The city of Tai’an grew up long ago around this mountain of special significance. There are really very few attractions in Tai’an that are not centered on the overwhelming grandeur of Taishan, which towers over the city. Some things you might want to see besides the mountain itself include the Peach Blossom Ravine (Táohuā Gǔ; 桃花谷) on the west foot of the mountain or the flowering peach blossoms in springtime.
To the southwest in Dawenkou Town (Dàwènkǒu Zhèn; 大汶口镇) is the Dawenkou Archaeological Site Museum, which holds neolithic treasures from this earliest of Chinese cultures. There are artifacts and an introduction to the culture and lifestyle of this ancestor of Chinese society. It is claimed that Taishan is the most climbed mountain in the world. If you make the hike with the countless other folk who do, you will be inclined to believe it, and when you reach the top of this mountain and see all that it has to offer, you will understand why it is named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The best time to visit is during the off-season (August – April), and even at these times the trails will still be packed with tourists. The many travelers may make it hard to truly enjoy the natural beauty of the mountain and its historic attractions, but such is the face of modern China, and there are still enough amazing views and magic lying around to make a journey up to the summit worth it.
Many people come here to witness the sunrise, so there are camp grounds where you can set up your own tents, rent one, or just sit out under the sky awaiting dawn along with other travelers. If you do not have warm enough clothing, there are even entrepreneurs that will rent long winter coats to help you weather the night, although it might be best not to think about how frequently they might be laundered. The best idea is just to dress appropriately for the inevitable cold that comes at night in such high altitudes.
There are four routes up the peak of Taishan. The East Route, known as the Imperial Route, is where emperors ascended to perform ceremonies. Elegant scenery, palaces and stone inscriptions are found along the winding path. This route starts at Dai Temple (Dài Miào; 岱庙), and therefore is a favorite for tourists trying to catch all the sights, including the Red Gate Palace (Hóngmén Gōng; 红门宫). There are over 6,000 steps along this route and it takes about four hours to reach the peak.
The West Route begins with the high road from the Heaven and Earth Square (Tiāndì Guǎngchǎng; 天地广场) and rises to Mid-Heaven Gate (Zhōngtiān Mén;中天门). The next section includes the cableway from Mid-Heaven Gate to the top of the mountain. There are several sights along the walking portion all the way from the bottom on up to the Jade Emperor Summit (Yùhuáng Dǐng; 玉皇顶).
The Peach Blossom Ravine Route is the most convenient way to ascend the mountain: there’s no climbing and the parking lot unloads carloads and busloads of tourists who will opt to take a cable car directly to the top.
The Tianzhu Peak Route takes you to Tianzhu Peak (Tiānzhú Fēng; 天烛峰) which actually translates to “Candle Peak,” aptly named for its candle shape (there is even a lone pine on top, like a flickering flame). This route is the most rugged path and is suitable for the adventurous looking to ditch the main crowds. You will explore General Peak, Eight Immortals Cave (Bāxiān Dòng;八仙洞), Big and Small Tianzhu Peaks and Hòushíwù (后石坞), where you can walk along ancient pines. Here you can see fascinating evidence of the powerful geological forces that formed this mountain, and rock hounds will find magnetized metamorphic and sedimentary rock from the Cambrian Period (about 500 million years ago).
The Azure Clouds Temple (Bìxiá Cí;碧霞祠), lying near the top of the mountain, is chief among the cultural sites. This grand building complex offers a special combination of metal components, wood, bricks and stone structures. From the Dai Temple along the East Route, visitors pass the red gate at the foot of the mountain and ascend more than 7,000 steps, passing numerous stone tablets, inscriptions and ancient buildings on the way to reach the South Heaven Gate (Nántiān Mén;南天门) and the Azure Clouds Temple at the top.
1) The Chinese idiom “Taishan, Big Dipper” (Tàishān Bĕidŏu; 泰山北斗) is an epithet for a person of great distinction.
2) Another common Chinese idiom “有眼不识泰山” (literal translation “Has eyes but doesn’t recognize Taishan”), refers to an ignorant yet arrogant person.
3) Ancient historian Sima Qian once said “Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Taishan or lighter than a feather.” Mao Zedong referred to this passage in the 20th century: “To die for the people is weightier than Taishan, but to work for the fascists and die for the exploiters and oppressors is lighter than a feather.”
4) Taishan is shown on the reverse side of the ¥5 bill.
5) The 1987 album “Hold Your Fire” by Canadian progressive rock band Rush contained the song “Tai Shan,” referencing drummer/lyricist Neil Peart’s journey to Taishan.
6) Taishan is also a Chinese slang term for father-in-law.