Mianshan, a site with Buddhist and Taoist history tracing back 2,500 years, has become an amazing travel destination after opening to the public in 2000.
Almost 800 kilometres southwest of Beijing, and 20 kilometres west of Jiexiu City, Mianshan is reminisce as a holy place for both Buddhism and Taoism. Rebuilt religious buildings rest harmoniously in caverns opposite sheer mountains and plush vegetation.
History began with the legendary 'Burning of Mianshan,'during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-476 BC).
Jie Zitui, the legend's hero, was a loyal follower of Wengong, King of Jin Kingdom, even after his monarch was exiled. His loyalty was proclaimed by offerring a roasted piece of flesh from his leg to feed the starving king.
On being restored to the throne, the King forgot Jie's devotion. Together with his mother, he moved to Mianshan.
When the king heard the news, he was ashamed and regretful. He travelled to Mianshan to invite Jie back, only to find the door locked.
Neighbours said that Jie was not willing to become an official, and had climbed up the ridge of the mountain, carrying his mother on his back.
The mountains of Mianshan are very high, with dangerous terrain and dense forests. It would not be easy to look for Jie and his mother. Someone suggested to set fire to the mountains and force Jie out.
The king agreed, spreading a fire across three sides of the mountain.
The fire burned all flora and fauna, yet not a shadow of Jie was found. After the fire dispersed, however, people found the remains of Jie, sitting under an old willow tree, with his mother on his back.
Seeing this, the king felt unbearable pain. On his return, the king made it known all over the country that the day after Cold Food Day was fixed as the Pure Brightness Festival, in commemoration of Jie. The festival (also named the Qingming Festival) and its customs have been handed down from generation to generation and is still followed today.
Since that time, many buildings were built in Mianshan's steep slopes until 1940, when the Japanese army came and burnt most of the religious buildings and relics, causing the mountain to lose its allure for over the next 50 years.
Covering about 200 square kilometres, the mountain has been rejuvenated, once again filled with many scenic spots, providing a home for 88 temples and over 20 grand halls. The highest temple is more than 2,000 metres above sea level.
Apart from Mianshan, tourists are also recommended to tour Zishou Temple and Wang's Courtyard. The following is an itinerary for a four-day trip to see these creations.
Day 1: Start at Beijing West Railway Station with an overnight train. There are many train routes that arrive at Jiexiu City, a 9 to 11 hour train ride away. Driving is faster, taking less than eight hours. The train ticket costs about 200 yuan (US$24) for a soft sleeper. After reaching Jiexiu, many tourist buses are available to take you 24km south to Mianshan.
There are five three- and four-star hotels to choose from. Almost all overhang the cliff. Pick a room with a view to watch the remote mountain scenery. Yunfeng Shuyuan Hotel and Wolong Hotel are two we recommend. They are situated near the many Taoist and Buddhist temples and scenic spots. After breakfast, visit Dragon Head Temple and Yunfeng Temple, with other sites not too far away. While they are close, the steps to reach them are arduous. Take a break on the many picnic tables on the path. Bring your favourite snacks with you and take your time. The views and temples are stunning. After reaching such incredible heights, one is in no rush to return.
Day 2: Visit Daluo Temple, Zhujia'ao, Yidouquan, and other nearby sites. Daluo Temple is called the "first Taoist temple in the world." There is no detail about when the old temple was first built. Since ancient times, the temple has always been crowded by pilgrims. It was renovated in 1998.
Day 3: Visit Qixia Valley, the Temple and Tomb of Jie Zitui, and Shuitaogou (Water Wave Valley). Qixia Valley is very precipitous. Man-made wooden steps and scaling ladders are built along cliffs to walk over the running stream. Take the mountain path from the top of Qixia Valley to Jie Zitui's Tomb. Many visitors fail to go because there are more than 1,000 steep steps to complete the journey, but it is well worth the effort. A day spent here is not wasted. The locals who rest here with a ready smile are testimony to the peace one can achieve by listening to the silence while resting on the terra-covered plateau. Food and water are essential as part of the walk. Stone benches are available along both sides of the tiled square surface.
Water Waves Valley attracts a myriad of visitors thanks to its array of waterfalls, some with caves hidden behind the waterfall's stream. The valley is about four kilometres in length.
Day 4: Leave Mianshan in the morning for Zishou Temple and Wang's Courtyard. The two sites are on the way to Jiexiu train station.
Zishou Temple boasts 1,300 years of history. It is a Buddhist temple, where ancient architecture, Buddha, and pine trees still remain. Wang's Courtyard is incredible. It would take a long story to detail the 45,000 square metres of Ming's folk group residence.
Cost for accommodation: The hotels in Mianshan range from 150 yuan (US$18) to 300 yuan (US$36) per day.
Entrance: Tickets to different scenic spots in Mianshan range from 20 yuan (US$2.5) to 30 yuan (US$3.5). Ticket to Wang's Courtyard are 40 yuan per person.
The last train to leave Jiexiu for Beijing is reasonably early, so be sure to give yourself time to get there for your return. Most train routes from Hancheng, Yuncheng and other cities to Beijing arrive at Jiexiu between 7 pm to 9 pm.