Elephant No. 12: Emei 

Last week we went to climb one of China’s four sacred mountains, Mt. Emei. The climb lasted two days, and by two days, I mean two days of walking up steps pretty much all the way – not quite the mountain stroll I had been envisaging but we were rewarded with some of the most stunning views that I have ever seen, through misty clouds and over dramatic forested peaks. We also combined our climb with staying in two Buddhist temples, one in Baoguo village at the foot of the mountain, and one perched on a crag half way up. This latter temple, Xixiangchi, was a particularly special experience, with nothing connecting it to the outside apart from a path of steps leading upwards, and another leading downwards. There were steep drops on either side, and when the cloud came up, all we could see was whiteness stretching in either direction. It was also a great place to watch a sunrise over the mountains, if slightly blurry-eyed from a night of less than excellent sleep in hard temple beds! 
Anyway, this enormous golden elephant sculpture is a rather newer addition to Mt. Emei – it was only constructed on the summit of the mountain in 2006, but it sure draws the visitors in. Little did we know when we decided to climb Emei that the mountain actually has a special link with elephants, so all the temples we passed on our way up had elephant statues in prominent places and the final avenue of steps leading up to the peak was flanked by two rows of elephants. This is because of the Buddhist significance of the mountain: there are four famous bodhisattvas of china, and each is linked to one sacred mountain. The bodhisattva Puxian is said to perform rites at Mt Emei, and he is associated with a white, six-tusked elephant, hence all the elephant statues in the temples. The temple we stayed in half way up had a pool of water outside, said to be where Puxian bathed his white elephant, while this huge statue on the top of the mountain is of Puxian on the top, with the elephants underneath. It was one of the most extraordinary pieces of sculpture I have seen.

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