Outside the suburbs of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, Emeishan is amongst the 4 main sacred mountains of Chinese buddhists. Listed as a UNESCO world site heritage since 1994, it has everything to please : thick jungles, monkeys, high cliffs and deep gorges, rivers and waterfalls, temples and holy monasteries, wonderful views over the valley and, at the summit (3099m), a big stupa displaying an oversized statue of a 10-faces-Buddha upon a 4-faces-elephant and a huge bronze temple from where it’s possible to look at a beautiful sunrise over a sea of clouds. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
But, in fact, the reality is quite different…
Emeishan : its stairs, its concrete and its landscapes
First of all, the holy mountain Emeishan has a very high elevation gain. So unless you are ready to sweat liters and liters and to stand the pain, climbing uphill is a sport challenge or an expiatory pilgrimage. Indeed, to reach the summit from the bottom, you will have to climb 50km of stairs ! Yes, stairs. 100% steps ! High ones, and irregularly shaped, in stone, sometimes unstable… they become slippery as soon as they are wet and will quickly be your knees’ worst nightmare. Moreover, when going up, the beautiful landscape is facing your back!
Tip nº1: if you really want to visit Emeishan : try to plan your itinerary as to go down most of the way, it will be a lot more enjoyable!
The landscape is indeed wonderful. But you will need to be lucky with the forecast to appreciate it at its upmost. This area of Sichuan is very humid, providing heavy rains very often (why do you think the lush jungle is so green?) and, if one wouldn’t mind a little bit of fog to enhance the prettiness of the mountain (ancient Chinese painting style), A LOT OF fog will soon hide everything from your eyes… The perfect forecast to visit Emeishan: a sea of cloud in the morning for the sunrise, rising during daytime to let you see where you set foot while going down.
Tip nº2: don’t forget to check the forecast before you go! And if you want to see the sunrise, don’t forget your jacket, gloves and scarf. It’s bloody freezing up there before daylight !
On Emeishan, if one can see breathtaking sceneries, spectacular cliffs and lush vegetation along the way, one can also see the worst of Chinese tourist building: ugly « luxury » hotels, false concrete statues or waterfalls… Concerning the landscape, let’s add that the rainforest is hiding the wonderful view from your eyes many times during the trip.
From holiness to tourist business
When planning to visit such a Holy place, one might be a bit surprised by the expensive entrance price (185 CYN/p). But you will soon learn that nothing is for free on the mountain. If you want to get up (or down) by bus, you will have to pay another 50 CYN/p. Same thing if you want to use the chairlift. Then you have to add the price of the hotel on site, which is not cheap, as well as the price of the food and water you will have to buy (5CYN the small bottle of water… Considering how much you will have to walk, you will need to buy quite a few.)
The sacred summit is certainly the « place to be » on the mountain. Of course the view is quite amazing. But be aware that during the day this place is more crowded than Disneyland on a -50% sale-Sunday. The human traffic jam you will have to face is unbelievable. A real tsunami! Around the top: massive luxury hotels and hundreds of shops selling or renting heaps of Chinese crap, from plastic trinkets to panda-like coats and from 15CYN Snickers to cheap jewelry. Hard to feel any spirituality in these conditions. There is also a lot of « quite cheap » little restaurants, but we are not absolutely sure that your stomach will stand the food… All of the merchants will try desperately to sell half of their shop to every tourists passing by, even in the calmest parts of the mountain.
There is indeed quite a lot of calm and remote places on Emeishan, deserted by Chinese tourists and very peaceful to walk in.
Tip 3: run away from the summit as soon as you can or, like us, climb up there very early in the morning before sunrise, while everybody is still asleep. That’s the only way to enjoy it quietly!
Nonetheless, despite the insistent sellers, the crowded summit and the never ending stairs, the rest of the mountain is quite nice. One can even sleep in the monasteries! It could have been a nice idea if it wasn’t another lucrative tourist attraction. It is sad to see that even those religious places have lost their faith for money. The rooms are often very creepy, dirty and gloomy and too expensive for what they are. They were the most horrible rooms we ever slept in (and we tried quite a few during our different travels). If you’re a couple, they will refuse most of the time to let you sleep in a dorm and you will have to pay for a double (more expensive, of course)… We didn’t see the monks much, only a few minutes at dinner when we had to pay another 30CNY/p for a vegetarian meal (our most expensive vegetarian dinner in China ever).
Tip 4: check with other travelers before you go, apparently some monasteries are better than others! If you are a couple, try to find other travellers to group with. Or you can try to enter the temple one after the other and do like if you don’t know eachother.
So… What do we think ?
As a conclusion, the mountain IS beautiful but this beauty is ruined by all the rest… We left Emeishan feeling scammed and cheated and disappointed by this tourist swindle using buddhism spirituality to make money. We are not sure we are recommending this trip to anyone… But maybe you will still want to go to make your own opinion!