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A Journey Toward Salvation
Emeishan, China
By Isabella Ng Emeishan

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Regardless of the weather, they follow the example of Xuan Zhuang, the Tang dynasty monk who traveled to India to procure the Buddhist scriptures. For modern-day Chinese Buddhists, visiting the holy preaching places of the bodhisattvas is no less important than the journey of Muslims to Mecca or Christians to Jerusalem. "Every time I go to the sacred mountains, I feel closer to God," says Chen Meifeng, 61, a retired bureaucrat from Shanghai. "I always feel I am more protected by God after each pilgrimage."

Even Emeishan, the most remote of China's four sacred mountains, is packed with pilgrims all year round. Literally "Moth-Browed Mountain," Emeishan takes its name from its ragged but symmetrical shape. It was here, on the Chinese-Tibetan border, that the elephant-riding P'u Hsien, the God of Practice, preached the word of the Buddha. The place draws Tibetan monks who believe that, since the mountain faces Tibet, the deity also protects them. Jia Bozhen, 69, a retired farmer from Hongya county in Sichuan, has saved up her pension for 10 months to make the one-week spiritual journey. "I want my family to be safe and for everything to be all right," she says. "I walk up the hill and back so that God will listen to me."


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Detracting from that religious mystique, Emeishan has been turned into an official tourist attraction, where visitors are charged $1.50 to enter each of the 10 big temples and $10 to ascend to the 3,099-m peak. While the pilgrims delight in praying in the temples and burning incense for the stone deities, the tourists are enchanted by the misty mountain, the lofty monastery and the experience of being carried in a wooden frame by porters. "This is cool," says Cherry Lee, 20, of Hong Kong. "I think taking the sedan chair is more of an experience than going to the temples." But even among the younger visitors, religious impulses are evident. "I am so stressed from work," says Yuan Xiao, 29, of Chongqing. "I hope I can get some peace of mind through talking to God." As China races to embrace the world's modern materialistic ways, the slopes of Emeishan are likely to see plenty more pilgrims.

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