Tue, April 12, 2011
Lifestyle > Travel > 2011 Spring Sightseeing

Wudang epiphany(2)

2011-04-12 03:44:50 GMT2011-04-12 11:44:50(Beijing Time)  China Daily

Overlooking a sea of clouds, Golden Temple is a peak attraction of Wudang Mountains in Hubei province. Provided to China Daily

The Purple Cloud complex in Wudang Mountains. Provided to China Daily

The path to Golden Temple is crowded with visitors. Raymond Zhou / China Daily

The Prince Slope is not far from the departure station of the cable car that will take you to Golden Temple. The Slope is now dominated by buildings first constructed in 1413 and based on the Zhenwu scriptures. This 16,000 square meter complex is perched on a slope of 60 degrees, with Lion's Peak as its backdrop and a waterfall and the curving road forming a natural frame.

The Yellow River Wall of Nine Curves, 1.5 meters thick and 2.5 meters high, is said to embody the nine virtues of Taoism and will bless those who make contributions to the religion. The place where the prince studied is hilariously anachronistic. The myth is supposed to be thousands of years older than the building.

Back to the legend. At one point, the empress got hold of her son. In a desperate act to break away from the constraints of family bonds, the prince, wielding a sword, cut off the part of his clothes his mother was pulling on. The severed pieces of cloth floated in the air and finally descended on the River Han, where they became two islets. Somehow, despair enhanced her strength. Again she caught up with him. This time he drew his sword and parted the mountain, whose valley was soon submerged in water. The Sword River, as it is now called, finally stopped the royal mother from further pursuit. But she cried so many tears there is now a Pool of Tears.

Prince Zhenwu practiced Taoism for many years, yet he did not attain enlightenment. He was about to give up when he encountered an elderly woman sharpening an iron rod. "What's it for?" he stepped forward and asked. "I'm making a needle out of it," she answered. "You must be joking." The old lady was not offended: "The more I work on it, the smaller it becomes, and one day it will be a needle sharp enough for embroidery."

With that she vanished. When he looked up, he saw her on a cloud. "Wow, you're a deity taking a human shape!"

That phrase about an iron rod reduced to a needle has found its way into the Chinese lexicon, to denote persistence. And Wudang has a well in commemoration of that episode. Most of the mountain's scenic spots, including the Flying Up Cliff, where the prince allegedly achieved his immortality after 42 years of practice, are imbued with beautiful fantasies and ancient mythologies and stewed into a Taoist potion.

But you don't have to be a Taoist to appreciate its beauty. Embraced by nature and its misty vicissitudes, the structures, mostly built in the Yongle years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) at the same time the Forbidden City in Beijing was under construction, have an imperial grandeur, yet are toned down by a simplicity and restraint.

Apart from the swarm of humanity, especially on public holidays and at the entrance of the cable car, the place is ideal for fantasy writers and martial arts aficionados. Some of the buildings seem to have been carved out of the cliff, and one's affinity to the great unknown is compounded by cooler-than-usual weather high in the mountains and drifting clouds that add mystique to the scene.

If possible, one should attempt the climb up Heavenly Pillar Peak, a six-hour trek back and forth, which will give you a taste of what was involved in an ancient Taoist pilgrimage. At least, one can take the cable car up and hike down. You can even pace your descent with the music of Wu-Tang Clan.

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