Wutai Mountain Travel Guide, How to Plan a Mountain Trip
A brief history
Wutai Mountain is one of the places where China’s oldest Buddhist temples were built. Ever since the Yongping Period of the Eastern Han Dynasty (58-75 AD), a myriad of splendid temples, Buddhist pagodas and magnificent palaces have been constructed in successive dynasties, making Wutai Mountain the gathering place of architectural complexes from various dynasties. Statues, stone steles, murals and calligraphy works are everywhere to be found in the temples and they are all rich in artistic values. During the booming period of the Tang Dynasty, there were altogether over 300 temples in Wutai Mountain. Subject to vicissitudes of time, some of the temples have been damaged.
Present of the Mountain
Presently, there are altogether 47 temples in Wutai Mountain. Amongst them, Foguang Temple and Nanchan Temple are China’s two oldest wooden structures in existence. Xiantong Temple (Lingjiu Temple), Tayuan Temple, Pusa Temple, Shuxiang Temple and Luohou Temple are known as the five most famous places for practicing Zen. Taihuai County is the gathering place of temples and center of Buddhist activities and economic life. Legend has it that Wutai Mountain is the place where Bodhisattva Manjushri once preached sermons and promoted Buddhist Dharma. In history, a number of Buddhist discipleship from India, Nepal, North Korea, Japan, Mongolia and Sri Lanka went on a pilgrimage to Wutai Mountain for Buddhist sutra.
Today, Wutai Mountain is China’s only place with a combination of Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism. Every summer in the middle, a continuous stream of tourists from home and abroad would pay a visit to Wutai Mountain, and burn incense to worship the Buddha. Every June, the grand mule and horse trade fair is held there. In the fair, there are exchanges and performances. It’s an ideal summer resort for visitors. The population of Taihuai County is 6,954 (according to the record of 1989).
Wutai Mountain is one of the shifting continents that first came on the surface of the ocean. Its emergence can be traced back to the Achaean Era 2,600 billion years ago. Later, in the Sinian Period it was known for the famous “Five Mountains Upheaving Crustal Movement,” giving rise to the most spectacular mountains in North China. In the Quaternary Period, icebergs covered Wutai Mountain, leaving rare landforms there. Wutai Mountain is rich and complete in stratums. It is an important place for national geographical investigation as it’s home to unique Precambrian stratums. Most of the stratums in Wutai Mountain are named after local mountains, rivers, villages and towns. They play an important role in the field of geography.
Wutai Mountain is 624 meters above sea level at its lowest point and 3,061 meters above the sea level at its highest point. It’s the highest mountain in Northern China and has long been crowned as “the roof of North China.”The view at the top of the mountain is majestic and spectacular as peaks thrust on one another. This unique and magnificent picture is considered a masterpiece of nature.
The best time to visit Wutai Mountain
The best time for traveling to Wutai Mountain is summer, particularly between July and August.
Though Wutai Mountain is roughly at the same altitude with Beijing, its high altitude gives its climate features of the Great Khingan in Northeastern China.
It’s cold in Wutai Mountain. So it’s also called “Cool Mountain.” Its annual average temperature is -4 degrees Celsius. Its hottest months are July (with an average temperature of 9.5) and August (with an average temperature of 8.5) and its coldest month is January with an average temperature of -18.8 degrees Celsius. Spring is a month earlier and autumn is a month later in Taihuai County at the top of the mountain. The daily temperature difference in Taihuai County is around 6 degrees Celsius. Its annual average temperature is 2-3 degrees Celsius with a lowest temperature of -30 degrees Celsius and the highest being 30 degrees Celsius. In summer, clouds there are low and often rain is heavy as it’s very humid.
As it’s quite humid in Wutai Mountain, it often rains heavily. So, you need to bring an umbrella with you if you climb the mountain. If you travel to Wutai Mountain in spring and autumn, you need to bring sweaters and woolen pants. If you intend to see sunrise at the top of the mountain, you also need to bring a coat with you.
If you traverse the northern areas of Fanzhi, Shahe and Hongmenyan all the way to Wutai Mountain, you need to watch the seasonal and climate changes closely. Before May and after September, the roads in high altitudes are blocked by snow and are hard to pass through. The roads are only open from May to September.
Wutai Mountain is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Whatever your religion is, you should follow the local customs. You’re not supposed to break tranquility and make noise there. You have to abide by the rules in the temples.
If you go to Wutai Mountain just for traveling, you ought to try your best to avoid bumping into incense salesmen. If you don’t intend to buy some, don’t reach out your hands. Sometimes, it’s hard to get rid of the troubles made by these salesmen.
Prepare some change. There are no stores and buffets in Wutai Mountain. You need change when you pay for vegetable meals, accommodation and donate money to the temple.
Whoever you run into, whether they’re monks, nuns or laymen, you should call them “Shixiong” (meaning “senior apprentice”).
Instead of saying, “hello, thanks and bye,” you should say, “Amitabha.”
You also should stay in your hotel at night. Also, you shouldn’t walk alone in the mountains because of leopards and wolves that may be roaming around then.
what to see
Standing at the peak of Lingjiu Mountain and to the north of the Xiantong Temple, Bodhisattva Temple is one of the five famous places for practicing Zen in Wutai Mountain. It’s said that Wutai Mountain is the place where Bodhisattva Fangshu once practiced austerity and the Bodhisattva Temple is the place where Bodhisattva once lived. Thus, the temple is also known as Zhenrong Yard or Wenshu Temple. It was built in the Northern Wei Dynasty and later renovated in successive dynasties. After the Yongle Period of the Ming Dynasty, Mongolian and Tibetan disciples came to Wutai Mountain. The abbot of Tibetan Buddhism lived in Bodhisattva Temple, making Bodhisattva Temple the most famous temple for accommodating lamas. Emperor Kangxi and Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty visited Wutai Mountain several times, lived in the Bodhisattva Temple. The emperors wrote words on the plaque and composed inscription for the temple. Immediately following, the temple was rebuilt. The extant buildings were structures from the Qing Dynasty. Its architecture style and style of wood carvings are similar to those of the imperial palace. Standing on the peak of the mountain, the temple was built with 108 stone steps of stairway and three arch-structures. Inside the gate, there stand such main structures as Tianwang Hall, Drum Tower, Bodhisattva Palace and Daxiong Palace. On both sides of the temple stand auxiliary halls, and on its back are yards for practicing Zen, and circular corridors. They are all complete and well-arranged. Bodhisattva Palace is an architectural complex with multiple wooden layers; Daxiong Palace is shored up by porches and pillars. They are all covered with colorful glazed tiles. Though standing the test of time, they remain glamorous as they were in the past. Among them, the blue is the most attractive. The stone tablet with inscriptions composed by Emperor Kangxi stands in front of the foreyard. The stone tablet with inscriptions composed by Emperor Qianlong is situated in the east yard. It’s a stone structure in the shape of a rectangle, 6 meters high and 1 meter wide in each side. The inscriptions are carved in the tablet in Chinese, Man, Mongolian and Tibetan characters.
Nanchan Temple is home to China’s oldest wooden structure; The Giant Buddha Palace. Shanxi has long been crowned as a museum of cultural relics. It boasts the largest number of old buildings and its value tops China. In Shanxi, there are 35 cultural heritage sites under state protection, and 284 under province protection. There are 106 wooden structures built before the Song and Jin Dynasties, accounting for over 70% of structures in that period. Wutai Mountain is the place where there are the largest number of old buildings, amongst which Nanchan Temple is the oldest.
Nanchan Temple is located above a cliff on one side of the riverbank in Lijia Village, Yangbai County, Wutai Town. It stands in the north facing the south with two bridges in the front and back. It’s surrounded by waters and trees. Encircled by red walls and green trees, combined with flowing streams and extending hills, it’s filled with serenity and tranquility. This is a medium-sized temple, with an area of approximately 3,000 square meters. It stretches 60 meters in length from south to north and 51 meters from east to west. Two yards constitute the temple, with altogether 6 palaces like Giant Buddha Palace and Nan Guomen Palace, to name a few.
Located in the central area of the Buddhist culture region of Taihuai County, Tayuan Temple was originally a yard of Huayan Temple. In the 5th year during the reign of Emperor Zhudi of the Ming Dynasty (1407AD), it was expanded from a yard to a temple and got its name Taiyuan Temple. It’s one of the famous five temples for practicing Zen, and one of the famous ten temples for accommodating monks in Wutai Mountain. Tayuan Temple stands in the north facing the south, consisting of rows of temple and monks’ dorms. Its axis is filled with magnificent structures such as screen walls, arches, stone stairways, passing doors, gates, drum towers, Tianwang Hall, Daci Yanshou Temple, Cangjing Mansion, Shanhai Mansion, Wenshu Pagoda Temple, and so on. It has an area of 15,000 square meters with over 130 halls and houses.
Tayuan Temple is home to Big White Pagoda, which is the very symbol of the Wutain Mountain. The pagoda is 50 meters high and its color is white. Over 200 bronze bells are hung on the top of the pagoda. The sound made by the bells is loud and clear.
To the east of the Big White Pagoda stands a smaller white pagoda. Legend has it that inside the pagoda stores the golden hairs of Bodhisattva Wenshu when he presents himself to the people on earth. Therefore, the pagoda is also called “Wenshu Hair Pagoda.”
Located in Taihuai County, Xiantong Temple is the largest and oldest one among all temples in Wutai Mountain. It’s crowned as a shining pearl as it boasts a long history carrying numerous rare cultural relics.
Baima Temple in Luoyang, Henan province was originally built under the reign of Emperor Mingdi in the Han Dynasty. As it was built several years after the construction of Baima Temple, it is now also listed as the second oldest temple in China. Its original name was Lingjiu Temple and was later expanded in the Northern Wei Dynasty. Since there was a garden in its foreyard, it was also called Garden Temple. It was reconstructed during the Taizong Period of the Tang Dynasty and got its name, Da Huayan Temple then. During the reign of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming Dynasty, it was renovated and got its name Big Xiantong Temple. Later, Emperor Zhudi named it Auspicious Xiantong Temple. After, Emperor Zhu Xujun named it Huguo Shengguang Yongming Temple (Yongming Temple for short). In the 26th year under the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1687AD), it was renamed Xiantong Temple. This name remains unchanged today.
Xiantong Temple is the largest one among all temples in Wutai Mountain, with an area of 43,700 square meters with over 400 houses of various sizes. Most of the houses were built in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The layout of the halls and compartments in the temple are arranged in order. The side halls are symmetric with an axis in the middle. The seven main halls that cover the axis are as followed: Guanyin Hall, Da Wenshu Hall, Daxiong Hall, Wuliang Hall, Qianbo Wenshu Hall, Tong Hall and Cangjing Mansion from the south to the north. Besides, there is Drum Tower, monks’ dorms and auxiliary halls inside the temple.
Ways to explore the Mountain
Hiking: Explore the scenic beauty of Wutai Mountain by taking a trek up the trails.
Buddhism Pilgrimage: Visit the many temples and monasteries located on the mountain and experience the spiritual aura of the place.
Cable Car Ride: Enjoy breathtaking views of the mountain and its surroundings with a cable car ride.
Horseback Riding: Explore the mountain on horseback and take in the breathtaking views from the top.
Photography Tour: Capture the beauty of Wutai Mountain through the lens of a camera on a photography tour.
2-day itinerary for Wutai Mountain
- 8:00 am: Take the bullet train from Taiyuan to Wutai Mountain and arrive at 9:30 am.
- 10:00 am: Visit the Xiantong Temple, one of the four largest Buddhist temples in Wutai Mountain. Explore the beautiful architecture and intricate sculptures and learn about Buddhist culture.
- 12:00 pm: Have lunch at a local restaurant and try the traditional cuisine.<
- 1:30 pm: Take a scenic hike to the Beitai Temple, which offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
- 3:30 pm: Visit the Taihuai Temple, known for its beautiful landscape and historical significance.
- 5:30 pm: Check into your hotel and relax after a day of sightseeing.
- 7:00 pm: Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant and sample the local cuisine.
- 9:00 am: Take a scenic drive to the Wutai Waterfall, where you can admire the beauty of the waterfall and enjoy a peaceful stroll through the surrounding forests.
- 11:00 am: Visit the Jinge Temple, a beautiful temple that is home to several ancient Buddhist scriptures.
- 12:00 pm: Have lunch at a local restaurant and try the traditional cuisine.
- 1:30 pm: Visit the Pusading Temple, which is known for its beautiful scenery and peaceful atmosphere.
- 3:30 pm: Take a scenic hike to the Daizong Hot Springs, where you can relax in the hot springs and enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
- 5:00 pm: Take the bullet train back to Taiyuan.
The itinerary is flexible and can be adjusted according to personal preference and time constraints.
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