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'Sacred Mountains' Of The World

AmStramGram

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In many cultures, mountains stood as liminal places, as borders between heaven and earth. For most of mankind's history, they remained on the margins of civilisation, most people preferring to settle in the valleys below, cautiously avoiding the barren summits. Astonishingly, many famous peaks were not climbed before the advent of alpinism in the late 18th century. No wonder then than many mountains came to be envisioned as sacred places, axis mundi or residences of the gods. In Mesopotamia, a flat land, temples were even built as miniature mountains (the ziggourat).

Nowadays, most of these places can be visited. And actually, many became places of pilgrimage. Before I developped back and knee problems, I purposedly visited a series of "sacred" mountains around the world, from Mount Olympus in northern Greece, to mount Wudang in China. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the iconic Mount Kailash in Tibet ... Maybe I'll succeed in another life ... Anyway, I am sure plenty of you, fortean travelers, have visited such places. So it may be worthwile to create a specific thread on this topic.

I'll start by sharing my experiences about the strange places of Emeishan (Lofty Eyebrow Mountain), in Sichuan, China (PRC).

Mount Emei is a 3 000 m peak rising through the clouds of Western China, close to the ancient Tibetan frontier. Loosely shaped like an "eyebrow", e.g a right triangle, it became a place of retreat for taoist ermits, and later on for buddhist monks. It is nowadays considered as one of the main Buddhist Sacred mountains of China, and it is associated with the divine figure of the boddhisattva Samanthabadra.

Typical of Chinese sacred mountains, stone stairs have been carved into the mountain from the ground level, right up to the summit. Along the way to the mountain top, dozens of buddhist temples have been built, and mount Emei still hosts a lively community of monks. As it is still a place of pilgrimage (and tourism), each monastery has its religious shop, selling CDs (for religious chants), rosaries, sacred texts or simply souvenirs, and you can hear recorded chants in most temples (this had some unexpected impacts on my life, but that's another story). When I visited the place in 1998, climbing the mountain was a kind of total sensorial experience, mixing sound (music), visual and olfactive stimulations. It maybe different nowadays, as China changed significantly in 20 years. Not always for the best ... In some places, the development of mass tourism has been especially destructive.

Now for the "fortean" side of the place :

The better known weirdness of mount Emei is the so-called "buddha light" of the summit. Under some specific conditions, the mountain top gives rise to a "Broken spectre" phenomenon. The climber sees his shadow reflected upon the sea of clouds, surrounded by a rainbow hallow. I did not have the priviledge of witnessing this phenomenon, but it is a rather common sight there. Unfortunately, many pilgrims interpreted this as an evidence they were close to enlightment or that they were called to take birth in a Buddha-land, a kind of buddhist paradise. So plenty of people are said to have jumped into the void in order to hasten this foretold apotheosis. Needless to say, they did not survive the ordeal.

The second weirdness of the moutain is related to its inhabitants. It has been a Buddhist place for centuries. As a result, wild animals have been protected and even nourrished by the resident monks, who considered hunting as evil and cultivated "compassion". Then came the tourists, with their shiny cell phones and tasty lunches. So the local monkeys, who had learned not to feat man, jumped on the opportunity. They started to assault the passerby like highwaymen, to steal their belongings. Emei shan monkeys can be very agressive. So beware ! In 1998, I was told they had pushed a resisting traveller down from a cliff ... During my trip, remembering that one of my teachers had once told me that showing one's teeth could lower monkey agressivity (I never checked if it was true), I attempted to calm the monkeys by displaying them my gums, Joker style ... Don't know if this trick saved me or if the monkeys were just amazed by my unusual Western appearance, but they let me pass through. A few minutes later, as I was resting on a stone, I heard some shouts below. They had attacked a young Chinese couple and stolen their backpack full of sweets !

The last and weirdest place on the mountain would be the Jiulaodong, or "Nine old men's Cave". At about two thirds of the climb, there is a dark cave, littered with bat's fecal matter and guano, where pilgrims crowd. After walking down the bowels of the earth, one reaches a subterranean hall lightened by countless red candles and saturated with incense smell. There locals worship ... Well, I don't know exactly what they worship, but it is not the Buddha ! According to a fellow traveller, it was the place of rest of nine old wise men who died when the cave crumbled. Originally, the cave was supposed to lead to the summit of the mountain (a very unlikely theory !) but it crumbled, sealing the nine old men into the cave. In 1998, it was probably one the weirdest place I ever saw.

To visit mount Emei, you may go to Chengdu or Chongqing, in Sichuan, and take the train to Emei. Make sure you have at least three to four days to tour around the place as the ascent takes time, if you don't cheat. Sleeping in monasteries on the way up was part of the experience in 1998. I foundly remember how strange it was to struggle against constipation in a temple's "hanging toilets", seeing the clouds and the great void immediately below my arse, and hearing a monk coming close to the doorless toilet ...

Edit :

Map of mount Emei : https://www.chinadiscovery.com/china-maps/mt.-emei-scenic-tourist-map.html

Jiulaodong is just below the number 7 on this map.
And if my memory is correct, the "hanging toilets" were at Xixiangchi temple (number 10)
 
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SimonBurchell

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I've been up a few sacred mountains myself, in Peru, Mexico and Guatemala. One of my favourites was this:

El_Tepozteco.jpg


El Tepozteco, a small Aztec pyramid on a mountain top in Morelos, Mexico.
Photo (c) Randal Sheppard CC BY-SA 2.0 from Wikimedia Commons

Edited to add Creative Commons attribution and license.
 
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Floyd1

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I climbed Mount Sinai with a crazy American guy from Colorado (although he talked like a surfer dude for some reason) and waited for the sunrise. Never seen so many stars. It cooled down a bit at 2,285 metres for an hour or so, so I gave an Egyptian lad a few quid for a blanket. Never saw him again. But as soon as the Egyptian sun peaked above the horizon it soon warmed up.

There is a Greek Orthodox chapel up there and even though I had therefore dressed conservatively (unlike a lot of others in shorts/t shirts etc) I got told by a woman who was guiding people into the chapel, to take my hands out of my pockets. Why didn't she say anything to the others I wonder? Very strange. Also a some Germans had a good 'smoke' once they got to the top.
No photos unfortunately.
 

Lord Lucan

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Mount Agung (the tallest in Bali & a still active volcano) has the Island's most sacred temple, Besakih which is a sight to behold. There is something calming when visiting a place so revered. I've been fortunate to have visited there 3 times.
besakih.jpg
 

SimonBurchell

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Talking of sacred mountains, Tepeyac, a hill in Mexico City, had a temple to an Aztec goddess whose name has been reconstructed as Coatlaxopeuh. On this hill, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin had his Marian visions that originated the worship of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

 
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AmStramGram

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Mount Agung (the tallest in Bali & a still active volcano) has the Island's most sacred temple, Besakih which is a sight to behold. There is something calming when visiting a place so revered. I've been fortunate to have visited there 3 times.
View attachment 54754

Nice composition ! Interesting that the locals put umbrellas and "dresses" on the statues. Do you happen to know the meaning of this practice ?

The association of a sacred mountain and its "base" temple reminds me of Mount Olympus. There's almost nothing worthy of note on the top of mount Olympus (apart from the view). However, at the foot of the mountain was the city of Dion, now in ruins, where once stood the temple of Zeus, king of the Gods. It is a little known fact, but Alexander the Great started his campaign against the Persians after a sacrifice to Zeus at Dion. The area is now overgrown with bushes, and the scant remains of the temple complex are half flooded, giving the place a very special ambiance. "Sic transit gloria mundi" !
 

AmStramGram

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Talking of sacred mountains, Tepeyac, a hill in Mexico City, had a temple to an the Aztec goddess whose name has been reconstructed as Coatlaxopeuh. On this hill, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin had his Marian visions that originated the worship of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Interesting. It would be a perfect example of one religion replacing another on the same site, possibly through the christianization of an ancient goddess.
 

Lord Lucan

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Nice composition ! Interesting that the locals put umbrellas and "dresses" on the statues. Do you happen to know the meaning of this practice ?

My understanding is that it is a way of paying respect to the God or spirit that inhabits the statue and in doing so keeps the God or spirit placated within the statue which in turn protects the people around it as not all Gods & spirits are good and benevolent.
 

Endlessly Amazed

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I've been up a few sacred mountains myself, in Peru, Mexico and Guatemala. One of my favourites was this:

View attachment 54749

El Tepozteco, a small Aztec pyramid on a mountain top in Morelos, Mexico.

Off-track alert warning: In the lower left foreground is a coatimundi, one of my favorite animals. The landscape and vegetation look like Arizona in midlevel mountainous areas. Beautiful photo.
 

SimonBurchell

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Off-track alert warning: In the lower left foreground is a coatimundi, one of my favorite animals. The landscape and vegetation look like Arizona in midlevel mountainous areas. Beautiful photo.
Not my photo - I should have credited it: (c) Randal Sheppard CC BY-SA 2.0 from Wikimedia Commons. I do have my own somewhere in some long forgotten photo envelope.
 

Victory

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Great idea for a thread @AmStramGram

@Floyd1

Not yet been to Mount Sinai, the traditional one, or any of the other alternative places which people suggest are Mount Sinai.
Think the one in Saudi Arabia would be very hard to visit, is supposedly off limits to tourists.

The sacred mountain I have been to is Mount Moriah, in Jerusalem.

It is revered in Judaism as the site of the Temples, where G-D's presence on earth is most closely felt.

It currently has the Western retaining wall of the second temple as the holiest mutually agreed place for Jews, and both the Al Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock on top of it.

Hence it is both a place of prayer and of conflict.

Some Jews do visit the top areas, but take care to avoid crossing any ground that would have been within the Holy Of Holies of the Temple, which would be for ritually pure priests only.

Most will not risk going to the top.

As for the plaza by the Western Wall, it is a place I have been lucky enough to have prayed at several times, day and night.
It is a place where egos are set aside, and it is a humbling place.

I felt I was not in a normal place at all, but at the very focus of the whole of the life of the planet.

I took this photo over 10 years ago.

Far left is the Western Wall (Kotel).

On top are the two mosques.

Far right is a turning circle for cars, because, some people get dropped off to pray and then collected again.

JerusalemHarMoriah.jpg
 

Floyd1

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I have been to the Western wall, but only one time unfortunately. I would love to go back.
 

AmStramGram

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Mount Everest, aka "Jomolungma" (Mother Goddess of the Winds), seen from Rongbuk, on the Chinese side (summer 2016).

P1020199 Rongbuk.JPG


Although not as holy as some other himalayan mountains such as the Kailash or the Kangchenjunga, the valleys around Mount Everest are reputed to hide a "Beyul", a terrestrial paradise. The small village of Rongbuk also claims to host the highest buddhist monastery in the world, although it only dates from the 19th century, if my memory is correct. It is a relatively recent temple ... Yet, it is there that Mallory (and his team) started his ill-fated attempt to climb Mount Everest.

Unfortunately, the area is NOT a pilgrimage place. The only pilgrims there are the crowds of Chinese & Western tourists who accept to endure unending hours of transit on poor roads, passing checkpoint after checkpoint, only to end up on a small hill, near the empty base camp (the Chinese side base camp is no longer in use) staring at the heavy clouds that constantly veil the mountain, amidst freezing winds, in the hope to get a glimpse of the roof of the world. Most Westerners are here to say : "I've seen the highest mountain on the globe". And most Chinese : "I have testified that the glorious motherland owns the highest place on Earth". Actually, I have seen several groups of Chinese singing patriotic songs to warm themselves while waiting for the super star to appear (which it never did).

It is strictly forbidden to wander around as the frontier area is under strict supervision of the Public Security Bureau. So the tourist cannot even hope to walk around the neighbouring hills (apart from the immediate surroundings of Rongbuk).

In other words, my advice would be : if you ever go to Tibet, skip the place. It's a kind of tourist trap and there are plenty of atmospheric places to visit elsewhere in Tibet.

The Everest tends to appear after everybody has left, when the night falls. That's when I took this picture.

On the left hand side, the white building is a typical "stupa" ("chorten", in Tibetan). Usually stupas are built to house relics. They also symbolise the mythical mount Meru, the "pillar mountain" of the world. The different levels of a stupa also symbolize the various basic elements that compose our material world : earth, water, fire, wind.

At the basis of the supa, you'll notice a row of prayer wheels. Pilgrims circumbulate the stupa, clockwise, turning the wheels. Each turn of the wheel is supposed to issue a mantra, or prayer, for the benefit of mankind. Similarly, the flags you can see on the pictures are "prayer flags". They are printed with buddhist prayers and the blowing wind is supposed to spread the prayer in space. Unfortunately, nowadays, prayer flags are made of plastic fibers. So, they spread micro-particles of plastic along their mantras ....
 
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