NEAR XIAN: TOMBS, NEOLITHIC VILLAGES, IMPERIAL POOLS, SACRED HUASHAN AND THE WORLD’S SCARIEST HIKE

NEAR XIAN

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Banpo Neolithic Village
Most of Xian's premier tourist sites are located outside of town. Lishan (32 kilometers east of Xian) is the place where Chiang Kai-shek was held for two weeks by the Communists before he escaped by jumping out of window after being arrested in 1936 during the so called Xian Incident. A sign shows the window he jumped out of.

Famen Temple (in Famen, 15 kilometers north of Fufeng County, Baoji city 120 kilometers northwest of Xian) was built to house a finger bone relic that reportedly belongs to Buddha. The finger relic is said to have been carried to China from northern India by monks 200 years after Buddha's death. In 1981, a 12-story brick pagoda in the temple collapsed, revealing the largest underground Buddhist vault ever found in China. Many precious relics were discovered, including 2400 pieces of gold, silverware, jewelry and 8th century textile products. The vault apparently lay in obscurity for1,000 years and escaped the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. It was discovered by archeologist cleaning the temple runs in 1987.

Famen Temple is said to be the only temple that preserves the finger bones of the Buddha. First constructed in the Eastern Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220), it was originally known as the Ashoka Temple, and was renamed Famen Temple in early Tang Dynasty (618-906). The gold and silver wares discovered from the underground palace are exquisite treasures. The gilded Buddhist cane has 12 rings on its four sides. The consummate skills of weaving brocade in gold threads of the Tang Dynasty (618-906) is on display here. The thinnest gold threads for weaving brocade are only 0.1 millimeters thick, thinner than human hair.

Tombs and Mausoleums Near Xian

More than 800 earthen burial mound tombs are in the fields that encircle Xian. These include the tombs of 11 Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220) and 18 Tang Dynasty (618-906) emperors as well as the tomb of Emperor Qin and his terra cotta army. So far only a few have excavated because the Chinese believe that digging up the tombs would be a desecration of their ancestors final resting place. The sites that have been excavated were either in the way of construction sites or stumbled on accidently by well diggers.

Hanyang Mausoleum (in Zhanjiawan Village, 20 kilometers north of Xian) was built in 153 B.C. Covering an area of 20 square kilometers, the mausoleum contains the tomb of the Emperor Jingdi and his empress as well as the south and north burial pits, ceremonial site, human sacrifice graveyard and criminals' cemetery. The Outside Pits Exhibition Hall was opened in 2006, which is the first underground museum in China. Admission: 80 yuan; Tel: +86-029-86031470, 87880866 Getting There: You can take No. 4 or No. 10 bus.

Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor (in Yan'an) is the reputed burial site of the legendary Yellow Emperor. The Yellow Emperor, named Xuan Yuan, was the head of a clan from the ancient time and was respected as the ancestor of the Chinese nation. This mausoleum was built by Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220) as a sacrificial altar. The mausoleum is 3.6 meters in height with a circumference of 48 meters. In front of the grave there is a stele pavilion, sheltering the Qiaoling Dragon-Carriage Stele and the Qiaoling Stele of Old Xuan Yuan Yellow Emperor. It was built by Shaanxi imperial inspector, Bi Ruan, in the 41st year of the Qianlong reign (1776) Admission: 46 yuan during the low season, 91 yuan for busy season,Tel: +86-0911-5212742, +86-0911-5216510 Getting There: You can take a bus from Xian railway station.

Maoling Tomb (Maoling Village of Nanwei Town, 40 kilometers west of Xian) contains the grave of the famous Han Emperor Wudi (156-87 B.C.). The largest tomb from the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220), it took 57 years to build and embraces a 50-meter-high and 240-meter-wide pyramid-shaped mound. The nearby Maoling Museum has a fine collection of large stone horses and funerary objects found around the tomb. A survey has shown the tomb was sealed with rammed earth. The rectangular mound is surrounded by ground with a perimeter of more than a mile. Admission: 28 yuan; Tel: +86-0910-8456140, +86-0910-8418040 Getting There: You can take a tourist bus from Xian Yuxiangmen bus station or by train from Xian railway station.

Qiaoling Mausoleum (in Anwang Village of Pucheng County, 65 kilometers northeast of Xian) is the imperial mausoleum of Emperor Ruizong of the Tang Dynasty (618-906), two queens, his sons and daughters. The mausoleum covers an area of 852 square meters Admission: 15 yuan; Tel: +86-0913-7213772 Getting There: You can take a tourist bus from Xian east bus station.

Tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang

Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum (35 kilometers northeast of Xian, 5 kilometers east of Lintong County, 1.5 kilometers from the Terra-Cotta army) is the tomb of Emperor Qinshihuang, founder of the first unified empire in Chinese history during the 3rd century B.C..Qing Shi Huang (personal name Ying Zheng) began the construction of his mausoleum when he was still the 13-year-old king of the Qin State during Warring States period of China in 247 B.C.

Located at the northern foot of Lishan Mountain, Emperor Qin's burial complex covers 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) and reportedly was built by as many as 700,000 workers over a 37-year period. The tomb is covered by a 260-foot-high mound with a square 1,500-x-1,700-foot base. To this day it remains unexcavated by archeologists but appears to have been robbed at least in early times by looters. What is inside its regarded as one of great mysteries of archeology. The tomb was surrounded by a seven-meter-thick wall but little of it remains today. There is little for tourists to see except for a big mount of earth. .

Emperor Qin’s burial complex embraces four pits—three with terra-cotta soldiers and one unfinished and empty . Pit 1 is situated about a mile east of the emperor’s underground burial structure. About a third of it—covering 3.5 acres—has been excavated so far. The other three pits are nearby.

The tomb plus the pits with the 10,000 terra cotta soldiers is recognized by Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest tomb. It measures 7,129 feet by 3,195 feet and 2,247 feet by 1,896 feet. The entire tomb complex, including the terra-cotta army, extends over an area of 22 square miles. It is arguably the greatest afterlife palace ever built. The only things that rank with it are the great pyramids in Egypt.

Terra Cotta Army of Emperor Qin

The terra-cotta Army of Emperor Qin consists of 10,000 or so life-size figures found in three massive pits with ramps used for putting the soldiers in their places. Most of the figures are armed warriors, meant to accompany to Emperor Qin to the after-life and protect him in heaven from his enemies. When it was unearthed by a man digging a well in 1974 in rural China, the Terracotta Army took the world by storm to become one of the greatest archaeological finds of all time.

Produced during the third century B.C., this army of life-size figures is found in three massive pits with ramps used for putting the soldiers in their places. Most of the figures are armed warriors, meant to accompany to Emperor Qin Shihuang Di to the after-life and protect him in heaven from his enemies. Jeffrey Rigel of the University of California at Berkeley called the statues "a creation of awesome scale and accomplishment---an unforgettable symbol of the power of China's first emperor."

The Chinese believe that a person takes to heaven whatever he is buried with. Emperor Qin no doubt made many enemies in his long, ruthless career. He may have been worried that these enemies might gang up against him in the afterlife, which explains why he wanted to have such a large force to protect him. Much of the work on the terra cotta army was done while Emperor Qin was still alive. In 206 B.C., four years after his death, the burial vaults containing the terra-cotta soldiers were burned and vandalized by peasants, who stole the real crossbows, spears, arrows and pikes carried by the statues and used them in a rebellion against Emperor Qin's descendants.

Silk Road Sites in Xianyang

Silk Road Sites in the City of Xianyang: 1) Qianling Mausoleum (Qian Imperial Mausoleum), Xianyang City (Coordinates: N34 34 51 E108 12 53); 2) Zhaoling Mausoleum (Zhao Imperial Mausoleum), Xianyang City (Coordinates: N34 36 13 E108 31 18); 3)Great Buddha Temple Grottoes in Bin County, Xianyang City (Coordinates: N 35 04 24.4-35 06, E 107 59 32-108 01); Xianyang is a prefecture-level city on the Wei River a few kilometers upstream (west) of Xian. It was the capital of the Qin dynasty (221 to 206 B.C.) and is now part of the Xi'an metropolitan area. Although trade with west undoubtably took place at the time, the Qin Dynasty is largely regarded as pre-dating the Silk Road.

Great Buddha Temple in Bin County (20 kilometers northwest of Xian, 10 kilometers west of Binzhou, County, south of of Xi'an-Lanzhou Highway) is famous for its gigantic Amitabha statue and other Buddha grottos, which were included in UNESCO World Heritage Site designated in 2014. According to Travel China Guide: In 628, Tang Emperor Li Shimin asked people to build a temple to celebrate his mother's 60th birthday, so it was originally called Qingshou Temple (Celebrating Birthday Temple).

“The grottoes were built during the Northern Dynasties (386-581) and some Buddhist statues were carved at that time as well. There are 130 grottoes and 1,980 statues, which are divided into the Great Buddha Grotto, Cave of a Thousand Buddhas (Qian Fo Grotto), Buddha Cave (Arhat Cave) and Zhangba Buddha Grotto. The gigantic Amitabha stands in the middle of this grotto, which is 20 meters (65.6 feet) high and whose fingers are two meters (6.56 feet) tall. On either side stand Bodhisattva Dashizhi and Kwan-yin Bodhisattva who are both 17.6 meters (57.7 feet) high. They are called the 'Three Saints in Paradise'. In addition, many niches in the wall contain about 200 Buddha and Bodhisattva statues of various different sizes.

“ The Cave of a Thousand Buddhas (Qian Fo Grotto) is situated in the east of the Great Buddha Grotto. The main statue is Maitreya with his disciples, Bodhisattvas and Heracles standing besides him. In other niches, most of the statues consist of one Buddha and two Bodhisattvas or one Buddha with two disciples and two Bodhisattvas. The Bodhisattvas complete with graceful poses and flowery clothes look like beautiful dancers. Therefore, they are considered by many visitors to be 'the Venus's of the East'. “

Huaqing Pool

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Huaqing Hot Springs (32 kilometers east of Xian near Lishan) was a popular Tang Dynasty (618-906) resort. Situated at the foot of Black Horse Hill, the springs have reportedly been used for over 2,800 years. Emperor Qin liked bathing in them so much he built a luxurious palaces next to one of the pools..Emperor Xuanzong built a lavish villa here for entertaining his mistress. Fearing the influence of the mistress on the emperor, the mistress was killed.

The hot springs cover an area of 1,800 square meters and the pools have names like Concubine Pool, Star Pool, and Crab-Apple Blossom pool. In 1959, dozens of tacky buildings were constructed to imitate Tang Dynasty (618-906) palaces from 10th-century, when the hot spring's were in their heyday. Some of the pools are inlaid with marble.

Also known as the Huaqing Palace, the Huaqing Pool lies at the northern foot of Lishan Mountain. The emperors of the Zhou (1046-256 B.C.), Qin (221-206 B.C.), Han (206 B.C.–220 A.D.), Sui (581-618 CE) and Tang (618-907 CE) dynasties are all said to have enjoyed the waters here and spent time here in the summer. Huaqing Pool is well known because of the romantic love story between Emperor XuanZhong (Li Longji ( A.D. 685-762) of the Tang Dynasty (618-906) and his favorite consort Yang Guifei (Yang Yuhuan) . Now Eternal Grief, a large historical dance drama on the love story about Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang and Noble Consort Yang over 1,000 years ago, is staged at the Huaqing Pool every evening.

Emperor Xuanzong built a garden and palace near the hot springs so he could frolic with Yang Guifei. During his reign, the emperor spent a large sum of his funds to build his luxurious palace. Huaqing Hot Spring has four springs and the temperature of each hovers around 43 degrees centigrade at all times. The springs contain a variety of minerals and organic substances, such as lime, sodium carbonate, silica, aluminum oxide, sodium oxide, sulfur, sodium and other minerals, all of which have therapeutic benefits for those with arthritis and skin disease.

Huaqing Hot Spring is also famous for its pink peach blossoms, green willows, beautiful pavilions and terraces, magnificent halls, winding corridors and long verandas. Huaqing used to be a bathing site for exclusive use by Imperial families. Lotus Hot Spring looks like a stone lotus and was the bathing place of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang Dynasty (618-906). Guifei pool was where Yang Guifei used to take bath

Location: 38 Huaqing Road; Travel Information: 1) The best time to visit is in spring (from March to May) or in autumn (from September to November); Tel:+86 29 83812003; Hours Open: 8:00am-4:00pm; Admission: 70 yuan (from April 1-November 31); 40 yuan (from December 1-March 31) Students, soldiers, people with disabilities can get discount when you show your certificate; Getting There: 1) By Bus: Take bus No. 914, 915, tourism bus No. 5, 306 at the Railway Station Eastern Plaza and get off at the Huaqing Hot Spring stop;; 2) By Car: You can drive from Xian to Huaqing Hot Spring via Xilin expressway, which will take only 30 minutes.

Yang Guifei (719–756)

Yang Yuhuan (A.D. 719-756), an imperial concubine of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty, is commonly called “Imperial Concubine Yang” (Yang Guifei), with “Guifei” being the highest rank for imperial consorts during her time. She was born in an old, well-known official family. She was naturally beautiful with a docile character. She was gifted in music, singing, dancing and playing lute. These talents, together with her education, made her stand out among the imperial concubines and win the emperor's favor. Jade ("yu") was considered so precious that it was often used in women's names. Yang Yuhuan means "jade ring."

Yang Guifei was the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang during his later years. Pink jade is associated with beauty, and it is said that Emperor Xuanzong would only allow Yang Guifei to wear it. There are many operas and shows based on their tragic love story. In A.D. 755, during the An Lushan Rebellion, as Emperor Xuanzong and his cortege were fleeing from the capital Chang'an to Chengdu, the emperor's guards demanded that he put Yang to death because they blamed the rebellion on her cousin Yang Guozhong and the rest of her family. The emperor capitulated and reluctantly ordered his attendant Gao Lishi to strangle Yang to death.

According to one version of the story when Emperor Xuanzong and Yang arrived at the Mawei Slope, the army refused to march, for the army thought that the reason of this rebellion by An Lushan was that Imperial Concubine Yang's behavior of attracting emperor ruined the state and that her cousin Yang Guozong colluded with the enemy. To appease the army, Emperor Tang Xuanzong had no choice but to order Yang to commit suicide at the Mawei Slope.

Yang was known for having a full and fleshy figure, which was a much sought-after quality at the time. She was often compared and contrasted with Empress Zhao Feiyan, the wife of Emperor Cheng of Han, because Yang was known for her full build while Empress Zhao was slender. This led to the Four-character idiom “yanshou huanfei," describing the range of the types of beauties.

Han Jing Di's Terra Cotta Army

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Member of Han Jing Di's
Terra Cotta Army
Tomb of Han Jing Di (40 kilometers west of the Terra-cotta Warriors Museum) is the final resting place of the forth emperor of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220). Opened to the public in 1999, it is an excavation in progress in which tourists watch archaeologists dig up relics in a number of pits.

The entire complex contains the tomb of Hang Jing Di, two separate tombs for his wife, the empress, and his favorite concubines. An estimated 10,000 conscripted prisoners died during the construction of his tomb. The skeletons of these prisoner---some which were chopped in half---were discovered in a graveyard in 1972.

So far the main tombs have remained untouched. The 50,000 object so far unearthed have come from satellite pits. The entire tomb complex is expected to yield between 300,000 and 500,000 objects. Eleven Han emperors were buried in Xian. Excavations of these have begun only recently.

Han Jing Di's Terra Cotta Army (part the Tomb of Han Jing Di) is an impressive collection of 700 terra-cotta figures discovered in 1990 by a construction crew because it lay in the path of a highway project. Unlike the life-size figures found at the Emperor Qin site, the Emperor Jing figures are only two feet tall, or about one third life size.

They are different in other ways too. First of all they are naked, with genitalia, and pieces of silk found at the site seem to indicate they were clothed when they were buried. Their faces are also more expressive (15 distinctive face types have been identified). Some soldiers had iron swords, leather armor, wooden shields or wooden arms.

In one vault the soldiers looked as if they were marching behind chariots pulled by wooden horses. In another they were lined up behind a cooking pot in what looked like a chow line. So far no archers or armored infantrymen have been found which mean the soldiers found so far are probably supply troops. There are also figures of eunuchs and women.

Paintings found in Xian show that the soldiers were mass produced in molds and then hardened in kilns. Craftsmen retouched the faces to give them individual expressions. They wore wooden armor in addition to their silk garments. Why they contained genitalia even though were clothed is not known.

Among the miniature items that archaeologists found with the soldiers were a hand-painted pigeon-size rooster, sculptured oxen, miniature granaries. Among the large collection of terra-cotta animals are 400 dogs, 200 sheep, pigs, piglets, goats, horses. Other objects found in the excavations include boxes filled with weapons, measuring instruments, chariots, chisels, gold chips, coins, lacquerware, adzes, wooden objects, coins, measuring cups bronze arrowheads, saws, stoves, steamers, government seals. [Source: O. Louis Mazzatenta, National Geographic, August 1992].

Banpo Neolithic Village

Banpo Neolithic Village (eight kilometers east of Xian on the way to Terra-Cotta Army) is located on an archeological site occupied by one of China's oldest known cultures, the 6500-year-old Banpo people, a matriarchal, agricultural community that existed in the Yellow River Valley. The 50,000-square-meter site includes a burial ground with 250 graves, six pottery kilns and residential area with the remains of 45 houses and other buildings, 200 storage cellars and a moat. Banpo Museum is located in a modern building near the bridge that crosses the river, long renowned as one of the famous eight rivers of Chang'an. The Museum was built in 1958 and is the first museum built for a 'mankind site,' a habitation site of early man in China. Its name comes from its location on the northern side of Banpo Village.

Banpo is among the oldest Yangshao culture sites (See below). Discovered in 1953 along the Wei river and comprised of five excavated area, it contains six kilns for making pottery, two-fenced-in places, 250 graves and tombs of various kinds (including 73 for dead children buried inside earthen pots), a 300-meter-long moat, 200 storage cellars and 10,000 pieces of tools. The oldest houses were built into the ground and newer ones were made with wooden frames and straw-and-mud bricks.

Banpo village is the best-known ditch-enclosed settlements of the Yangshao culture. Another major settlement called Jiangzhai was excavated out to its limits, and archaeologists found that it was completely surrounded by a ring-ditch. Both Banpo and Jiangzhai also yielded incised marks on pottery which a few have interpreted as numerals or perhaps precursors to the Chinese script, but such interpretations are not widely accepted. [Source: Wikipedia]

Banpo Neolithic Site is now a tourist attraction. A sign at the site credits the people that lived there with developing religion. The sign reads: "People in this primitive society with low productivity couldn't understand the structure of the human body, living and dying and many phenomena of nature, so they began to have an initial religious idea." Bampo Matriarchal Village is an archeological theme park with fire-lit discos, air-conditioned grass huts and female wrestlers. Location: Banpolu, E.Suburb, Xian,Shaanxi. Contact Tel:0086-29-3532482

Yangshao Culture

The Yangshao culture was a Neolithic culture that thrived on the Loess Plateau along the Yellow River in China. In existence from around 5000 B.C. to 3000 B.C., it is named after Yangshao, the first excavated representative village of this culture, which was discovered in 1921 in Henan Province by the Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874–1960). The culture flourished mainly in the provinces of Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi. Major sites includes Banpo and Jiangzhai. The Yangshao culture was preceded by the Peiligang culture (Jiahu, see separate articles), Dadiwan culture and Cishan culture. It was followed by the Longshan culture. A culture related to the Yangshao culture that emerged in the northwest is classified into three categories, the Banshan, Majiayao, and Machang, each categorized by the types of pottery produced."Sources: Wikipedia, Metropolitan Museum of Art]

The Yangshao archaeological culture is well known for its painted pottery. It consisted of hundreds of settlements along the Yellow River and Wei River regions, and stretched across the northwestern plains from Shaanxi province in central China to Gansu province in the west. Yangshao village, the source of the Yangshao name, is located near the confluence of the Yellow, Fen and Wei rivers. Around 4000 B.C, about 800 years before civilizations developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt, carefully laid-out villages were founded by hunter-farmers on the Yellow and Wei rivers.

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The Yangshao culture is one of the two great Neolithic cultures that proliferated in northern China. Its earliest sites in the Wei River valley date from about 5000 B.C., and the westernmost regions of the Yangshao culture seem to persist until approximately 2000 B.C. In other words, Yangshao culture possessed a history of three thousand years – as long as the time from the Zhou conquest of the Shang to the election of George W. Bush. Yet because Yangshao society was pre-literate, we are unable to know it in any narrative form that would convey the enduring stream of social and political drama and surely make it seem one of the great civilizations of world history...We see in Yangshao culture a likely ancestor of the elaborate kinship structures of later Chinese society and their associated ritual aesthetic.We cannot, however, identify the Yangshao people as the forbears of the warrior society of walled China. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu ]

Yanhshao is a broad term. There are many Yangshao sites. Some scholars also group Neolithic culture sites into two broad cultural complexes: the Yangshao cultures in central and western China, and the Longshan cultures in eastern and southeastern China. The Yangshao culture (5000-3000 B.C.)of the middle Yellow River valley, known for its painted pottery, and the later Longshan culture (2500-2000 B.C.)of the east, distinguished for its black pottery, are te best known of the ancient Chinese Yellow River cultures. Traditionally it was believed that Chinese civilization arose in the Yellow River valley and spread out from this center. Recent archaeological discoveries, however, reveal a far more complex picture of Neolithic China, with a number of distinct and independent cultures in various regions interacting with and influencing each other. Other major Neolithic cultures were the Hongshan culture in northeastern China, the Liangzhu culture in the lower Yangzi River delta, the Shijiahe culture in the middle Yangzi River basin and primitive settlements and burial grounds found at Liuwan in Qinghai Province, Wangyin in Shandong Province, Xinglongwa in Inner Mongolia, and the Yuchisi in Anhui Province, among many others. [Source: University of Washington]

Buildings, Layout and Artifacts of Banpo Neolithic Village

The arrangement of Banpo is fairly organized. At the center of the settlement was a 160-square meter-large one-room dwelling that was surrounded by many smaller one-room dwellings. All of the doors of these faced towards the larger dwelling, perhaps reflecting the clan organization of a group. Around the village was a 300-meter long trench or ditch that was used perhaps to keep wild animals from attacking. To the east was a ceramic-making area and to the north was the cemetery district. Inside the village were 46 houses. Some were square, some round, some half-submerged in the ground, some on the surface. These houses used traditional Chinese wood- and-earth, wall-construction methods. [Source: chinamuseums.com +++]

In a reconstruction of a Banpo dwelling at the Banpo Museum are exhibited production tools and daily utensils that were used by Banpo people. On the walls are hung animal skins and pointed-bottom vessels for getting water. A mat is spread beside the hearth on the floor. In a diorama: members of a clan, under the direction of the old grandmother, are in the process of making a fire. Outside, hunters are taking aim and firing their arrows and throwing flying balls, at frightened spotted deer. By the river, fishermen are in the process of catching fish. In the forests, women and children, holding bone spades, are gathering wild fruits. As the sun goes down, the village is alight with kitchen fires, women roast meat, grind meal using stone grinders and sew hemp-fabric clothes using bone needles. Artists are painting and impressing patterns into ceramic vessels; old grandmothers are carefully distributing the cooked food to the others: some people are putting gathered vegetables and grains into vessels for storage. +++

In the northern part of the Banpo Village is the cemetery district where adults were buried. Some 174 graves have been discovered. They are organized in lines, but exhibit different burial customs. Banpo people mostly died around the age of 30. On the eastern side of the town is the main kiln for firing pottery. Six kilns have been found to date. At the beginning, the pottery making was carried out in the open. Banpo people invented two main types of kilns: horizontal and upright ones. Banpo ceramic production used both fine-grained clay and sandy coarse clay. Three types of the fine-grained clay was used depending on its use. +++

Around twelve different kinds of markings or symbols have been found on pottery fragments or on vessels at the site. These include some of the main strokes used in Chinese characters, such as upright, cross-wise, hooked, and so on. Writing did not exist at the time, but these marks or symbols almost certainly contained their own meanings for people at the time. A number of daily articles are exhibited in the museum, such as stone axes, finely made fishhooks, fish-bone forks, sharp bone needles, and all kinds of ornamentation made of stone, bone, and ivory.

Qianling Tomb

Qianling Mausoleum (80 kilometers north of Xian on Liangshan Hill) was occupied by the Tang Emperor Gaozong and his Empress Wu Zetian. Encompassing two man-made mounds and a natural hill, it once contained an inner wall and an outer walls but now only the inner wall and Xian Hall remain. The inner wall is over three miles long and eight feet thick and has gates and well-preserved stone carvings and stelae near the South Gate.

There are stone carvings of cloud pillars, birds and animals and stone statues of foreign envoys and chieftains of national minorities that attended the funeral of the emperor lined up along the road that leads to the tomb. The statues of the very strong and stout horses are particularly amazing. Many of the statues had their heads loped of in the Cultural Revolution.

The Qianling Mausoleum is one of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) tombs located in Qian County, Shaanxi province. It was built in A.D. 684 (with additional construction until 706), and several royal family members were buried in this location including Emperor Gaozong (649–683) of Tang Dynasty and his wife who was China's only governing empress Wu Zetian (690–705).

The mausoleum is well-known for Tang Dynasty stone statues as well as for the mural paintings adorning the subterranean walls of the tombs. Besides the main tumulus mound and underground tombs of Gaozong and Wu Zetian, there are 17 satellite tombs of kings, princes and high ministers Admission: 46 yuan; Tel: +86-910-5510004; Getting There: You can take No. 3 tourism bus from Xian railway station.

Zhaoling Mausoleum

Zhaoling Mausoleum (Jiuzong Mountain, 83 kilometers from Xian) is also known as Zhao Ling, Zhaoling Tomb, Zhao Mausoleum and Zhao Imperial Mausoleum. The largest of the 18 Tang Dynasty mausoleums and the largest royal mausoleum in the world, it is the tomb of Li Shimin, Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty (618-907); he was one of the most brilliant rulers in Chinese history. Spread out over an area of 226 square kilometers (87.5 square miles), Zhao Mausoleum has 190 satellite tombs that have been verified and 37 which have been excavated. The owners of the satellite tombs include famous ministers, royal families and high officials. [Source: Travel China Guide]

All five forms of satellite burials used in Chinese are found at Zhaoling Mausoleum, making it the most representative imperial mausoleum in China. According to Travel China Guide: “The configuration of Emperor Taizong's tomb as it overlooks the satellite ones symbolizes the utmost authority of the emperor. The style of Zhaoling Mausoleum as it is set against the mountain is a miniature of the renovation in Tang Dynasty. Record has it that before her death, Empress Wende told Emperor Taizong that her burial site should be placed against a mountain so that there would be no need to build a tomb. After her burial, the Emperor wrote on the tombstone that an emperor regarded the whole world as his family. Why be bound to a mausoleum? In the mausoleum against Jiuzong Mountain, there was no gold or jade or anything precious except for some earthen and wooden wares. These were placed here to pacify thieves; their existence or loss was not important. From the excavated parts of the mausoleum, we could now say that the whole project was lavish instead of thrifty. Therefore, in setting the tomb against the mountain they protected it from theft rather than the initial propose as requested by the empress.

“The construction of the Zhaoling Mausoleum lasted 107 years beginning with burial of Empress Wende in 636 until completion in 741. Rich cultural relics were left on the ground and underground. Zhaoling as a witness to the development from the beginning of Tang to its eventual prosperity. It is also a valuable treasury to help us know the culture, politics and economy of the Chinese feudal society; kept here are large quantities of calligraphy, sculpture and painting works. The epitaphs here written by reputed calligraphers can be said to be the norm of calligraphy in the beginning of Tang Dynasty. Murals here are a portraiture of the real life in Tang Dynasty with a romantic touch. Glazed pottery figures are daintily designed with

Huashan

Huashan (near Huayin City, 120 kilometers east of Xian) is one of the five sacred mountains of China. Called Western Mountain in ancient times, it is bordered by the Yellow River and Weihe River in the north, and by the Qinling Mountains in the south. Huashan is tall, straight and magnificent and is known as the “No. 1 dangerous mountain on earth” for some of its jaw-droppingly scary hiking routes. It was among the first group of national scenic and historic interest zones approved by the Chinese government.

Huashan (Mt. Hua, Mount Hua, Hua Mountain, Hua Shan, Mount Huashan “shan” means mountain) is a huge piece of granite with Taoist cave and niches and historical sites as well as sheer precipices and rocky clefts. Its five most prominent peaks are the Cloudy Terrace in the north, Descending Wild Goose in the south, Rising Sun in the east, Lotus Flower in the west and Jade Girl in the middle. Huashan is sometimes called Western Mt. Huashan to distinguish it from mountains with the same name elsewhere in China.

Huashan is one of the sacred peaks of China that were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001 According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “HuaShan has long been regarded as the most precipitous mountain in China, edged with sheer granite rock face, rugged cliffs and deep valleys. Its pathway is also one of the most treacherous, winding its way two thousand feet high to a narrow ledge on the rockface. In spite of or perhaps because of this inhospitable landscape, HuaShan is rich in flora and fauna. Taoist knows this as the mountain of wealth, and according to tradition, wealth is measured by the diversity of species living on the land. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“Consequently HuaShan has been worshipped as a site of natural abundance for many centuries, possibly for millennium. The beauty and rich terrain of Huashan is enhanced by its profound historical and cultural significance. It is one of the five Taoist sacred mountains of China. It is a place steeped in legend, where the very rocks are engraved with tales and poems from its long history; where gods are said to have performed magic, where emperors have worshipped and sacrificed; and where forefathers of Taoism have set down their religious legacies. HuaShan is both naturally and culturally a vital national inheritance to China and the world. The range of HuaShan covers an area of 204 square kilometers.

“This comprises 148 kilometers of protected scenic land and 56 kilometers of peripheral protection area. HuaShan takes its name from the five peaks which, when viewed form afar, resemble a lotus flower. The southern peak is the highest, reaching 2160 meters above sea level. Geographically the area is of rock stratum formation and displays the typical granite faces, which cause its precipitous scenery. There are currently 323 major natural scenic sites in HuaShan.”

Geology and Ecosystems of Huashan

According to the report submitted to UNESCO: “HuaShan began to form about 70 million years ago from granite of the Mesozoic Era. The rock strata and the geographical formation of HuaShan indicate the evolution of the solid earth in the last 300 million years form the late Archean Era to the present geological period. Through analysis of this formation and isotope testing, sufficient evidence has been discovered in the area to reveal its long geological history-for example, the metamorphic rock at the foot of the mountain which is the oldest rock in this area, from the TaiHua group of the late Archean, and the huge granite formed about 220 to 100 million years ago in the five peaks. In front of HuaShan, there is a fault line extending East-West. It separates HuaShan form the Wei River Basin nearby. This fault structure was formed about 100-200 million years ago and not only served as the boundary beyond which HuaShan was lifted and the Wei River Basin subsided, but also explained the present geographical landforms of the mountain. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“HuaShan is an outstanding example of a well-preserved eco-system. The vegetation has a typical vertical distribution due to the steepness of the mountain. Its diversity has made HuaShan an ideal site for the study and research of biological evolution and the geographical distribution of plants. Its plant species number 1200. The complexity and uniqueness of HuaShan?s environment is very favorable to the differentiation and the development of new species. There are five species endemic to HuaShan and fourteen quasi-unique species. Two species are on the list of plants under first category state protection, and 17 species belong to the second category. There are 474 species of medical plants on HuaShan, and about 200 species of these can easily be collected on the mountain. There are also over 90 species of mutations.

“HuaShan is an ideal place for the study of plants and soil. Due to the joint landform of granite, the plants on HuaShan show the full process of the evolution from lichen-moss-shrubbery-tress. And the soil illustrates the changes from rock-sand-soil forming parent material-soil. There are a large number of ancient trees on HuaShan. Some of them are very rare and are of considerable value in terms of appreciation of nature. 88 species are treated as either important or endangered and are now under special protection of the mountain management bureau. The joint landform of granite has contributed to the fascinating scenery of trees growing from rock and the rock blossoming with moss on the mountain.

“HuaShan is inhabited by many species of wild animals.204 species of vertebrate animals have been recorded, belonging to 24 families and 65 orders. These include over 83 species of animals traditionally associated with Chinese medicine. There are122 species of birds, form 14 families and 36 orders, 52 types of mammals from 5 families and 17 orders, 20 species of amphibious reptiles, 9 species of fish and over 1500 species of insects belonging to about 20 families. 123 rare and valuable species have been recorded, including 3 on the list of first category state protection and 20 in the second category and one protected at Provincial level. There are also 15 species protected from trade by the Convention of International Trade for Endangered Species (CITES) 5listed in the first category and 10 in the second. HuaShan is also home to a particular subspecies of the Chinese tiger butterfly, considered of great academic importance. “

Historical Importance of Huashan

According to the report submitted to UNESCO: “HuaShan has also been an important cultural site for thousands of years. The area around HuaShan is one of the key regions where Chinese civilisation began. It was a place of sacrifice from the earliest times, and as the nearby city Xian was made capital to 13 dynasties in Chinese history, it was the main site of sacrifice for most Chinese emperors who wanted to lessen the hardships of travelling. In the spring and autumn and Warring States periods (770-221 B.C.) many kingdoms fought for control of this mountain, and after the unification of the country, the First Emperor Qinshihuangdi made HuaShan the sacrificial site of the state. Ever since then, HuaShan was not treated as the symbol of the God, but also represented imperial power in the eyes of Chinese people. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“Legends say that the Chinese Ancestors ?the Yellow Emperor, the emperor Yao and Yu-had once climbed HuaShan on a pilgrimage. The Emperor Xuandi in the West Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220) made it a rule to undertake regular pilgrimage to the five Taoist Mountains and this practice was continued until the late Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Archaeological excavations have revealed seven sites belonging to prehistory, and eight from the Xia, Shang, Zhou, Qin and the Han periods. The remains of the great wall of the Wei State and the bacon tower on this site are 145 years older than the Great Wall of Qin period.

“Within the HuaShan Scenic Area, two historical sites are under state protection, namely the great wall of the Wei State and the Western Mountain temple; three sites are under provincial protection. The total number of cultural relics amount to 1500 sets and pieces. HuaShan has over 300 pieces of stone tablets and about 570 rock inscriptions. The tradition of making stone tablets began to appear in the second century, and the carving of inscriptions on the rock started in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) approximately 1000 years ago. The stone tablet carved with the name of Western Mountain temple, inscribed in 165, is regarded as the No 1 piece in the Chinese official writing system. This piece is now a state treasure. The tablet cared with the same name by the Emperor of the Tang Dynasty (618-906) in 724 is the largest piece of this art in China. There are also many works of the most famous Chinese calligraphers and painters in Chinese history.”

Huashan and Taoism

According to the report submitted to UNESCO: “HuaShan houses some relatively large Chinese ancient buildings and their remains. They are good examples for research and study of the history of Taoism, the art of Chinese ancient architecture and the art of Taoist architecture. The Western Mountain temple, first built in the spring and autumn period, is the largest one in this area. The temple covers an area of 12000 square meters and is one of the biggest and earliest temples for sacrifice in mountain areas. It was built according to the scale of the second category of the imperial architecture. The outlook of this temple resembles the Forbidden City and was also called the Forbidden City in the Shanxi Province. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]

“The Jade Spring temple built about 1000 years ago, the Dong Tao temple and the Qinke temple built 1549 are good examples for the research of Chinese Taoism and Taoist architecture. Nowadays three Taoist temples in HuaShan have been listed as nationally famous Taoist temples, namely the Jade Spring temple, the Zhenyue Palace temple and the Dongdao temple. So far HuaShan has listed over 120 ancient architectures, including the temples, pavilions and caves. HuaShan is increasingly well known all over the world for its profound Taoist culture. Records show that Taoist activities began to appear on HuaShan about 1800 years ago in the late East Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220). After that many Taoists flocked here to pursue the Taoism. HuaShan is unique amongst the five great Taoist Mountains in that it is the only absolutely pure Taoist Mountain, free from the intrusion and presence of any other religions.

“Among the great Taoists associated with HuaShan is Mr. Chenchuan in the northern Song Dynasty (960-1279). He created a profound tradition of internal Alchemy and is honored as one of the Taoist Ancestors. He carved the diagram of the ultimateness into the rock face near where he medicated on the Inner Alchemy. The current president of China Taoism Association Mr. Min Zhitin started his Taoism training in HuaShan and was based here for several decades. Across the whole mountain are scattered 72 caves and 21 remains of Taoist buildings. The caves are the ideal places for the Taoists to meditate since they are completely inaccessible to ordinary people. Taoism believes that the tranquility is an essential prerequisite to the exploration of the Tao. Taoists in HuaShan have made great contributions to the Taoist development. Through their great efforts, a new and independent Taoist sect---the HuaShan sect was formed. Generally, the Taoism is composed of the QuanZheng and Zhenyi; two major sects, The HuaShan sect is subordinate to the QuanZhen sect.”

Five Sacred Mountains of China

The "Five Sacred Mountains of China” are: 1) Mt. Taishan" in Shandong Province; 2) the Southern Mt. Hengshan in Hunan Province; 3) the Western Mt. Huashan in Shaanxi Province; 4) Central Mt. Songshan in Henan Province; and 5) Northern Mt. Hengshan in Shanxi Province. There are several mountains in China with the names Huashan, Hengshan and Songshan, which is why there are referred to central, northern and western, Taishan was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The other four were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site called the “Four Sacred Mountains as an Extension of Mt. Taishan” in 2008, which collectively cover 547.69 square kilometers.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO:"The Five Sacred Mountains" has been worship for over three thousand years from Neolithic Age due to its unique geographical locations and majesty of relative altitude over a kilometer. In 219 B.C., Qin Shihuang (First Emperor of Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.)) held a ceremony of offering sacrifices on the top Mt. Taishan when special national sacrifice codes and systems originated, which was followed by later emperors to show their imperial power's validity and authority. Offering sacrifices to Five Sacred Mountains was held to make the emperors'' achievements informed to all the people and Five Sacred Mountains were regarded as boundaries of their reign. Therefore, as an integration which cannot be divided, Five Sacred Mountains symbolizes the unification and territory in the era of Chinese agricultural civilization. [Source: Ministry of Construction of the People’s Republic of China]

“The political position of Five Sacred Mountains makes them become the common target to which different nationalities worship and sacrifice and contributes to national fusion and unification. Meanwhile, Five Sacred Mountains have also gained their fame of cultural meanings. Five kinds of cultures are the most prominent ones. Firstly, the culture of "five elements". The "five elements" consisting of "water, fire, wood, gold and earth" are considered as the basic substances composing everything on the earth and are considered to promote the selection and formation of Five Sacred Mountains. Secondly, culture of "universal unity", a political concept which can be traced back to The Spring and Autumn Period and The Warring States Period, have been considered as the ideal state of dynasts. The "universal unity" has two major connotations: territorial and political unity, ritual and cultural unity. The "universal unity" has boosted formation and development of sacrifice culture and political position of Five Sacred Mountains.

“Thirdly, the culture of sacrifice. Systems of royal inspection, hunting on mountain, burning for sacrifice, distant sacrifice, fete and sacrifice with the representative of Five Sacred Mountains sacrifice have evolved in the feudal Chinese society and "fengshan" (offering sacrifice to gods) gradually evolved to be the most important national sacrifice ceremony of royal ones in feudal ancient China. Fourthly, the culture of religion. As sacred places of Buddhism, the Southern Mt. Hengshan and the Central Mt. Songshan, have witnessed the spread and development of Buddhism in China and imposed great influence on other countries especially Asian ones. Fifthly, the culture of landscape. A rich collection of stone inscription and literature works is precious fortune for both Chinese and world literature and arts. The five kinds of cultures are interrelated to each other, which advance the selection, formation, development and spread of Five Sacred Mountains.”

Visiting and Hiking Around Huashan

Harrison Jacobs wrote in Business Insider: “To get to Mount Hua from Xian, you have to take a 40-minute bullet train to a 30-minute minibus that takes you to the base of the mountain. But due to a quirk in China's train ticketing (they stop selling 30 minutes before the train departs), I couldn't get on the 8:30 a.m. train. While a train runs every 30 minutes for most of the day, for some reason, there were no trains until 10 a.m after the 8:30 a.m. That meant that I didn't even get to the base of the mountain until a bit after 11 a.m. Some people start hiking the mountain before sunrise to see everything. The view from the bottom of Mount Hua is lush. It looks less like a single mountain than a series of granite peaks cut into a valley laden with greenery. Knowing that hiking Mount Hua's five peaks can take between 5-7 hours depending on your fitness level, our only chance to make it to the "plank walk" was to take the cable car. [Source: Harrison Jacobs, Business Insider, August 20, 2018]

“There are two cable cars to the top of Mount Hua — one to North Peak, one to West Peak. I had heard that the North Peak cable car generally has a two-hour line, while West is practically empty (because most people use it to descend). But my plan to game the system was thwarted. The West Peak cable car was closed due to wind. And that made the line for the North Peak even worse. After about an hour and a half, I reached this pagoda a quarter mile down the road, where I assumed I'd find the cable car. Then I was told that this is only where I pay for the cable car ticket. They only accepted cash, WeChat Pay, or AliPay. No credit cards. I was almost going to have to head back to Xian, but a nice Chinese woman offered to use her AliPay to pay for my ticket — 150 RMB or about $22 for a round trip.

“Once I got through the pagoda — another 30 minutes — the line opened up into this nightmare. There were food vendors on either side selling snacks. I realized that I had made a horrible mistake trying to take the cable car. I was going to spend the entire day in line. Another hour later and I was only this far. There were piles of instant noodle cups and empty plastic bottles at the end of each aisle. Everyone was seemingly killing time by snacking. Ah, yes. Fully noshed corn cobs. This was just before I made it onto the cable car. It was 3 p.m. For those keeping count, that was 3.5 hours on the cable car line. Finally, I got on the cable car. This was possibly the best feeling ever. A sense of release and relief like no other. Forget the "world's most dangerous hike." This was a thrill.

“The cable car ride up was only about 15 minutes long. It was a very cloudy day so all the mountains were shrouded in mist. The ride through the granite valley felt otherworldly. Like I was in some kind of fantasy. Along the way, I kept seeing the path that many hikers take to the top of North Peak. I had originally taken the cable car so I could spend more time seeing the peaks and less time hiking up a single mountain. But many hikers can do the main hike up in four hours, and there is a steeper hike called "Soldier's Way" that takes two hours. I may have calculated wrong.

“By the time I got off the cable car, I was done with crowds. But, unfortunately, they weren't done with me. Most of the paths on the mountain near the cable car looked like this. It wasn't exactly my idea of communing with nature. I soon realized the path was busy because everyone was hiking to North Peak, a short hike and the closest peak to the cable car. At 5,295 feet high, it is the lowest of the peaks. The top of North is called Cloud Terrace because it is flat, with cliffs on each side. I couldn't see much with the cloudy weather, but maybe that was the point. The enveloping whiteness mixed with the quietude made one feel like you were in heaven. A very, very crowded heaven.

“The view as you are walking is vertigo-inducing. While the "plank walk" is often described as "the most dangerous hike," all of Mount Hua is dangerous. The trail is very thin and, on either side, there are sheer drops. People with a fear of heights will not do well. From North Peak, I could see the way to the other four peaks of Mount Hua. You more or less follow one hiking trail to get to all of the peaks, so the farther you go, the less people there are. There are "sky ladders" cut into the side of the mountain that you can use as a shortcut. While the path is directly underneath this, if you slip, you could fall a long way.

“The elevation is so high and the path so steep that the hike is incredibly tiring. The map says that the trail from North Peak to Central Peak (the first peak before visiting others) takes one hour. It took me a bit longer than that. There were a lot of rests involved for my burning thighs. Of course, I saw elderly Chinese people chugging up the mountain paths like it was nothing.”

Plank Walk: the World’s Deadliest Hike?

Plank Walk (a hike on Hushan) has been called the “world’s deadliest hike” as much of it is along precipitous cliffs and the scariest part is along some wooden boards bolted into a cliff face to reach a small shrine. Hikers are harnessed, but it is still terrifying all the same.

Harrison Jacobs wrote in Business Insider: “I recently tried to do the Plank Walk on a visit to Mount Hua, but encountered obstacle after obstacle that prevented me from completing it. While hiking Mount Hua was an incredible adventure, I was never able to make to the Plank Walk due to massive crowds and bad timing...The infamous plank walk is located on the mountain's highest peak, South, which has a height of 7,070 feet. [Source: Harrison Jacobs, Business Insider, August 20, 2018]

Mount Huashan Plank Walk is comprised of inlayed wooden rafters and iron chains on the cliff. According to Travel China Guide: “ The whole Huashan cliffside path is divided into three sections, and the most dangerous one is actually the last section. Tourists must fasten their safety ropes and move forward slowly with their abdomens close to the bold cliff. In addition, tourists must return by the same way, which is equivalent to two adventures.

The entire length of Hua Shan Plank Walk is a little over a 100 meters. “The first section starts from Southern Heavenly Gate to the west of Chaoyuan Caves. This section, about 20 meters long (66 feet) and 0.7 meter (2.3 feet) wide, is plank road chiseled out on cliff and equipped with iron protective fence, which is quite safe. Tourists keep going to reach the second part of the Huashan Plank Walk. With 10 meters (33 feet) length, this section is almost vertical and tourists need to go down step by step from the stairs by holding the iron chains. It’s quite thrilling and exciting. Here tourist can buy a safety rope to protect themselves from danger.

“The last section is the real challenge of the Hua Shan Plank Walk with cliffs above and below, which is the most dangerous cliffside path that tourists want to experience. It’s rather steep, only 0.3 meters wide. Tourist must face and cling to the vertical cliff and move slowly. Below their feet is the bottomless abyss. After reaching the end of the Huashan Plank Walk, tourist have to walk the same way back.

“Tips on Walking the Huashan Cliffside Path 1) Tourists are required to hold their own real and valid certificates. Individual tourists were not allowed to tour Mount Huashan Plank Walk. 2) Hua Shan Plank Walk may be closed if the weather is bad, like there is thunder and lightning, snowfall, rainfall and gusty winds. 3) Tourists with height less than 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) or age over 55, or coronary heart disease, heart disease, hypertension and acrophobia, etc are not allowed to challenge this activity. 4) No barefoot, slippers, pets, skirts and high-heeled shoes are allowed during the challenge. A pair of comfortable anti-skidding hiker shoes would be best. 5) A pair of non-slip gloves is necessary to hold the iron chains. 6) The safety rope must be fastened! 7) It would save you a lot of queuing time to arrive at the plank walk immediately after sunrise. Because you may have to wait in line for at least an hour to take part in the challenge during peak season from March to November.

How to Get to Huashan Plank Walk: “No cable cars can reach Mount Huashan Plank Walk directly. If you are energetic and have enough time, you can walk from the foot of Huashan Mountain to the South Peak to challenge the exciting cliffside path. But if not, you can take a cable car up to the West Peak and then walk for about 30 minutes to reach the Huashan cliffside path. If you want to experience Huashan cableway and challenge the steep mountain roads, you can choose to take the cable car from the foot of the Mt. Huashan to the North Peak. Then climb up to South Peak, and finally arrive at Hua Shan Plank Walk. Along the way, you can not only get the sense of conquering the steep stairs, but also enjoy the beautiful natural scenery.For walking Huashan Plank Walk, tourists only need to pay CNY 30 for a safety rope after buying the ticket of Huashan Scenic Spot.

Somersault Cliff, Huashan's Second "Most Dangerous Hike"

Harrison Jacobs wrote in Business Insider: “From Central Peak, I headed towards East Peak, the fastest way to the Plank Walk. The map said it would take 40 minutes to hit East Peak and then another hour to get to the Plank Walk.It was closing in on 5 p.m.. I was told that the cable car to the base closes at 7 p.m. I was racing the clock (and the crowd). As I continued to ascend to East Peak, everything was covered in bright white cloud cover. It's not a stretch to understand why Chinese consider this mountain a sacred place. It feels holy. [Source: Harrison Jacobs, Business Insider, August 20, 2018] 20

“Near East Peak, I hit the second of the "sky ladders." This one was far taller and steeper than the first "sky ladder." With my heavy pack on, I was convinced I was going to fall off. When I hit the last third, I had very sweaty palms. Along the top near East Peak are fences festooned with golden locks and red ribbons. It is customary for visitors to buy the locks at the mountain and lock them on the iron chains to pray for the health and safety of their friends and family.

“At East Peak, I met two tech developers from Beijing who had come to Mount Hua for the day. After one asked to take a photo with me, they explained that they had started hiking in the morning and reached East Peak at the same time I did. It was 5:30 p.m. and I was freaking out. If I missed the last cable car, I would have to stay at the hostel at the top of the mountain for the night. There was no chance I was going to make it to the Plank Walk and then back to the cable car in time. The developers told me that I should go with them to Yaozi Fanshen or Somersault Cliff, Mount Hua's second "most dangerous hike." It was only about 15 minutes away.

“While you don't walk across a thin plank bolted into a mountainside, Laozi Fanshen is no less scary. You have to put on a harness so that you can climb down a cliff face with nothing more than a steel cables and carved stones to hold onto. The instructor explained how the harness works. Basically you hold two carabiners attached to ropes. As you descend, you have to unclip the carabiners one by one and reattach them below each bolt in the mountainside. If you accidentally unclip both carabiners at once, it's bye-bye. At least when you climb down, there's ground beneath you. There are steps carved into the wall. One can imagine hikers in the days before tourist infrastructure using just the steps and not bothering with harnesses and cables.

“But I was glad I had all that safety equipment. When I looked behind me, there was nothing but clouds. In the distance I could see a lower peak. For a moment, the clouds that had persisted all day began to dissipate and I got glimpse of the landscape below. The climb is pretty much straight down. I slipped a couple of times. If I wasn't attached by the harness, I likely would've fallen about 20 feet. Taking these photos was a risky endeavor. The safety instructor at the top told me not to bring the camera, but, come on. Pics or didn't happen.

“Once you get to the bottom of the cliff face, however, it gets a little less scary. There's a carved rock staircase that leads you out to Laozi Fanshen. At the end of the path is a pavilion with a chessboard. Chinese people say it is the world's highest chessboard. One can imagine a couple of monks duking it out on the chessboard as the sun rises over East Peak. After quickly taking in the moment at chess pavilion, I rushed back up the cliff face, leaving my two tech developer friends behind. It was a little stupid to be honest. At a few points, I wasn't even bothering to clip in my carabiners. Don't tell my mother.

“From there, I was in a full sprint to make it back to North Peak in time for the cable car. I was basically trying to do what had been a two-hour hike on the way up back down in 40 minutes. I may have missed the plank walk, but I was certainly turning my hike into "the world's most dangerous hike." When I reached the base of Central Peak, the fog fully cleared for what it seemed like was the first time all day. It was a stunning sight. But I didn't have time to enjoy it.

I ended up reaching the cable car at 6:45 p.m.. I was maybe the tenth-to-last person to get on line. While waiting, I met two firefighters from Georgia who had traveled to China only to do the "plank walk," after seeing the videos on Facebook. With a background in the military, the two got to North Peak at 3 p.m., sprinted the hike to the "plank walk," and made it to the cable car at the same time as me. It was good thing I didn't try to push my luck going to the "plank walk." I never would have made it. Next time, I'll be up at sunrise.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site; Beifan.com; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020


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