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Impressions of Mount Tai (泰山)

 
A view from the top of Mount Tai
 

A view from the top of Mount Tai

It would be rather difficult to overestimate Mount Tai's importance in the history and culture of China. It is said to be "Mountain number one in the world (天下第一山, photo 1)", "The mount that eclipses the rest of the sacred mountains in China (冠盖五岳, photo 2)" and "The most respected among the five sacred mountains in China (五岳独尊, photo 3)" (an artistic interpretation of a carving of the last statement is actually imprinted on the five-yuan banknote). Indeed, the mountain has been visited and worshiped by emperors from literally thousands of years back and the place is packed with cultural and historical artifacts related to it. The only thing one does not see mentioned anywhere, though, is the fact that The Yellow Mountain (黄山, Huangshan) is overall superior - as the saying has it, "Once you have been to The Yellow Mountain there is no need to go to any of the five sacred mountains, 黄山归来不看岳".

Photo 1

Photo 3

Photo 2

Whereas I generally am interested in and appreciate China's history and culture, I am primarily a photographer and, due to this, inevitably evaluate and view things from a photographer's perspective. With this as a background, my impression of Mount Tai was that it is... a pretty mediocre shooting location. It is quite alright but nowhere near as striking as Huizhou or as dramatic as Huangshan or as soothing as Bashang. It is rather plain.

Mount Tai is also said to be a great location to watch sunrise. Many Chinese stay overnight on the top of the mountain with that only purpose; as the hotels are very expensive, a lot of people climb the mountain in the night to get to the top just before sunrise; more sophisticated yet not-too-well-heeled folks bring tents. As a result, the number of people watching sunrise is absolutely crushing (see the picture below).

 
Mount Tai is a popular location to watch sunrise
 

Mount Tai is a popular location to watch sunrise

So is the Mount Tai sunrise actually worth the trouble and does it live up to its supposed brilliance? In my opinion, no - I found it quite ordinary, too. On the one hand, there are almost no options in terms of foreground. In theory you can choose the few stones which are representative of the mountain but there are too many people surrounding them at any given moment. The only other option is the plain horizon, which, obviously, is not very exciting as it could be anywhere else in the world. On the other hand, the place gets so crowded that it is difficult to move around in search of a suitable shooting position and, even if you do find one and set up your tripod and camera chances are that people will be constantly, inelegantly and frustratingly jumping in front of your camera. If you are after photographing beautiful sunrises, there are many locations in China which constitute a significantly better alternative. But anyway, just for the record, here is the Mount Tai sunrise:

 
Mount Tai sunrise
 

Mount Tai sunrise

As is the case with so many tourist destinations in China pernicious commercialism tarnishes Mount Tai, too. One is being constantly and rather forcefully offered things and services he/she does not need; apart from this, everything on the top of the mountain is grossly expensive. Now, I do not mind paying more considering all the inconveniences related to the high altitude but what happens is that for significantly more money you do not even get what you usually buy for considerably less - the discrepancy between the money you pay and what you get for it is just too drastic. Whereas I do realize that the locals have to make a living and the government has to produce tax revenues, I believe that this incremental revenue is inconsequential especially in the light of the damage that it brings to a site of this significance.

 
Mount Tai is a popular location to watch sunrise
 

A view from Mount Tai right after sunrise

To sum it up, I truly enjoyed the cultural and learning aspect of the trip. However, I was quite disappointed as a photographer; also, inappropriate popularization, an unacceptable level of commercialism and an overall management which is way under par with the place's supposed status left me sad.

All photographs were taken on October 29 and 30, 2005.