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Emei Shan
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The mist-shrouded peaks, forested slopes, Buddhist temples, well-worn paths and winding stone stairs of Emei Shan (Éméi Shān, 峨眉山) or Mount Emei have drawn countless travelers over the centuries. Today, it is one of Sichuan's most popular tourist destinations.

Though huge crowds converge on Emei Shan during peak seasons, you can still find plenty of secluded spots on this vast mountain if you're willing to hike off from the main attractions. Whether you walk and climb all the way or take shortcuts via bus and cable car, Emei Shan offers splendid views of rugged mountains, classical Chinese temple architecture (with some Tibetan characteristics) and insight into Chinese religion and aesthetics.

Keep an eye out for the six-tusked elephant, a symbol of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra (Pǔxián Púsà, 普贤菩萨), the patron bodhisattva of Emei Shan's monasteries. Also watch out for pesky monkeys looking to snack on whatever food you might have on you—if held up at a monkey checkpoint, show your hands, palms up and empty, and don't let them intimidate you.

The mountain is huge—its long profile, seen from a distance, gives it its name, which translates to "Eyebrow Mountain" (one belonging to a beautiful woman, of course)—and you can easily spend two or three days trekking about, sleeping in temple guest houses and exploring both natural and man-made sites. Sunrise from Jinding, also known as the Golden Summit, can be exquisite. If you're lucky, you might catch sight of "Buddha's Aureole," (Fó Guāng, 佛光) a phenomonon in which your shadow, cast against clouds beneath the peak, takes on a rainbow aura. For more on individual Emei Shan attractions, from Baoguo Temple to Wanfo Ding (Ten Thousand Buddha Summit), visit our Emei Shan Attractions page.

Entrance to the mountain is RMB 150.

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History

Emei Shan's sublime beauty makes it rather apparent why it's sacred to Buddhists. It's not just Buddhists, either—before the Bodhisattva Puxian arrived on his trusty six-tusked elephant in the sixth century, the mountain was primarily a Taoist retreat.

Many claim that China's first Buddhist temple was built on the mountain in the first century BC. It remained a spiritual sanctuary for both religions until, during the Ming Dynasty, the mountain experienced a temple-building boom along with the conversion of almost all religious sites to Buddhism.

Given its remoteness and rugged landscape, Emei Shan remained relatively unchanged through the nineteenth century. By the mid-twentieth century, however, fires, the war against the Japanese and the destructive excesses of the Cultural Revolution left many of the temples and monasteries worse for the wear. However, many have been renovated or rebuilt in recent years.

Climate

Thanks to its unique microclimates, the mountain is home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life. From its subtropical lower reaches to its sub-alpine peaks, Emei Shan is well-watered, making it lush in spring and summer, gracing it with colorful foliage in the fall and mantling it with snow in the winter. The mountain's peaks average 15°C (27°F) cooler than the surrounding countryside, making it a pleasant escape from Sichuan's scorching summers but freezing cold in the depths of winter.

The most popular period to visit runs between May and October, with national holidays bringing the tour-bus crowds. Winter can be a wonderful time to visit too—you'll have much of the mountain to yourself. The skies are clearer and the views jaw-dropping—but you must be prepared for alpine winter conditions.

Precipitation is a constant. You can expect at least a little rain or snow if you're on the mountain for a day or two, depending on the season, so pack and dress accordingly. Parkas are useful, as are umbrellas, especially fixed-length ones that can double as walking sticks to steady you on often-slippery trails and stairs. Good shoes or boots with heavy, treaded soles are recommended, especially if you tackle the mountain in winter; you're also advised to strap on some cleats for extra traction (you can rent them at various spots along the way or in Emei Town, where you'll likely start out).

Also recommended is a good flashlight, just in case you find yourself out on the trail at dusk surrounded by hungry monkeys (seriously... plus the walking stick might help too, as the monkeys can get a bit aggressive!).

Sichuan Guide | Emei Shan guide | Emei Shan attractions
Emei Shan flights (Chengdu) | Emei Shan hotels
Chengdu tours & activities | Emei Shan on the China Travel Blog