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Sichuan Province, 143km (89 miles) SW of Chengdu, 36km (22 miles) E of Le Shan

Emei means "lofty eyebrows," but it's also a pun on a poetic expression referring to the delicate brows of a beautiful woman. The mountain was named for two of its high adjacent peaks, whose outlines, according to 6th-century commentary on the "Book of Waterways," did indeed conjure the image of two long, thin, graceful eyebrows. Once richly endowed with both flora and fauna, this sacred Buddhist mountain is still home to 10% of China's plant species; fauna have fared less well. Threatened species include Asiatic black bear, giant salamander (the famous "crying fish," or wawa yu in Chinese), gray-hooded parrotbill, and Asiatic golden cat. You'll also bump into monkeys that want a handout, but try to resist -- they already suffer from obesity and hypertension. As of 2002, park wardens have put them on a diet.

Come here for scenic hiking and active Buddhist shrines and monasteries (where the monk and nun population was once as threatened as the golden cat but has now returned, albeit in smaller numbers). Nature enthusiasts will delight in the exotic insects and butterflies along the way.

Altitudes on the mountain range from 500 to 3,099m (1,640-10,167 ft.) at the Wanfo Ding summit. Not surprisingly, average yearly temperatures vary significantly from one part of the mountain to another. In the subtropical zone at the bottom, the average is 17°C (63°F); at the summit, 3°C (37°F). Bring layers of clothes. The best months to visit are late August through early October. The busiest months are July and August. Avoid national holidays.

A Proper Visit to Emei Shan

The Chinese say a proper visit to Emei Shan involves at least one of the following:

  • Watching the sunrise from the summit (which requires staying the night on or near it -- the earliest shuttle arrives after sunup).
  • Standing in the Cloud Sea. Like many a Chinese mountain, Emei is famous for its clouds and mists. The classic experience happens when layers of clouds gather between Jiulao Dong and Xi Xiang Chi (Elephant Bathing Pool). You see the clouds above, climb through them, then look down to see clouds billowing and surging at your feet like the sea. Of course, conditions aren't always right.
  • Witnessing Buddha's Halo. When the sun shines through misty clouds, and you're standing between the clouds and the sun, you can see your shadow outlined by a halo-shaped rainbow. Optimal time: 2 to 5pm. Optimal place: Sheshen Yan.
  • Seeing the "Strange Lamps" (Guai Deng). Photos and witnesses are both scarce, but supposedly in the evening when the moon is waning, especially after it has rained and the sky has cleared, those looking down from Sheshen Yan at the layers of mountains in the distance can see thousands of floating orbs of light.