom of the stairs.
Now I have read much about this climb. I know that the climb is physically challenging and I am mentally prepared for stairs that continue as if to reach heaven. I have seen pictures of the end but not the beginning of this climb. I am expecting the stairs to be narrow and high. I am not disappointed. The first “flight” of stairs is about twice as long as what one would expect in a modern sky scrapper, roughly about 40-50 stairs to the next landing. It is shaded by the overhanging trees and vegetation, it is most definitely crowded and I believe there are more going down than there are those going up. The feeling in my legs as I begin is one of anticipation and exhilaration not dissimilar to what I might have felt at the beginning of an athletic competition. I am mindful of LaDawna and take the steps individually as I hold her hand; I know that I have to make this climb enjoyable for her so that she can have an enjoyable experience. It has begun.
We reach the first flat or near flat section. It is obvious as we look ahead and above us that we will have opportunities to leisurely peruse the wares of the tourist traders. There are many areas where it is nearly flat and the vendors have installed stalls to ply for the RMB of the travelers that make this trek. I find many items that are exquisitely crafted, but find the large polished stones and carved stones to be the most interesting. Now on the way down I might be interested in purchasing a 10-15 kg stone, but I am not even remotely interested in that kind of purchase with the many of thousands of stairs still in front of me.
The sights and sounds and smells are overwhelming. I have so many things to observe and to try to understand. I am amazed at the effort that must have been expended to build this path. It is obvious even at the level of the climb that we are at that the work is ancient; there are signs of smoothness to the stones in the stairs that can only come by the treading of millions of feet.
We recognize that we are an oddity. I estimate that on this climb up and down we are 2 of many thousands that are making the trek this day, but we are not the same. I am, typically careful to not be conspicuous. I am not successful, I am obvious, LaDawna is obvious. We realize that we are the subject of many conversations of those that pass us. We are stopped by several climbers returning from the top to have our pictures taken with them. We are not dressed out of the ordinary, we combed our hair that morning, we are just, well white. We are not celebrities but we have many pictures taken. I find it funny that they girls will always put their arm around my waist. In those cases I am glad that my wallet is in my front pocket and my money is in my money belt so I don’t worry about the potential nefarious things that could be possible. We have actually become quite used to this happening now. There a number of the picture taking occurrences described in the Life section of the blog.
The climb is invigorating. The temperature is just about right, not too hot and not too cold. I am certain that it will be colder in the morning when we are standing at the top of the mountain waiting for the sun to rise. But the temperature now is perfect for the climbing exercise we are doing. We pause many times to look at the rocks and the etchings and carvings that have occurred. I don’t have the ability to read what is written there but know that there is significance to what is written by the number of people that pause to have their picture taken with them.
We realize that all of the climbers are not the average trekkers. Some of those we share the path with are there with a purpose; some will benefit us when we arrive at the top. There are climbers that are at work, they are very obvious and they do a job that I hope that I never have to do. They are laden with goods that support the service industry that exists on the top. They have goods lashed to the end of poles or have a 35kg sack of rice which they carry. Their jobs consist of carrying stuffs to the higher elevations. We see them with sacks of melons, boxes of water, and cases of Tsingtao.
I ponder the number of times a day or a week that these men perform these duties; such a mind numbing task, surrounded by those that look at the next step as an experience compared to their consistent and repetition of that step over the course of a month, a year, a career. It is easy to feel grateful for my opportunities when I see those struggles, knowing that the compensation for such physical labor is more than likely less than I will pay to feed the 5 people in my party for lunch at the top of the mountain.
We see such beauty. The scenery is amazing. We arrive at the bridge and waterfall. The stairs to climb the bridge are the steepest thus far. The picture is replicated on so many silk paintings with the peak in the background. The pictures don’t do justice to the beauty that is there.
We cross the arched bridge and ascend the stairs to the landing at the top of the waterfall. We see a sign at the top the next flight of stairs above the waterfall, next to a small temple. I have heard about this sign so it is not really disheartening but it certainly makes you question what you have done to this point. The sign reads – The climb starts now.