A five-hour drive from Taiyuan, Wutai Shan, officially declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, has long ranked among history-rich Shanxi Province's top attractions.
Also known as Qingling Shan, Wutai Shan—comprised of five rugged peaks, the tallest of which rises to 3,061 m (10,043 ft) above sea level—represents some the holiest land in all of Chinese Buddhism, with over 50 monasteries and temples scattered throughout the area, many dating back some 2,000 years.
Xiantong Temple is the most prestigious of Wutai Shan's temples. Seven palatial structures are linked by courtyards and overlooked by a bell tower housing a copper bell weighing an astonishing ten metric tons whose booming tones ring out over the peaks as they have for centuries.
Wutai Shan is crisscrossed by trails between temples and natural scenic spots, making it excellent for hiking, with low-budget options for stays at monasteries adding to its backpacker appeal. For visitors looking to see more but walk less, chairlifts make ascent to several peaks a breeze. Either way, the areas ridges, exotic rock formations, criss-crossing gullies, quick-running streams and patches of thick forests hold great appeal for both the first-time explorer or the returning veteran hiker.
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