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Dujiangyan & Qingcheng Shan

Sichuan Province, 55km (34 miles) NW of Chengdu, 16km (10 miles) SW of Dujiangyan

The over 2,200-year-old irrigation infrastructure of Dujiangyan made Sichuan the most productive agricultural region in China. Built in 256 B.C. during the Warring States Period to tackle the yearly flooding problem of the Minjiang River, the irrigation system, which still functions today, has advanced and ingenious engineering that even today's scientists amazed, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Designed by Qin governor Li Bing, who was later worshipped as a deity for his immense contributions to the local livelihoods, the system, without a dam, comprises three major constructions, Yuzui (Fish Mouth Levee) -- a watershed divides the river into inner and outer streams, Feishayan (Flying Sand Weir) -- a spillway diverting the sand and stones of the inner river into the outer river, and Baopingkou (Bottle-neck Channel) -- bringing water into the inner river and controlling the intake water amount. Visitors usually stop by and spend an hour or two to admire its infrastructure before heading to Qingcheng Shan. Admission to the site is ¥90 for adult and ¥45 for children and students.

As a convenient subalpine getaway, Qingcheng Shan is better than all the other mountains we've listed from this area. It offers solitary climbing on stone steps and wooden paths through dense forests of pine, fir, and cypress. Along the way are caves, ponds, a pedestrian bridge, ancient ginkgoes, and 16 Daoist and Buddhist monasteries housing statues dating from as far back as the 6th century.

More important (though it may have slim bearing on the travel plans of most Westerners), Mount Qingcheng is considered the birthplace of China's only indigenous religion, Daoism -- that is, "organized" Daoism, which gelled a half century after Lao Zi. It was to this mountainous part of western Sichuan (the Shu Kingdom) that the pilgrim Zhang Daoling came to cultivate the Dao. Some years later, in A.D. 142, the deified Lao Zi appeared at Heming Shan (just south of Qingcheng) and made Zhang the first Celestial Master. Zhang went on to establish 24 peasant communities throughout Shu, whose customs included confession and the regular payment of 5 pecks of rice to a communal grain reserve.

Less awe-inspiring than other World Heritage mountains, Qingcheng Shan nevertheless makes an invigorating day trip from Chengdu. If you wish to stay longer, you'll find lodging in monasteries and inns on the mountain. Escape crowds and high guesthouse rates by coming midweek. Summer is considered the best time to visit, but it's also the busiest, as Chengdu residents flee the city heat.

Compared with the situation in Qingcheng front mountain, the damages from the 2008 earthquake to Qingcheng rear mountain is more obvious and severe, with several large-scale landslides. The rear mountain was closed for over a year for facilities reconstruction. It is expected to re-open by early 2010. In Dujiangyan, a minor fracture of the Yuzui is also reported. Fortunately, the damage doesn't affect the major structure of the system.

Essentials

Getting There -- Buses depart Chengdu's Xin Nan Men Bus Station for Dujiangyan and Qingcheng Shan frequently from 8:40am to noon (1 hr.; ¥25); they run in the afternoon as well but are more sporadic. Return buses leave every 30 minutes from 3 to 5pm, from Qingcheng's main entrance. From Dujiangyan, there are buses to Qingcheng Shan. Buses make the 16km (10-mile) trip between Dujiangyan and Qingcheng Qian Shan every half-hour from 6:20am to 5:30pm for ¥4.50; to Qingcheng rare mountain for ¥10.

Getting Around -- The hike to the 1,260m (4,133-ft.) summit is less strenuous than the Emei trail, but it includes a few short, steep sections. At a leisurely pace, Shangqing Gong can be reached in about 2 hours. It's possible to cut that time in half by taking the ferry across Yuecheng Hu and from there a cable car to just below Shangqing Gong. Passage is ¥30 one-way; ¥50 round-trip. The cable car stops at 5:30pm. It's a fun way to go, but you sacrifice seeing the sights. Admission is ¥90.

Exploring Qingcheng Shan: Suggested Route (3-4 hr.)

From the entrance, follow the main trail, keeping to the left. Pass Yile Wo (Nest of Pleasures); continue to Tianshi Dong (Celestial Master Cave). This is the core site of Qingcheng Shan. The six surrounding peaks were to act as natural inner and outer walls that would protect the area from the world of men. A temple first built in 730 now stands in the spot where Zhang Daoling is supposed to have built a hut for himself. It's said that he planted the ancient ginkgo tree that grows here -- which would make it about 1,700 years old. Continue on to Zushi Dian (Hall of the Celestial Master Founder) and Chaoyang Dong (Facing the Dawn Cave). The narrow section of path between these two sights passes through beautiful dark forest and thick undergrowth. Continue on the path; after veering right and passing a couple of viewing pavilions, it leads to Shangqing Gong (Temple of Highest Clarity). First built in the 4th century, the present building is considerably newer. The tearoom here also sells snacks. From here to the summit at Laojun Ge (Lord Lao Pavilion) is a short but steep climb.

Return Hike: Coming back down the mountain, the road forks at Shangqing Gong. The left trail leads to the cable car. The ride down takes you to the small Yuecheng Hu (Moon Wall Lake). From here, boats ferry people across for ¥5. If you don't take the cable car, it's only about a half-hour walk through pine forest to the lake.

Where To Stay & Dine

If you've come to watch the sunrise, you'll need to spend the night on the mountain. Tianshi Dong and Shangqing Gong both have basic but clean lodgings for ¥40 to ¥100, depending on the season. These monasteries also serve vegetarian meals. The Lingyun Shanzhuang (Lingyun Mountain Inn) near the top cable-car station has lodgings and a restaurant.

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.