Mount Emei is not only one of Sichuan’s most famous mountains, it’s one of China’s four most sacred Buddhist mountains (the others are Putuo Shan [Pǔtuó Shān;普陀山] in Zhejiang Province; Jiuhua Shan [Jiǔhuá Shān;九华山] in Anhui Province; and Wutai Shan [Wǔtái Shān;五台山] in Shanxi Province). Although very few of its magnificent ancient Buddhist temples remain intact today – thanks to natural disasters, the Japanese invasion and the Cultural Revolution – this UNESCO World Heritage Site still offers visitors a glimpse of a sweeping world-class natural beauty marked by misty forest canopies, soaring rocky pinnacles and fiery macaque gatekeepers.
Despite the destruction of many temples, a good number are still up and running with a little help from intense renovation projects. At some of these you’ll spot pilgrims who have traveled thousands of kilometers just to visit this holy mountain, so make sure to show an air of dignity and respect.
Baoguo Temple (Bàoguó Sì;报国寺) was constructed in the 1500s. The Sutra Library and the enormous porcelain Buddha – dating back to 1415 – are absolutely incredible, so it’s worth paying the small entrance fee of ¥8.
Qingyin Pavillion (Qīngyīn Gé;清音阁) gets its name from the sound of peaceful drip drops of trickling water from a nearby stream. It’s a nice place to meditate, practice some tai chi or even take a quick rest if the climb proves too daunting.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what type of monkey business is going on at the Monkey Zone (Hóu Qū; 猴区). Sure, these macaques are cute, but don’t let them deceive you, some of them can be real bullies. Our advice is to speak softly and carry a big stick while passing through the Monkey Zone, but also have your video recorder ready for a potential viral YouTube hit – these little pranksters have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves!
Elephant Bathing Pool (Xǐxiàng Chí; 洗象池), unlike the Monkey Zone, is not what it sounds like. Instead of a giant lake where wild elephants bathe in the sun, it’s simply a pretty temple often overrun by pilgrims. However, this is one of the most famous temples on the mountain and is highly worth a visit.
The oldest remaining structure on Emei Shan is Wannian Temple (Wànnián Sì;万年寺). It goes without saying that it has been reconstructed several times, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this temple is dedicated in a beautiful fashion to the Buddhist Lord of Truth (Bodhisattva Puxian, or Samantabhadra). There’s even an 8.5 m (28 ft) statue of him sitting on an elephant (don’t forget to rub the leg of the elephant for good luck).