In mythical China there is an ancient temple at the top of a very high mountain sitting above the clouds and it takes 7,000 steps up a vertical stairway to reach it. Emperor, poets and pilgrims make the exhausting climb to view the sunrise with the guardian monks. That place really exists — it’s Tai Shan, a sacred mountain near the beer-city of Qingdao, China, across the seas from Korea.
I visited the sacred mountain this winter. Remember the scene in the movie Kung Fu Panda, when Panda crawls up the last few steps on his elbows? That’s how it is. At the top of the 7,000 step vertical stairway sits a temple monastery whipped by wind and mist. It was bitterly cold (cold even in summer), but the small temple village was floating above an ocean of clouds. In the morning the entire mountain cast its own shadow on the sea of clouds below. A few monks drifted in and out of the temples.
There are many mountain shrines and temples in China. Tai Shan became the most famous of them because of its unique geology. It erupts very abruptly, an almost singular rocky peak that pokes out of a plain, and its peak sits way above anything else nearby. It is a natural tower, so its fans, including emperors, built a stairway to heaven.