Beneath and inside the clouds in Tai’an

Mount Tai (泰山) dwarfs the city of Tai’an (泰安) and is the central attraction. In the park we take the bus to somewhere midway — cheating, I know — but it’s already passed noon and several people told me the whole trip takes ~8 hours.

In the bus we’re with other couples, mostly university students (sitting together and arms and legs everywhere), and it makes us — or at least me — feel young again, surrounded by all this teenage love.

I carried sunglasses and suncream, but that was a bit optimistic. As soon as we leave the bus it starts drizzling. I hear a girl tell her friend it’s best to buy water now, 5 RMB for a bottle here, but 10 RMB on the top. (It’s true, prices go up the higher you go.)

I was worried this’d be one of those 做作 (playacting) attractions with dancers in Hanfu clothing and fake pagodas, but I was totally wrong. It feels like a pilgrimage, with loads of writings on the rock walls, and everyone is friendly; together aiming for the top.

The trip is easier than the climb in Jiangshan (江山) because Mount Tai is basically a wide stair to the top, albeit with six thousand steps. And people of all ages are making the climb, united by the mountain. A ~10-year-old girl taps her umbrella on one of the stairs and tells her mom to hurry up. 快点儿!

But halfway it starts pouring. We hide in a sort of cave and it’s cozy, people are chatting, and laughing. We talk a lot with a lady from Qingdao who says foreigners look young before they’re 30, but after that they age super fast.

The pour doesn’t ease but we’ve got to continue if we want to reach the summit, or actually any summit before nightfall.

Fog covers the view, and suddenly the mountain doesn’t feel big anymore. But our ponchos are wet on both sides, the wind is cold and our socks and bones are soaked.

We’re thoroughly cold when we reach the South Gate to Heaven (南天门) and in a fried chicken restaurant we and everyone else is catching their breath and warming their bones.

The view:

Another peak, the Jade Emperor Peak (玉皇顶), is a bit higher, but one guy says it’s 30 minutes away, another says it’s 1 to 2 hours walking. We’re 1460 meters high already and calling it quits, not to wreck the rest of the holiday with a cold.

On our way down we sit down with five others, including a lone traveler from Guizhou. He says this is the third time he has come to Taishan and it’s the third time it rains. One guy says: “When’s the next time you’re coming? I won’t be going then.”

Ironically we get the best view of the mountain when we’re lower again — beneath the clouds rather than inside them.