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Wudang Shan

Hubei Province, 500km (311 miles) NW of Wuhan

In the hierarchy of sacred Daoist mountains, Wudang is number one because of its association with the popular god Zhenwu (Perfected Warrior). In the 7th century, a cult developed around him, and his popularity continued to grow for the next 7 centuries. By the Ming dynasty, Zhenwu was considered the 82nd transformation of Lao Zi, and even supplanted the deified Lao Zi as the most important of the Daoist gods. Visitors to Wudang have the Perfected Warrior to thank for many of the monasteries and temples that still stand on the mountain. It was in his honor that the Yongle emperor ordered a massive building campaign on Wudang Shan in 1412. Several of the extant buildings date back to that time.

Unlike Emei Shan, Qingcheng Shan, and Nan Yue Heng Shan, Wudang receives relatively few tourists, and it has preserved its temples and its Daoist tradition more successfully than the less-remote mountains. The price of preservation for the traveler is a longer journey and less-comfortable lodging. However, the mountain's rugged peaks covered in old-growth forest, along with its ancient monasteries -- some built to fit the contours of the cliffs, others to mirror them -- are well worth the sacrifice.

Another name associated with these mountains is Zhang Sanfeng, the Daoist Immortal credited with inventing the discipline of taijiquan in the late 14th century. Though less well known overseas, Wudang's "internal" form of wushu (martial arts) is as highly regarded as Shaolin Temple's "external" form. Students come from all parts of China to study at the many martial arts schools in town and on the mountain. The famous swords used in the Wudang style are for sale everywhere.

The best times to visit are April through June and September through October, when the leaves turn as red as the gorgeous temple walls.

Getting There

Direct train service from Wuchang to Wudang Shan has stopped operating since the express rail between Hankou (Wuhan) and Shiyan was completed in October 2009. A D-series express train to Shiyan departs at Hankou at 8:20am (3[b/f]1/2 hr.; second class ¥152; first class ¥183). The return train from Shiyan for Hankou leaves at 12:13pm.

From Shiyan, take the express tour bus at Argyle Shiji Baiqiang Grand International Hotel (Shiji Baiqiang Yage Gouji Dajiudian), at Beijing Bei Lu 78, to Wudang Shan. The 30-minute ride takes you directly to the Wudang Shan entrance.

Exploring the Mountain

The entrance to the mountain is less than a mile east of Wudang Shan Town. Tour vans pick up passengers outside the railway station and drop them at the entrance of the mountain (¥2).

Buy tickets at the tourist service center located at the end of Wudang Jinjie, a street filled with shops selling souvenirs and Wudang swords. Admission to the scenic area is ¥180; the fee includes admission to the mountain, transportation from the entrance to main temples, and entrance to all but Jin Dian and Zixiao Gong, which charge an extra ¥20 and ¥15 respectively.

At the tourist service center, you can just get on the tour buses to different scenic spots in the mountain. A cable car, which starts at Qiongtai, goes to Taihe Gong (near the peak). The 25-minute trip costs ¥50 up, ¥45 down, ¥80 round-trip. The peak can also be reached on foot in 2 1/2 hours up stone stairs. The views along the 12km (7 miles) trail are magnificent. Save energy for the final very steep leg to the peak. The round-trip by sedan chair is ¥120.

Best preserved from the Ming dynasty building boom is Wudang Shan's Zixiao Gong (Purple Mist Palace), located on Zhanqi Peak (below the cliff Taizi Yan). This large, still very active monastery was built in 1413. Its striking red halls often bustle with priests and pilgrims. You may also come upon a taijiquan class practicing on one of the open terraces. Famous among its relics is a series of statues of Zhenwu at various stages of his life.

The most dramatic of the existing temples, Nanyan Gong (Southern Cliff Palace), is built into the side of a sheer cliff, recalling Northern Heng Shan's Xuankong Si -- another Daoist temple that seems to defy gravity. From Zixiao Gong, follow the trail up the mountain (southwest) to Wuya Ling (about 2.5km/1 1/2 miles); Nanyan is just after Nantian Men. Jin Dian (Golden Hall), which sits on Tianzhu Feng, highest of Wudang's 72 peaks (1,612m/1 mile high), is part of the 15th-century Taihe Gong (Palace of Supreme Harmony) complex. Its two-tiered roof, covered in gilded bronze, is, naturally, best viewed on a clear day when it sparkles. To reach Jin Dian from Nanyan Gong, continue up the path to Huanglong Dong (Yellow Dragon Cave). From here, both ascending paths lead to the Golden Hall. The steeper route is to the right through the three "Heaven Gates."

Where to Stay & Dine

The best two places to stay are on the mountain near Tianzhu Peak. Taihe Gong offers very basic accommodations in their Jinding Guibin Zhaodaishi (tel. 0719/568-7155). The cost of ¥200 each person includes a room with twin beds, shared bathroom, and limited hot water. This is where you stay if you want to see the sunrise on the peak. The Jingui Jiudian (tel. 0719/568-9198) just down the hill from the Wuya Ling parking lot is basic and satisfactory, and costs ¥280 for a standard room, with discounts of up to 40% available. None of the hotels in Wudang Shan have the charm, views, or quiet of the mountain. The Wudang Shan Qiongtai Binguan (tel. 0719/852-9991), which is just adjacent the cable car station at Qiongtai, was renovated in 2008, is the most comfortable and cleanest. Furniture and bedspreads are standard, and the bathroom is small with shower only. A Chinese restaurant is on the premises. The price of a standard room ranges from ¥260 to ¥280 on normal days and ¥500 to ¥550 on holidays.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.