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Introducing Éméi Shān

A cool, misty retreat from the Sìchuān basin’s sweltering heat, Éméi Shān, 130km southwest of Chéngdū, is one of the Middle Kingdom’s four famous Buddhist mountains (the others are Pǔtúoshān, Wǔtái Shān and Jiǔhuá Shān). Here you’ll find lush mountain scenery, plantations of tea trees, scads of temples, macaques demanding tribute for safe passage, and the chance to see a sunrise so splendorous that you’re considered blessed to see it. On the rare afternoon there is also a phenomenon known as Buddha’s Aureole where rainbow rings, produced by refraction of water particles, attach themselves to a person’s shadow in a cloud bank below the summit. Devout Buddhists, thinking this was a call from yonder, used to jump off the Cliff of Self-Sacrifice in ecstasy.

Éméi Shān has little of its original templework left (from 100 odd temples dating from the advent of Buddhism in China). Glittering Jinding Temple (Jīndǐng Sì), with its brass tiling engraved with Tibetan script, was completely gutted by fire. Other temples suffered the same, and all were nicked to a various degree by war with the Japanese and Red Guard looting.

The waves of pilgrims, tourists and hawkers during peak season quickly eliminate solitude on the mountain but they do add to the atmosphere. The crowds hover largely around the monasteries; away from them, the path is not lined so much with stalls as with the fir, pine and cedar trees that clothe the slopes. Lofty crags, cloud-kissing precipices, butterflies and azaleas together form a nature reserve, and the mountain proudly joins Lèshān and Jiǔzhàigōu on Unesco’s list of World Heritage sites.