Spiritual Summit

Ascend a mountain road that twists and climbs in harrowing turns. At journey's end, immerse yourself in the tranquility of an ancient Chinese retreat.
travel, culture, history
Written By Lesley Conn
Photography By Terry Duthu

Mount Lushan reveals itself through shrouded mists, from secluded overlooks and in breathtaking views that have fed the imagination and hearts of spiritual leaders, artists, philosophers and poets for more than 2,000 years.

Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism all trace their roots to Lushan, which rises between the Yangtze River to the north and Poyang Lake to its south in the Jiangxi Province. Tucked among its craggy hills are more than 900 inscriptions on cliffs and stone tablets, the oldest being the calligraphy of poet Tao Yuan-Ming of the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD.) Centuries later, Lushan would inspire an American Presbyterian missionary to wrap her childhood memories of Lushan into literature. Pearl S. Buck, author of “The Good Earth,” is memorialized at the hilltop villa where she and her family summered.

Rulers as far back as 300 B.C. sought Lushan as a place for contemplation. By 1949, Mao Zedong, leader of the People’s Republic of China, three times chose Lushan as the site for meetings of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

Today, Lushan is a national park that draws tourists from around the world.

Mountains, Mist and Tea

Stand silent and watch. Soft as a sigh, the white mist settles like satin over the lush shoulder of a green hillside. Wait only a moment, and just as quickly, the white will slip away, leaving inviting views of village rooftops and quiet lakes and temples below.

Stand silent and watch. Soft as a sigh, the white mist will settle like satin over the lush shoulder of a green hillside.

Lushan’s highest peak reaches almost a mile high at 4,834 feet/1,473 meters, but there are more than 100 lesser peaks that punctuate the horizon. Their traits are indicated in names such as Dragon Head Precipice and Five Old Men Peak. So winding is its mountain road that locals know the count of every curve: 396 from bottom to top.

Tucked among the foothills, fed by fertile soil and the rolling shrouds of vapor, are small fields of tea trees. Their leaves are known for their deep jade color and sweet flavor. Even the tea’s name, yunwu, meaning “cloud and mist,” pays tribute to the mountain’s constant companions.

Waterfalls

The majesty of Mount Lushan’s peaks is countered by the reticence of its waterfalls. They lie hidden within the folds of sheer rock walls, and sometimes, show themselves only after a long climb down stone steps.

Painter Zhao Ziang, who lived in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), offered this description of Three Step Waterfall, Lushan’s most majestic liquid display:

Flowing like a jade curtain,
it falls a thousand feet;
the crescent moon is the curtain hook,
hanging high in the night sky.



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