Situated in Hengyang City, Hunan Province, Mount Hengshan is one of China’s Five Sacred Mountains. The mountain range runs 150 km from Hengyang to Changsha. Of the cluster of 72 peaks, the most known is Zhurong Peak. For a long time, Mount Hengshan is acknowledged as a holy place of religions, the Civilization Special Area, the Shou Mountain and the most scenic mount of the Five Sacred Mountains in China. Besides, this mountain is awarded the National Scenic Spots and the Historical Sites, a model of National Civilized Scenic spots and the AAAAA Tourist Destination.
Beautiful natural scenery
Mount Hengshan has always been a favorite destination, a summer resort and leisure place for tourists for its religious reputation and gorgeous landscapes. More than 1,200 kinds of plants, 9 primitive forests, and more than 150 kinds of precious trees were identified in the area. The Four Wonders of Mount Hengshan: Zhurong Peak, Water Curtain Cave, Fangguang Temple and Sutra Collection Hall are famous for their height, oddity, depth and elegance separately. Mount Hengshan is pleasant for tourists all round the year. They can appreciate exotic flowers in spring, amazing cloud sea in summer, grand sunrise in autumn and flying snow flakes in winter.
Famous holy place
Buddhism and Taoism coexist in Mount Hengshan, which forms the chief religious feature of the mount. Historically, Buddhism and Taoism practice in Mount Hengshan are of great importance. As early as in the late East Han Dynasty (25AD-225AD), Taoists had started their practice in the blessing spots in Mount Hengshan. The Tang Dynasty (618AD-917AD) witnessed the prosperities of ten large Taoist temples and eight hundred bamboo houses. Many Taoists at that time were those with high culture cultivation and profound metaphysics. They wrote books and developed theories of their own. Buddhism was introduced to Mount Hengshan about 200 years later. From 421AD, the second year after the establishment of the South Dynasty (420AD-589AD), large groups of famous monks appeared in Mount Hengshan. They followed rituals sacredly and gradually formed principles of their own, of which the Tiantai Sect (Principles of the Lotus Sutra) was most influential and had been spread to as far as Japan. Additionally, Buddhists in Mount Hengshan also developed the Weiyang Sect, Linji Sect, Caodong Sect, Yunmen Sect, and Fayan Sect, the five principles in the development process of Buddhism in Chinese history. Each had significant influence on religious practice in Southeast Asia and even the whole world.
Civilization special area
Mount Hengshan has a long and profound history. Most of the legendary emperors in ancient China had connection with Mount Hengshan. For example, Emperor Yan, Emperor Huang, Emperor Yao, Emperor Shun, and Emperor Yu were said to have visited the mountain, demonstrating the importance of Mount Hengshan in the history of China. Mount Hengshan gradually became a center of religious practice in south China when Taoism and Buddhism were introduced to Mount Hengshan successively. With the passage of the Song Dynasty, more than 20 academies were established in this area, forming a unique academy culture of schooling. The emerging Huxiang School can find its origin in this mountain. Even today, influence of these philosophical thinking can be identified in modern schools. It was the vice minister Guan Daxun of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1683) who had first approved the favorite place of Mount Hengshan for its combination of civilization and special area.
Shou Mountain of China
The Shou Culture (Longevity Culture) of Mount Hengshan can be dated back to records of Xingjing (the earliest great work of astronomy in the world): Mount Hengshan corresponds to the Zhen Star of the 28 Star Mansions, a star in charge of the life span of being in the world; therefore Mount Hengshan derived the name of Shou Mount. Emperor Huizong (the eighth emperor of Song Dynasty) inscribed the two characters of Shou Mountain for the massive stone carve. The two characters can still be seen in the Emperor Rock of Jinjian Peak. The poem On Restoring the Temple Stone of Mount Hengshan written by Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722) stated that Mount Hengshan is a giant town in south China, which corresponds to the North Star Yuheng, hence the name Shou Mountain.
Mount Heng is pleasant to visit all year round. It gets snowy in winter but a nice sight nonetheless but hiking is not so recommended in the winter.
Hengshan is served by two railway stations.
- 1 Hengshan West Station. This station is on the high-speed line between Guangzhou and Wuhan via Changsha, and has direct service to many other cities in southern China.
- 2 Hengshan Station. This station serves low-speed trains, and has direct sleeper service to many parts of China. You exit the station into a back alley, basically. Follow the alley (and people) about 100m down and around a corner, where there are minibuses to the Nanyue bus terminal (30-40 minutes, 6RMB).
Hengshan has two major bus terminals, 3 Nanyue bus terminal near the mountain, and 4 Hengshan bus terminal in Hengshan town, with similar levels of service. To visit the mountain, the Nanyue terminal is far more convenient. If you say both "Hengshan" and "Nanyue" when ordering tickets, you are very likely to end up at Nanyue. If you only say Hengshan, you may find yourself much farther from the mountain. Minibuses between Hengshan Station and Nanyue bus terminal stop at Hengshan bus terminal.
To reach Mount Heng/Nanyue from Hengyang City, you can take a bus from Zhongxin or Linghu Bus Station 7-13 yuan depending on time and bus; or take a city bus/taxi to Gongxiao Dasha stop, where there are shared taxis or buses to Nanyue. Otherwise a taxi there might cost ¥100-150 and 45 minutes.
By air, the most direct way to reach Mount Heng (Nanyue) is via Hengyang, but in many cases it will be easier to fly into Changsha. Hengyang airport has a few flights daily, from major cities such as Beijing. There is a shuttle bus from the airport, and at 9:30am from the Hengyang bus terminal, for 15RMB. Hengyang is also on both the high-speed and low-speed train lines that pass through Hengshan. From Changsha airport to Changsha South station, there are frequent maglev departures, and from Changsha South to Hengshan West there are at least 15 high-speed trains per day, taking 30 minutes and costing 64.5RMB.
- 5 Main Ticket office and transportation center. This is where you will probably buy tickets, enter the park, and board a bus, unless you're hiking up the back. The 6 main hiking entrance is a few hundred metres northeast, then a few hundred metres north, but you will probably still need to come here to buy tickets. If you hike up from other directions, the ticket office will be at the top of the trail.
Fees and permits
Park entrance: ¥80 (1st November - 30th April), ¥120 (1st May - 31 October). Valid for entry on one day (but you can stay in the park)
Transportation throughout the park (bus, cable car): ¥78. Valid for two days.
One-way transportation: ¥44
Insurance (optional, included by default): ¥3
Transportation tickets allow you to get around the entire park with the shuttle buses and take the 7 cable car up and down once. There might be limits to the bus rides. Many bus stops do not allow you to board the bus, only to disembark, and those that allow you to board may require you to find an attendant who can check your ticket and call ahead for a bus to stop. While the transportation network may in principle start operating as early as 4am (for sunrise at the top) and end at 7pm or 8pm, some routes have much more limited hours and many of the stops won't let you board after early- to mid-afternoon. The overwhelming majority of tourists visit specific sites in one or two specific sequences, so getting dropped off at an intermediate stop can be difficult, because the drivers may not anticipate the possibility that someone might want to do that. The queues for the cable car and buses can get long at major transfer points.
There is an extensive trail network, much of it pleasant stone paths. However, parts of this still overlap with the road network, where you have to contend with speeding minibuses negotiating their slalom course between trees that predate the widened version of the road. It is absolutely possible to visit this mountain without a transportation ticket, or with a one-way ticket, but you will need to be alert when on the roads.
- 1 Zhurong Feng Peak (祝融峰). The highest point in the park, at 1300.2m. There's a temple from the Ming dynasty on top.
- 2 Huixian Bridge (会仙桥). A large rock got jammed between the mountain and another interesting rock, forming a bridge. The trail here makes for a welcome escape from the tourist throngs above at the peak. Not far from the bridge is a ticket gate for those hiking up from 3 Nanyue Shoumiao (南岳首庙) temple in the northwest.
- 4 Martyrs' Shrine (纪念堂). Large memorial complex with impressive landscaping
- 5 Xiangguang Peak (祥光峰). Another peak, with sporadic bus service from the bus terminal at the base of the cable car. There is a 6 Tibetan Buddhist Temple (藏经殿) just past the peak.
- 7 Nantai Temple (南台禅寺). The huge pagoda on the next ridge to the southwest, visible from most of the mountain, is attached to Nantai Temple. It has occasional bus service from the base of the cableway until 14:00 or 15:00.
The mountainside is dotted with a large number of temples, gates, rocks with inscriptions, ponds, lakes, springs, and other such points of interest. Most are pleasant, few are exceptional, and few are crowded. Exploring these historic features is likely to be more enjoyable than walking the crowded road between the upper cable car station and the peak where all the tourists are.
- 8 Grand Temple of Mount Heng (Nanyue Damiao, 南岳大庙), ☎ . November-April: 07:30-17:30. May-October: 07:00-18:00. Immediately outside the main park entrance, this huge temple complex dates to 725AD, but has been heavily damaged and expanded repeatedly over the centuries. It includes Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian areas, along with ponds and gardens. It can be entered from the north or south ends. November-April: 40RMB. May-October: 60RMB.
Easy day-trip: Buy the transportation ticket unless you want to hike a lot and don't mind hiking on roads. The first section of the park has a nice 4-5km path without many ascends that will take you to the cable car station. From there ascend with the car which is the Southern Heaven Gate and hike to the temple at the peak (Zhurong Feng). You can optionally go to the bridge south of it but most tourists do not bother either. Return to the cable car but take the bus down south of it. It will go down to the entrance within 20-25 minutes.
Longer hikes: Can be tough and be prepared to jump out of the way for the cars. You would also need to prepare some kind of homestay with the local farmers because there aren't any hotels. From the top cable car station you can actually keep hiking west and go around the west side of the mountains. It will take a full day to go back down this way though (~20 km).
Everything on the mountain is overpriced like most tourist attractions in China. Tofu sticks are special in the area but should only be a few yuan. Bring some water and snacks unless you are prepared to overpay. Instant noodles cost ¥8 for example.
Incense is common for Buddhist areas. The town of Nanyue has plenty for sale especially around the large temple and you can buy it along all shops up the mountain. You can burn it at the temple at the peak like most people.
Peddlers are the top are trying to sell you cheap beads. They are definitely not worth buying and everyone will see you and know you got ripped off by the locals. The temple at the peak also sells blessed beads.
Tofu sticks, corn, fruit, and some other snacks can be bought at the peak and along major paths. There are a few small restaurants, and the guesthouses can usually arrange something.
Bottled waters at high prices are available at many stops.
Guesthouses are common throughout the park, but while these places are comfortable, quiet and friendly, conditions can be more basic than in an average city. It's probably best to bring your own toothbrush, soap, and towel, for instance. There are small villages inside the park (e.g. this 1 village) where nearly every house is now a guesthouse, and there are a few guesthouses along the roads. A handful of the temples also operate guesthouses (e.g. 2 Shangfeng Si, 上封寺, near the summit), but they are likely to prefer pilgrims over tourists. Plenty of the guesthouses can be found through online travel agencies, and at most times of year it's possible to walk up and ask for a room.
There are several accommodation options toward the summit that more closely resemble hotels (e.g. 3 Dawn Mountain Hut, 晨曦山庄), but expect high prices and a limited water supply.
Not permitted in the forest, but some of the guesthouses rent tents on the roof or in front of the building for half the price of a room.
Although it is strange to see beggars on a tourist mountain, most touts are more annoying than dangerous.
Grand Temple of Mount Heng