Along the way to the climbing journey there are also small Buddhist and Dao temples and pavilions that you can visit. For example Zi Yang Guan (for good fortune), Bi Xia Gong (for parents and grand parents to pray or make wishes for their children and grand children) or Guan Yin Ge (for safety and happiness and other wishes), Dou Mu Gong.
These temples were built in Ming and Qing Dynasty with more than 300 - 400 years of history. There are bigger temples in a different route , but we did not have enough time to visit everything.
Every 28 April, in the Chinese calendar (around end of May in western calendar) is the day for Mountain Gatherings for the phoenix mountain. It is the busiest time of the year; the Buddhists and people from all around the country visit here on this day. It is also full of energetic mountain climbers who want to enjoy the festival atmosphere here.
You can burn scents, pray, make wishes or donate money in the temples and pavilions. It is heard that some wishes made here did come true. Maybe these stories have added more to the mysterious atmosphere of this majestic mountain; the mountain attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year and has become a very popular tourist destination.
After visiting these classic temples and pavilions we also passed the Phoenix Cave – Feng Huang Dong. During the summer time, it has a beautiful waterfall, but when we visited there it was frozen solid and we could only see ice. It was too slippery to walk inside, so we decided to go ahead with our climbing.
After passing Guan Yin Pavillion, the mountain stairs became very steep. The stairs were carved into the cliffs and it looked 90 degrees to me. Luckily there are steel rails that you can hold. It was my first time to climb such a precipitous mountain, and I could feel that my legs were shaking. .
We then came to Ju Xian Tai (Immortal Assembly Base), where you can make wishes for your parents' health and long life. If you are a couple, you can also purchase a lock, carve your names on it and then tie it up on a chain with hundreds of other locks along the cliff to lock your love. This symbolises eternal love and ensures you will have 100 years of harmonious and happy marriage together (Bai Nian Hao He).
We passed Shuang Long Bei (Two Dragon's Back), Jing Jun Feng (General Cliff), Tu Er Feng ( Rabbit's Ear Cliff) and Luo Han Feng (Luo Han Cliff). The cliffs are very steep and sharp and the paths are very narrow and dangerous. We often used the steel rails to keep ourselves from falling off the cliff and to prevent us slipping where there was some ice on the steps.
Some paths are so narrow that we had to squeeze to go through. We both thought that these narrow paths are probably not suitable for very overweight people to go through but on some parts, if you do turn back it will be very inconvenient as the path is so narrow and there are usually other people following behind as it is one direction only.
Most of the snow and ice had been melted, but some areas were wet and slippery. Luckily it was a dry and sunny day, but I really do not recommend anyone to climb these mountain just after it has rained and especially not while it is raining. It was really hard work, we had to climb up and down the cliffs many times to move forward. The rocks and steel rails that we were relying on to climb were very cold in the shade and we often regretted not purchasing gloves earlier, we would have if we had known how cold the steel rails could be.
When we started we were accompanied by a young Chinese couple. When the cliffs became sharper and more dangerous to climb we could see that the young lady had fear all over her face, and we saw them give up climbing.
Along the way, we also met four young Chinese men and women while climbing the General Cliff, we could see one guy, who was a bit overweight was struggling. They said “Hello” to my husband, and were very curious about him. After all there are very few foreign visitors in this city, and to see a Lao Wai (foreigner) climb the mountain is quite rare. Soon we saw that they changed their direction and went back down the mountain, towards where we had started climbing.
There was a vendor selling some food such as tea, preserved eggs (traditional Chinese way of boiling eggs), sausages, bread, water and soft drinks there. The price is three or four times more more expensive compared to the supermarkets. They are supplying the food for urgent needs, as you cannot afford to be hungry, thirsty and tired to have this long and dangerous mountain journey.
If you do not want to pay the high prices, it is recommended to bring your own food and water. Not too much, as you will feel it heavy to carry it around, but it is definitely necessary, especially water. You do become hungry after climbing up and down of the cliffs and you need to pump up your energy.
When we arrived at the front of a dangerous looking cliff with 90 degrees of steps to climb, we saw another Chinese couple climbing down the stairs nervously. They told us that the famous Old Cow's Back is just ahead, but they decided not to climb it and going down using the cable car.
The lady told us that her husband wanted to climb this famous Old Cow's Back for a while, however, when they arrived there, by just looking at the cliff, her husband became very nervous and therefore they changed their minds and decided not to climb it. She told me that after the Old Cow's Back, there will be a place called Jian Yan (Arrow's Eye), where we can take the walking path to come down the mountain. It was very useful advice to us.
We took pictures before climbing the Old Cow's Back to prove we were there. The reason it is called Old Cow's Back is that this part of the mountain look like what it is called after. Imagine that you were walking on the top of a cow's back and that “cow” is not two meters, but around 800 meters tall. You have to walk through her narrow back vertebra bone, and under your immediate feet is a deep valley. I am sure you would be pretty scared too.
We started to climb the sharp stairs of the very narrow Old Cow's Back. My husband and I were walking on the very top of this legendary mountain. It was one of the most nerve racking experiences I have ever had in my life. The steel rails that we were holding to move forward up the steps were built by drilling the steel sticks into the rock. While I was looking at them, I thought that it was probably drilled a long time ago and therefore it might have become loose over the years and I could fall off the cliff at any time.
I really thought I could die at that time, the deep valley, more than 800 meters below, was just under my feet; my hair stood up and I was sweating heavily despite the fact it was very cold on top of the mountain. I was very nervous, so I could not bear to look back to check how my husband was doing, but just concentrated on moving my shaking legs and arms steadily, carefully and firmly in silence. There was a long silence between us until we came down the cliff, my husband finally laughed nervously and told me that it was a very special experience, though he was brave enough to take pictures on the way.
To be Continued.