At 1,291m, towering Miaofeng Mountain (妙峰山) is the highest peak in the Western Hills – which also include the famous Fragrant Hills Park. The area contains three summits known as Miaofengshan Peak, Dongdatuo Peak, and Luobodi Peak. Miaofeng Mountain was worshipped by Taoists as the spiritual home of several divinities; the mountain summit is known as Jinding (金顶) and was considered one of the holiest spots in northern China. In the age of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Miaofeng was home to several temples and became the focus of an annual pilgrimage. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), the mountain was also the site of a guerilla base established by Chinese revolutionaries. Relics and debris can still be found scattered around the area.
During Miaofeng’s spiritual heyday, the faithful paid particular homage to Dongyue Dian (东岳殿) and Niangniang Temple (娘娘庙) at the mountain summit. These temples were thought to be the home of three female divinities: the goddess of heavenly sages, the goddess of brilliant insight, and the goddess of sons and grandsons. One of them is Bixia Yuanjun (碧霞元君), the daughter of the Emperor Lord of Taishan. As the Taoist goddess of fertility, many women sought her help to conceive a child.
In the past, the arrival of pilgrims from all over China meant a host of customers clamoring for food, lodging, transportation, and entertainment. The meeting of religion and commerce gave birth to a bustling two-week temple fair that drew artists, soothsayers, craftsmen, and merchants from all over the country. Taking place in the fourth lunar month, it was one of the most important dates on Beijing’s religious calendar. In the past, even the Kangxi Emperor came to pay his respects to the shrine of Bixia Yuanjun. The fair lapsed into obscurity by the late 20th century, but has since been revived for tourists as an annual temple fair held on April 1-15 of the lunar calendar (which falls this year from April 21 to May 5).
The modern-day event is more likely to include tipsy revelers than actual pilgrims, but is an interesting sight nevertheless. Typical scenes include parades of “pilgrims” and other actors blowing bells and whistles, impromptu sing-a-longs by people gathered at various shrines, and vendors hawking their wares – much like regular temple fairs. Visitors can eat lucky rice porridge for free, a throwback to the days when people set up rice and porridge stands along pilgrimage routes as good deeds. Today, believers still donate items like rice and mantou (steamed buns) for good karma.
If you’re unmoved by Miaofeng Mountain’s spiritual legacy, the area is worth exploring for its hiking routes. The scenery includes dramatic cliff drops, jutting rock faces, and winding mountain paths, with diverse flora composed of fir trees, pear trees, and the rose bushes of Wild Rose Valley. Located east of Miaofeng Mountain, Wild Rose Valley can be accessed through a woodland path. The best time to see the roses is from mid-May to late June, when the rose plantations can be seen over more than 10,000sqm. October, when the leaves start changing color, is also a good month to visit.
Be prepared: Miaofeng Mountain can be a challenging climb. A small, ancient trail connects Jiangou Village at the foot of the mountain to the summit. Those wishing to bring their car can drive up the paved road that leads to the top. Stop by one of the many rustic and secluded teahouses off the main thoroughfare for stunning views and a refreshing cup of rosebud tea.
Miaofeng Mountain 妙峰山
Daily 7am-6pm (summer), 8am-5pm (winter). RMB 40, RMB 20 (students). Miaofeng Shan Scenic Area, Mentougou District (6188 2936)
Bus: Take the 929 express to Miaofeng from Pingguoyuan subway station on Line 1 and get off at Dingjia Tan (丁家滩) station.
Car: From Hangtian Qiao on Xisanhuan Lu, go west on Fushi Lu. Stay on Fushi Lu until it merges (near Pingguoyuan subway station) into Jinding Nanu. Stay on this road until you reach Jin’an Qiao. At Jin’an Qiao, turn right onto Jinding Xijie and continue northwest for about 15 minutes – past the Longquan Hotel – until the road’s name changes into National Road 109. When you reach a fork intersection, turn left, follow the sign towards Hebei, and continue on until you reach Danli. At Danli, turn off the highway and follow the northbound Miaofeng Mountain sign for another 20 minutes until you arrive.
This article originally appeared on the beijingkids blog in March 2012
Photos: Dr Nantu