Tài Shān

Mountain in Tai'an

Southern Chinese claim 'myriad mountains, rivers and geniuses' while Shāndōng citizens smugly contest they have 'one mountain, one river and one saint', implying they have the last word on each: Tài Shān (the most revered of China's five sacred Taoist peaks, and the most climbed mountain on earth), Huang He (the Yellow River) and Confucius.

Tài Shān is a unique experience – its supernatural allure attracts the Chinese in droves. 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 Shāndōng and beyond. Tribes of wiry grandmothers – it's said that if you climb Tài Shān you'll live to 100 – 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 Tài Shān.

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 're'n shan re'n havi' – literally a 'mountain of people and a sea of persons.'