The most climbed mountain on earth, and the most revered of China's five sacred Taoist peaks, Tai Shan is one third of Shandong's claim to having 'yī shān, yī shuǐ, yī shèngrén' (一山一水一圣人, 'one mountain, one water, one saint'); the water being the Yellow River, the saint being Confucius. You may have to share it with the masses – its supernatural allure attracts the Chinese in droves – but a pilgrimage hike to Tai Shan's summit is a unique experience few people forget.
Bixia, the Princess of the Azure Clouds, a Taoist deity whose presence permeates the temples dotted along the route, is a powerful cult figure for the rural women of Shandong and beyond. It's said that if you climb Tai Shan you'll live to 100, and tribes of wiry grandmothers trot up the steps with surprising ease, their target the cluster of temples at the summit where they burn money and incense, praying for their progeny. Sun-worshippers muster wide-eyed on the peak, straining for the first flickers of dawn. In ancient Chinese tradition, it was believed that the sun began its westward journey from Tai Shan.
From its heights Confucius uttered the dictum: 'The world is small.' You too can climb up and say, 'I'm knackered.'
Avoid coinciding your climb with the public holiday periods held in the first weeks of May and October, otherwise you will share the mountain with what the Chinese call 'rén shān, rén hǎi' (人山人海) – literally a 'mountain of people and a sea of persons.'