Tai Shan (Peace Mountain) is one of the five Daoist sacred mountains in China. Because of its history it is the most climbed mountain in China.
Traces of human presence at Mount Tai date back to the Paleolithic period. Human settlement of the area can be proven from the neolithic period onwards. During this time, two cultures had emerged near the mountain, the Dawenkou culture to the south and the Longshan culture to the north.
During the Xia Dynasty (c. 2070–1600 bc) the mountain was known as Mount Dai (Chinese: 岱山; pinyin: Dài Shān) and lay within the borders of Qingzhou, one of the Nine Provinces of ancient China.
Religious worship of Mount Tai has a tradition dating back 3,000 years, from the time of the Shang (c. 1600–1046 bc) to the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). Over time, this worship evolved into an official imperial rite and Mount Tai became one of the principal places where the emperor would pay homage to heaven (on the summit) and earth (at the foot of the mountain) in the Feng (Chinese: 封; pinyin: Fēng) and Shan (Chinese: 禪; pinyin: Shàn) sacrifices respectively. The two sacrifices are often referred to together as the Fengshan sacrifices (Chinese: 封禪; pinyin: Fēngshàn). Carving of an inscription as part of the sacrifices marked the attainment of the "great peace".
By the time of the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046–256 bc) sacrifices at Mount Tai had become highly ritualized ceremonies in which a local feudal lord would travel there to make sacrifices of food and jade ritual items. These would then be arranged in a ritually correct pattern before being buried on the mountain. In the Spring and Autumn Period (771–476 bc) the vassal states of Qi and Lu bordered Mount Tai to the north and south respectively, from where their feudal lords both made independent sacrifices on Mount Tai. According to Zhou ritual belief, the spirit of Mount Tai would only accept sacrifices offered by a feudal lord, leading Confucius (in his Analects 3.6) to criticize the ministers who offered state sacrifices here after usurping power. In the ensuing Warring States period (475–221 bc), to protect itself against invasion, the State of Qi erected a 500 kilometres (310 mi) wall, the ruins of which are still present today. The name Tai'an of the neighboring city is attributed to the saying "If Mount Tai is stable, so is the entire country" (both characters of Tai'an, "泰" and "安", have the independent meaning of "peace").
In 219 bc, Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, held a ceremony on the summit and proclaimed the unity of his empire in a well-known inscription. During the Han Dynasty (206 bc–220 ad), the Feng and Shan sacrifices were considered the highest of all sacrifices.
Japan, India, the Persian court in exile, Goguryeo, Baekje, Silla, the Turks, Khotan, the Khmer, and the Umayyad Caliphate all had representatives attending the Feng and Shan sacrifices held by Emperor Gaozong of Tang in 666 at Mount Tai.
Mount Tai has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. In 2003, it attracted around 6 million visitors. A renovation project was completed in late October 2005, which aimed at restoring cultural relics and renovating damaged buildings of cultural significance. Widely known for its special ceremonies and sacrifices, Mount Tai has seen visits by many poets and literary scholars who have traveled there to gain inspiration. There are grandiose temples, many stone inscriptions and stone tablets with the mountain playing an important role in the development of both Buddhism and Taoism.
Mount Tai is located in the north of Tai'an city, in the middle of Shandong province. As one of the five most famous mountains in China, it is recognized as the head of the Five-mountain and defined to be East-mountain adoringly. Many emperors climbed to the top for enthronement or other significant ceremonies in ancient China, for they considered it to be a symbol of Chinese power that given by master of nature. The earliest activities could go back to Xia dynasty and Shang dynasty, so it preserved a good many of cultural relics and historic sites. Famous literators, poets and celebrities were attracted here and thousands of poems and articles about Mount Tai are best-known nowadays.
Mount Tai is considered to be a cultural and historical museum. It is a famous place both of Taoism and Buddhism. There are four marvelous spectacles in Mount Tai, and they are sunrise watching on the peak, shine of sunset, Yellow River watching in sunshine and sea of cloud.
Flora and fauna
As of May, 2010, there are 3 express trains per day, which take about 3hr and a half journeys from Beijing South railway station to Tai Shan railway station. The fare of standard class is 176 yuan. And the train is fast, clean and comfortable.
There are other 9 regular trains from Beijing railway station (main) stop at Tai Shan railway station. The travel time of regular trains varies from 5 hours to 9 hours. Some of them are night trains, which depart from Beijing at midnight. Not only on night trains, both sleeper and seat services are available on all the regular trains. The fare of air conditioned seat service is around 80 yuan, while of the sleeper service is around 150yuan.
Train tickets could be bought from all rail stations, as well as hundreds of other ticket sale agencies around the city. Buying from an agency, you need to pay a 5 yuan administration fee per ticket. Normally, your hotel may book for you, but may ask for a higher administration fee. Tickets could not be booked online. BE AWARE that in the rush season, it is sometimes possible that a seat ticket doesn't have seat reserved. In this case, it may be hard for you to find a seat on board. So please buy the ticket in advance.
Although it is not recommended, it is still possible to take the plane from Beijing to Jinan. At the Jinan airport, there are regular buses go to Tai'an directly. Long-distance coaches are also available from Beijing to Tai'an, which are slower, but more expensive than train services - So only choose it when no train tickets available.
From other cities
There are more than 100 train services stop at Tai Shan railway station per day, which covers most provinces in China.
Trains run regularly from Qingdao to Tai'an and take 6 hours while costing ¥56-65 one way. Express trains also run from Qingdao and take only 3.5 hours, though the ticket price jumps to ¥148. As of July 2009, express trains only leave from Qingdao at 6AM and 10:30AM. Purchasing your train ticket in advance is a must during busy season, unless you don't mind standing in the aisle for the entire trip. Both the regular and express trains pass through Jinan. Alternatively, you can also take a bus from Qingdao's Sifang long-distance bus station. The trip takes 6 hours and costs ¥116. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to figure out the bus schedule without going to the bus station (there is no number to call and nobody in town seems to be familiar with the schedule), but Sifang is a short cab ride from town (only about ¥12-15 from the train station).
From the rail station to the Mount
To get from the train station (the bus stop isn't near the station, it's about 5 minutes walk to the downtown, near KFC, Pizza Hut and Dico's) to the base of Taishan by local bus, take bus #3 (actually this bus connects two entrances - if you take the bus from the bus stop closer to Dico's/Pizza Hut it will stop at the entrance without the bus to the Halfway. Take the bus from the oposite side of the street). This only takes about 15 minutes and costs ¥2.
Taxis from the Tai'an train station are available to the foot of the trails up Tai Shan and cost about ¥7 (Taishan Bus Station) to ¥10 (Red Door). A brisk walk experiencing some of the culture and atmosphere of the city is a wonderful option for those wanting to warm up for the hike up the mountain itself.
The hike to the top of Tai Shan is an experience of beautiful sites with flora and fauna as well as a rich history of the mountain. Hiking by foot, though physical in nature, is very achievable and is regularly accomplished by people of all ages. There are multiple paths up the mountain with the main path being bricked the entire length making it relatively safe. An added benefit of the hike to the top is the lore that anyone climbing Tai Shan will live 100 years.
Alternatively, buses are available to the mid-way point and are available 24 hours (¥30). A cable car is available for the remainder of the distance to the top. The cable car is open between 6:30am-5:30pm, although unpublished it may be open longer during peak times. (¥140 roundtrip, ¥80 single ride)
If you are interested in seeing the sunrise (a very popular activity) you will need to hike up the stairs at night or stay overnight on top.
Admission was ¥127 which includes a pre-stamped postcard ticket you can mail within China.
Student fares are available at ¥62, but a student ID may be required (expired student ID is enough)
Cable car fares are ¥100 one way or ¥200 return.
Bus fares to the midpoint base are ¥30 one way.
Winding stone and brick sidewalks link the different village areas on top of the mountain.
Tai Shan is very popular to Chinese visitors. This means it is often covered with tourists and the vendors that follow them. There are many nice paths up the mountain but the main climb is sometimes crowded with everything from beggars, to chickens, to monkey on chains that you can pose for pictures with.
The same options available up the mountain (bus-cable car or hiking paths) are available for the trip down the mountain. Hikers will often take an alternate path down from the path taken up the mountain. Be warned the the cable car closes at 5:30pm, well before sunset. The cable car also closes when there is thunder in the area, so it is vitally important to check the weather report beforehand.
There is an alternative path shortly after the steep ascent from South Gate to Heaven(南天门). It mostly follows beside the main steps but goes off at some points. It finishes around 15 minutes before the Halfway Heaven Gate (中天门). Very few people use this path so it's a nice break from the busy main path. Part of this path goes down wooden steps, which are safe.
Shops and vendors line the first steps at the base of the mountain as well as on top of the mountain with the usual assortment of trinkets found at tourist destinations.
A common purchase is a red headband giving a blessing of long life and prosperity to those climbing Tai Shan.
Hotels and hostels exist on top of Tai Shan, giving you the ability to sleep overnight to watch the famed sunrise the next morning. Sales people will meet you to rent available rooms or reservations can be made in advance. Hot water is usually only available at certain times for showers, but is available all hours for the more expensive three star hotel. Check with the hotel on hours of availability before renting to coordinate availability with your schedule.
Be aware the hotels at the top will often times charge 3 times the normal rate during holiday seasons (Oct. 1-8 and May 1-7). 1600 Yuan is the price we were quoted.
Additionally, there are plenty of hotels at the base of the mountain in Tai'an. There are also hostels in the city. The International Youth Hostel was clean and about an hour WALK to the bottom of the mountain, although cabs are readily available to take you to the bottom of the mountain from the town. (Price at the Youth hostel was 188 RMB/night for two-bed room with shower, April 2013).
Prices both on Tai Shan and in Tai'an often are negotiable.
Camping is no longer permitted on Mount Tai due to concerns for forest fires.
Toilets are provided on the mountain top but be wary when walking off the beaten track for places where people have not felt inclined to make use of the facilities.
You can also rent large bulky military jackets at the top for ¥20 plus a ¥30 deposit and id. These are very popular and well worth the money though you can also sometimes rent or buy them while climbing though this means you have to carry them up and down again.
The mountain is very safe, with many tourists. Just be careful of steep ledges and if you are hiking, of dehydration and the cold at the top of the mountain (vendors rent or sell Chinese military coats if you need one). Walking up the mountain is, while physically demanding, very achievable, though walking down the mountain should be done with caution as the steps are very steep with few landings near the summit. Also, you should avoid if at possible attempting to climb the steps in wet conditions.