Take a long walk through the Pinggu District countryside, hiking the hills and valleys on the way to Yajishan. Save some energy for the end, though! We're going to climb up the steep stairs to the temples atop Yaji Mountain!
Our hike starts at the entrance of a small village, and we’ll take a short stroll through its streets before following a field trail that leads out into the hills.
The trail leads up and over a ridgeline, and this is the first big climb of the whole hike. It takes about 15 minutes to get up to the top, and is steep in a few places
Because there’s a lack of water in the area, the hills above the villages are not actively farmed, and all that grows on them are thorn trees and tall, wavy grass.
And because the hills are not actively farmed the trails over the top are somewhat overgrown from disuse. We’re going to ask our local guide to give this part a trim before we visit.
We’ll make our way down the other side of the ridge and head for a mostly-deserted village.
Back in 2004, there were only around 40 people living in the village. Since then, the population has dropped further – young people would move out, looking for work in the city, leaving only the elderly.
There were plans to build villas and an equestrian facility by the village, but in the end only a few villas were built.
We often spot chickens and geese wandering about the village, and occasionally a big pig. As well as farm animals, we'll also see an impressive collection of junked cars, buses, and other machinery.
It's a quirky little village.
We'll walk through the village and down and out a long, flat valley, escaping by ducking below a big gate in a wall that seems almost like a fortification. There's a lookout tower and everything. We said it was a quirky village.
The temples at Yajishan
Our trail through the hills brings us to the foot of the steep stairs that lead up to the temples at the top of the mountain. On the way up to the top, we'll catch our breath by stopping to look about the various temples and shrines either side of the stairs. After a look about the temple right at the top, we'll take a walk through the hills behind the temples to complete the circuit.
The first temple is at the foot of the mountain and was originally built in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD). This temple was destroyed by the Japanese army during the war, and since been rebuilt.
There are another two temples at the top of the mountain – one built during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), and the other built during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911 AD). Both of these temples had to be rebuilt after the war as well. Right now only one of them is open to visitors, but it looks very impressive perched on top of a peak.
The Qing Dynasty temple has quite an interesting story. It was used by Qing royalty, and the funds for its construction were raised by an old lady who lived in the nearby area. The old lady also helped out in the construction of the temple. There is a shrine to her in the temple, as well as records of visits by Qing Emperors.
The temples here are a popular religious attraction for people in the Pinggu district. It is quite common to see people burning incense, and sometimes it's possible to see a full religious ceremony.
In one of the temples on the way up, there are two side halls with dioramas of Daoist hell, complete with horse-headed guards carrying axes and models that depict the several hundred ways that you will be tortured if you are not a good Daoist.
Yaji Mountain is named for its similarity to a hairstyle that was popular for young girls a long time ago. If you see the mountain from the right angle (and use a little imagination) you will be able to see the resemblance – think of the mountain as the head, and the two temples at the top of the mountain as the two cute pigtails sticking out from either side.
After we've looked about the temples, we'll follow an old trail that will take us around the back of the mountain, walking a path that winds through the peaks. We'll stop for a break at a nice lookout point and then follow steps down past the hotel and out on to the flat land at the foot of the mountain.