Wudang Mountain hikes: The rustic ruins of Wu Long Temple

Culture | by Stephan Larose
Posted: June 17th, 2010 | Updated: May 10th, 2011 | Comments

Jagged, jungle-riven peaks robed in cloaks of mist jut above somnolent seas of white; monks chant in unison before statues of Zhen Wu, the low registers of their combined voices resonating against temple bronze and jade; kung fu disciples describe meditative spirals as they move in perfect concert, slowly tracing pre-determined steps dictated by ancient bagua patterns; birds coo quixotically, in tones of both lament and mockery from their treetop perches...

Alas, these, for the most part, are images of the Wudang Mountain of old, glimpses of which can still be seen, but only through the scrum of the increasingly loud, and increasingly large tourist groups making their way to Wudang's legendary peaks. Every year, there are 200,000 more of them jostling for a spot from which to view a kung fu show. Though most of Wudang Shan's residents are overjoyed by development which has seen this small farm town become a thriving tourist destination, bringing with it paved roads, hospitals, schools and opportunities unheard of a generation ago, some rue the impact of development here, especially on Wudang's heritage. One teenaged Chinese kung fu student I spoke to was rather disenchanted by temple restorations, such as the one soon to get underway at broken-down Wu Long Gong (Five Dragon Temple). He doesn't foresee restoration positively affecting the area's UNESCO-recognized cultural sanctity, he sees only rapid construction designed to pander to weekend photo bugs. Gone is the ancient workmanship whose attention to detail was inspired by both fealty to emperor and spiritual devotion. Here are the quick paint jobs and gaudy additions of rapid development.

Fortunately, completion of many of these projects is still a few years off, meaning you can still catch many of Wudang's original structures in all of their dilapidated glory. Though shiny, colorful temples can be quite attractive (despite the occasional evidence of a rush job) there's nothing like seeing an ancient monument slowly being reclaimed by nature. The gnarled roots vying for purchase against slowly yielding stone tell the age-old story of humanity's love for building eternal signs of its passing all too eloquently.

A trip to Wu Long Gong once meant a 6-8 hour hike from Wudang Shan City, but nowadays, you can hire a taxi to take you to the tunnel (still under construction as you can see) leading to the trail heads. The road will soon stretch all the way to the temple ruins themselves, but in the meantime, there is some great hiking to be done, with seriously amazing food on the way to the remains of Five Dragon Temple.

You might be able to find the trail heads by asking some of the workers on site, but it's probably safer to ask a local to guide you there. You can hire one for the day, and proceed at your own pace, taxi included, for about RMB 250.

The hike along the trail to Wu Long Gong is tremendously refreshing. The area's cloud forest-like conditions reminded me of Costa Rica's Monteverde, with its brisk, chlorophyll suffused air, dense forests and stunning mountain-top vantages. The only thing to complain about is that the trail would be even better longer! As it stands, a slow hike with many stops for taking advantage of all the wonderful photographic opportunities that present themselves sees you to the farmhouse before Wu Long Gong in about 90 minutes. The farmhouse along the trail makes for a very pleasant little stop. The garden you see in the picture is where all produce for the meals here comes from (yes it's all farm fresh)! The old woman who does most of the cooking and chatting here is extremely friendly, but knows no English. If you don't know Chinese, bringing an electronic dictionary might be helpful. Even better than her personality is her food—her pan bread (mianbao) is the best I've ever tasted. The crust is wonderfully crunchy, the inside perfectly fluffy, the taste and textures perfect. Also not to miss is her homemade tofu. Order a plate of baicai dofu (pronounced buy-tsai doh-fu), and you will be  gratified. The only thing I would recommend passing on is her powerful homemade baijio (rice wine liquor).

If you've had a meal and aren't too full to walk, its just another ten minutes before you reach the small village around the Five Dragon Temple ruins. The locals aren't very numerous, and didn't pay us much attention, preoccupied as they were with the communal raising of children, and apparently, getting nicely drunk before 12 p.m. As such, this makes Wuxu Gong one of the least trafficked Wudang Shan attractions, and for the most part, we had it all to ourselves.

Though the temple area isn't large, it is in a very pretty area on a mountainside offering views onto many of Wudang's 72 other peaks. There's plenty of wonderful photography to be done, here's just a tiny sample...

There's something very poetic about nature and a spiritual monument becoming one...

Beyond the courtyard wall, stellar views of the Wudang Mountain range.

The trail back to the tunnel mouth and the road back to Wudang Shan City take you back through another 30 minutes of mountain slopes carpeted with lush vegetation. Make sure to take a few deep breaths, the air isn't anywhere this good back in the city!

More Wudang Shan content on ChinaTravel.net Features: Wudang Shan: Kung Fu with a Sweet Mountain View Forum Posts: Wuhan to Wudang Shan? Wudang Shan: Hiking Zhenwu's Peaks Stephan Larose's Wudang Shan Photo Diary: Daily Life Travel Guide: Wudang Shan All pictures by Stephan Larose.
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