Hiking up Tianmu Mountain (天目山)

Carefully climbing out of the air-conditioned car, oblivious to the humid heat that was intend on swallowing me whole the second I'd pushed the car door open, I slowly twirled around, awe-struck by the sheer natural beauty all around me. Despite the foggy whitish-grey sky the scenery was stunning and I felt like I had been engulfed by a comfortable cocoon of unadulterated tranquility. Also, for the first time in a week was was not surrounded by a million and twelve people. I had personal space, and loads of it. It almost felt like I had too much of it. My tour guides words went unheard and I moved towards the edge of the car park, leaning against the railing which warned me not to cross. Feeling a little woozy, I decided to adhere to their advice and took a cautionary step back, once more glancing around me. Yep, coming here had been a good choice indeed.

Yeah, you really don't want to cross this barrier. Trust me.

People live here?

These motorcyle repair shops can be found at every second corner
TIANMU Mountain (天目) -click here for even more informationis neatly tucked away in the northwestern part of Zhejiang Province, China. It's a stone's throw, or an hour's drive or about 85km outside Hangzhou city, I leave it up to you to decide how you want to measure the distance although if I may offer up a suggestion: Anything around the 200km to 300km mark can be considered a stone's throw in China.

If you put it into perspective, for example: Driving from Ireland's east coast (Dublin) to Ireland's northwest coast (Sligo) will take me roughly three hours and the distance is somewhere around 210km. In China that could be considered spitting a cherry stone from Hangzhou city to the outskirts of Shanghai. According to the internet, Ireland could be comfortably stuffed into China around 40 times or so...but let's leave the mathematical equations and geography up to someone who is more apt at it than I am. Back to Tianmu Mountain.

If you know the Chinese characters for sky (  tiān) and eye (目 / ), you will easily be able to translate the name of the mountain (Eyes on Heaven). It was given the name as the actual Tianmu mountain consists of two mountains, the east peak and the west peak. The west peak is marginally higher than the east peak but both are equally as impressive. On top of each of the mountains you will find a small lake or pond which gives the mountain, when viewed from a bird's perspective, the impression of two eyes which are looking up to heaven.

Tickets, benches to rest on an a traditional Chinese Pharmacy, all under one roof. The toilets didn't fit in so they are next door. All of them are squad toilets, even the disabled toilet. I suppose China's disabled population is a lot more flexible than their Western variants, they even go mountain climbing!

Welcome to 'East Tianmu Shan" scenic area, there are goldfish in that pond but they were to shy and wouldn't let me take their photo so you're just going to have to take my word for it or go there yourself.

On my trip to Tianmu Mountain I visited the East Peak, or the East Tianmu Mountain Scenic spot, as it is also called. The name is justified for it really is a scenic spot and also a holy land of Buddism ("built by Zen Master Zhigong in Liang Dynasty (502 AD - 587 AD)") instantly recognizable by the increased police presence just about everywhere you go, as well as the police station right on top of the mountain, facing the grand temple. The policemen mostly appear bored out of their wits but will not smile at you, no matter what you try. Even the charm of a Laowai girl was fruitless. A polite nod is all you will get or a "Ni Hao" if you initiate a spoken greeting. I suppose they would also answer your question if you did have one but I had none so I didn't bother striking up a conversation. You see, the signs for the toilets were impossible to miss...

Instead of starting random conversations with handsome policemen in uniform I saved my energy for climbing the actual mountain. While the towering giant looks fairly peaceful, I can assure you once you start climbing it you will get out of breath, even if you're extremely fit, the stairs will get the better of you and so will the heat.

There's evil lurking around the corner!

I wanted to give up on a few occasions but it's kind of impossible to give in once you started. While there are very few tourists climbing the mountain alongside you, there are many, many monks who carry heavy bricks (see photo above) up the blasted, tricky, uneven mountain path without as much as a complaint. They appear totally zen and upon spotting a foreigner they smile politely, greet you with a traditional Buddhist greeting and continue on their path. A lot of people come to stay at the monastery at the top of the mountain to pray, honour the Buddha or merely recharge their batteries by leaving their daily life behind and living alongside the monks, working from sunrise to sundown. Even children bravely carry bricks up the mountain though they don't carry an entire basket full, just a couple of bricks in a little-bag pack-like pouch.

Speakers, sporadically placed on large bamboo poles along the mountain path, provide peaceful Buddhist music, which almost wills you to curl up in a corner, somewhere halfway up the mountain, to take a rest. Many monks carry a little radio with them, listening to traditional Buddhist readings. Ever so often they stop, rest their baskets and listen intently with closed eyes. I pictured them asking themselves why on earth they agreed to this blasted task, followed by silents threads of "I'll dump these bricks at the top and tell them where to go".

I was showered with blessings upon reaching the top of the mountain.

The Buddhist monks are incredibly inspiring and part of the reason why I refused to give up and bravely climbed all the way to the top. Also I wasn't going to blog about climbing all the way to the top of Tianmu Shan when I did no such thing. My clothes were soaked through though and my water supply was running low. The many pools at the base of the countless of waterfalls looked terribly inviting and I really wanted to jump in but there are signs everywhere that prohibit you from doing so and apparently (though I cannot fathom why) people actually stick to that.

Before we get to the photo-fest, let me just tell you, if you thinking that descending the mountain will be easier than ascending the mountain, don't be fooled. The better part of the descent is a set of uneven, wet stairs alongside the three million waterfalls that adorn the east peak. Actually only one waterfall really but different sections of it have different names.

Beautiful, huh?

Mountain, after mountain after mountain, China's lush green hills.

I think that bright light may be the sun, but I couldn't tell you for sure, it could also have been an UFO.

Every once in a while you will spot a house. Villages are scattered all along the base of the mountain, plenty of bamboo farms and fields filled with tea, tea and more tea. Most of the life appears to be happening outside, from repairing the neighbour's motorcyle to washing your greens in preparation for dinner, minding your daughter's toddler or arguing about driving abilities and how to park your car so it obstructs most of the villages narrow main street and causes a Shanghai worthy traffic jam. Nevertheless, live moves at a snail's pace. With the heat, that's understandable.

I wouldn't advise for you to venture off course.

Can you read it?


Proof that I went to heaven.

Glimpse of one of the many waterfalls

Somewhere halfway up the mountain, I'm not sure. I don't appear to look very tired yet so it must be early days.

Did I really just drag myself up there?

Oh no, there're more stairs still!

Lovely. Nice change. A bridge.

I made a friend!

The size of the bamboo here is impressive.

Finally at the top.

Honouring the Buddha.

One of the monastery's many buildings.

Last but not least, here's a bunch of photos of the waterfall. This is one massive waterfall (if you look at it from afar) but it has many different sections with individual names. At the bottom of each waterfall section you will find either a pool or the waterfall turns into a river for a while and then back into a waterfall. The sound is calming and while the descent is just as horrible as the ascent the sound of the gurgling water makes it all worthwhile. Also, you should definitely check out these professional photos here.

Need a rest?

In honour, of one of my favourite blogs, Awesome Mops of China, here's a friend I made in the above hut. He was having a rest, far way from prying eyes.


Tong Pingtian.

Don't even think about swimming here!

I wonder if one could slide down this waterfall Jackie Chan style.

Still no swimming, so don't think about it.

My favourite waterfall at Tianmu Mountain.

You mind want to keep away from the Buddhist and his cane just in case he's bad-tempered or something.

I did it. Up and down all in one piece. Am I awesome or what?