Wu Tai Shan (Five Mountains) is an important Buddhist religious site west of Beijing. It is in the mountainous northern part of the Shanxi province, about 200 miles from Beijing. Buddhist make pilgrimages to Wu Tai in which Manjusri, the bodhisattva, think saint, of Wisdom resides. Wu Tai Shan encompasses the Chinese appreciation of nature, the mysticism of mountains and the addition of a Buddhist realm. About 200 miles from Beijing, a city of over 20 million, Disney couldn’t have done better to create this site.
Although Wu Tai is quite a rural setting, there was a direct highway route from Beijing to Wu Tai taking a bit more than four hours. Highways, outside of the cities, are fairly empty, dominated by commercial traffic. Even on this Saturday when we left, we had quite an open road.
No news that Beijing air quality is terrible, but even as we drove into rural areas air quality did not improve significantly. Fortunately, after three hours it began to rain and this cleared the air. Still, one does realize the impact of their pollution.
An open road for me is an opportunity to press the pedal, but in China my driver observed the limit. Could it be the regularly spaced cameras, monitoring cars, speed and probably passengers? Too risky to challenge. No passing lanes. Each lane has a recommended speed range. The far left is the fastest so no further passing lane available.
Then suddenly, after four hours of open highway cruising, everything stops. No reason given, dead stop. Miles of west bound two lane parking lots. Waiting for about 45 minutes and then we begin to move. Within ½ mile we see the toll gate and the boundary of the Shanxi province. Was it lunch time break at the toll?
From there it was only a few miles, along a rural road to Mt. Wutai. Rural; no shops, just an isolated building every few hundred feet. We reach the road to Wu Tai, which in Chinese Style has a guard and controlled entrance and off to the right is a new Marriott Hotel and entertainment complex.
We stop for lunch and meet the local people, school principal and head of the Guides. Imposing entrance, very large, imposing lobby, cavernous hallways, all in marble, totally empty. Conspicuous wealth display for the newly affluent customers on religious pilgrimage. , Chinese investment for the future, or wasted money?