Wanting to get a break from Chengdu's sprawling network of high rises, I took a day trip with my host to Mt. Qingcheng, a series of 36 peaks located near Dujiangyan City, about a forty minute train ride northwest of Chengdu. As I noted previously, the air quality in the urban center isn't much different than it is in LA, but right away when we exited the station and made toward the densely wooded hills, our lungs relished the difference. Getting there is not difficult, however we learned the hard way that train tickets should be purchased at least a day in advance (because tickets do sell out for desired times and unless going through a third party vendor you'll probably have to wait in line to make a purchase), and that a passport is necessary - for foreigners, a Chinese resident card is not sufficient.
As a revered center of Taoism dating back over two thousand years BC, this UNESCO Heritage Site is dotted with ancient temples and palaces. Some of these have been adapted to souvenir shops, but they're relatively few and far between and thus not too much of a buzz kill. There are two paths up the mountain, which the English-language tourism website helpfully refers to as "anterior" and "posterior." For convenience's sake, we took whichever one means the front.
The trek up to the top is not a hike per se - the path gravitates between walkways of wooden planks periodically penetrated by trees that the builder didn't want to cut down and old paving stones. Oh, and steps. Lots and lots of steps. It's been several days since this excursion and my calves still ache.
With the slight time pressure of a late afternoon return train ticket, we didn't linger as long as we could have at each site. Some highlights: a lake with a pretty boat that ferried us across before unceremoniously slamming into a few rubber tires on the other side as if it only had two functions - moving and not moving; a furnicular whose path went over beautiful cliff paintings; elderly Chinese men with long beards and traditional garb who looked as though they could be original to the centuries-old buildings; a baulstrade thick with heart-shaped locks in a poor imitation of the Pont de l'Archevêché in Paris; a souvenir shop that, with the aid of a green screen, specialized in making videos of you and your loved one flying through the local scenery. On our way back down the mountain, I stood transfixed, utter revulsion churning inside me like vomit after binge drinking, in front of the latter until I remembered that we were running to catch our train on time. (We did).
Although there are many incongruous elements to contemporary Mt. Qingcheng, the pristine beauty of the forest; the way it absorbs sound like a sponge and the gorgeous autumnal palette that materializes when viewed from up high retain a respectable spirituality commensurate to its history. I wish we'd had enough time to go down the other path, but for that one would certainly need more than a day. Near the bottom of the mountain, guesthouses perch just off the main road as it begins to slope upward. Next time, maybe...