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How to Plan Pilgrimage to Mount Wutai - Wutai Shan Chaotai Guide

Mount Wutai in Shanxi Province, China is one of the Five World Buddhist Sacred Sites (other four in Indian), also one of the Four Greatest Buddhist Mountains (the other three are Mount Emei, Mount Puto and Mount Jiuhua) in China. It has be a sacred Buddhist site since the 5th century. From the 7th century on, the influence of Mount Wutai in Buddhist world uprose increasingly, attracting pilgrims all over Asian counties, such as Japan, Korea, India, Nepal, Thailand, etc. During Ming and Qing Dynasties (14th~19th centuries), Mount Wutai became the sacred site for both Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. Currently there are 47 temples in Mount Wutai many of which have great cultural and art value. Reported by official research, there are 17,455 Buddha statues housed in the temples of Mount Wutai.

Mount Wutai is the Ashram of Manjusri Bodhisattva

Mount Wutai is the ashram of Manjusri Bodhisattva who personifies supreme wisdom. Sanskrit, the real name of the Manjusri, means “gentle and glory”. In Buddhism theory, Manjusri Bodhisattva is very good at speech. The Lord Buddha always bring Manjusri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva to teach and spread Buddhism, which is the reason why you can see their statues are together in many Buddhist temples, murals, paintings, etc. The body of Manjusri Bodhisattva is purple and golden, and his face is much like a boy. He has a golden sword in his right hand, meaning he can defeat all demons and eliminate all troubles for human beings. He holds a green lotus in his left hand. There are Vajra Prajna Sutras on the flower, which symbolizes superior wisdom of Manjusri. His mount is a green lion.

Mount Wutai has a pure and sacred aura that has magic power to wash every strand of fatigue and negativity out of you, also strengthen your understanding about both Buddhism and life, which is the reason why there are hundreds and thousands of pilgrims from all over the world coming to Mount Wutai to fulfill their pilgrimage dream every year, especially in April of the lunar Chinese calendar when there are grand Buddhist ceremonies are held to celebrate the birthday of Manjusri Bodhisattva.

Chaotai - Mount Wutai Pilgrimage Routes

The pilgrimage to Mount Wutai is also called as Chaotai(朝台), literally meaning “worshiping Buddha on the terraces of Mount Wutai”. Chaotai is different from travel sightseeing. The purpose of travel sightseeing is to enjoy the natural scenery and explore the historical sites of Mount Wutai while Chaotai is to worship the holy sites to show the faith in Buddha and Manjusri Bodhisattva. Buddhists not only worship the temples of Mount Wutai , but also the five terraces (peaks) of Mount Wutai, which symbolizes the "five wisdoms" of Manjusri Bodhisattva. Pilgrims from overseas like to bring the earth and stone back home after their sacred Chaotai journey. There are two Chaotai routes – Xiao Chaotai (Small Kora) and Da Chaotai (Big Kora) with different durations.

In-depth Pilgrimage – Da Chao Tai (大朝台)

The so-called Da Chaotai is to visit and pray in all the Buddhist temples of Mount Wutai and go to worship the five Manjusri Bodhisattvas on the five peaks of Mount Wutai – East Terrace, North Terrace, Central Terrace, West Terrace and South Terrace. Mongolian and Tibetan pilgrims have a strong belief in Manjusri Bodhisattvas. They usually take the Big Kora. In the ancient time, they traveled to Mount Wutai from far lands, and started their pilgrimage from Hongmenyan (鸿门岩) which is about 40km from the core area (Taihuai Town), worshipped temples one by one until got to the most important temples in Taihuai Town. Some even prostrated entire way (one step one kowtow), which is the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Da Chaotai can be done in 3 days with two parts:

Part One – Worshipping at Taihuai Town

Taihuai Town is the core area of whole Mount Wutai. You can skip the Five Terraces but never miss out Taihuai Town. The five greatest temples and many other influential temples are located in Taihuai Town. During your pilgrimage, you can either spend one full day in Taihuai Town to worship the essential temples or spend 2 or 3 days to visit more temples. . Below are the most important Buddhist temples you have to visit:

Tayuan Temple (Pagoda Courtyard Temple – 塔院寺)

Tayuan Temple is located in the center of Taihuai Town and is named after the Great White Pagoda, a symbol of Mount Wutai. This big white pagoda is 75.3 meters high and 83 meters around. It was built during Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty( AD 386~534). It has been repaired and rebuilt in the Ming Dynasty(ad 1368~1644). It is said there is a stupa of Sakyamuni’s sarira built by ancient Indian King Ashoka and hair of Manjushri inside the Great White Pagoda. So every Buddhist should worship in Tayuan Temple.

Shuxiang Temple (Temple of Manjushri’s Statue – 殊像寺)

Shuxiang Temple was established in East Jin Dynasty (AD 317~420). It houses the biggest statue of Manjusri Bodhisattva which is nearly 10 meters high. It used to be visited by many ancient emperors and queens. Another highlight is the colorful hanging sculptures on the walls of Wenshu Hall which tell the stories of 500 arhats.

Xiantong Temple (显通寺)

Xiantong Temple is the largest as well as the oldest temple in Mount Wutai. It has more than 400 halls and temples most of which were built and repaired during Ming and Qing Dynasties. Bronze Hall, built in 1610 and made of 50,000 kg bronze, is one of the best preserved bronze halls in China. Most of the biggest Buddhist events and ceremonies are usually held here.

Pusa Ding Temple (Bodhisattva Summit – 菩萨顶)

Pusa Ding Temple, or Bodhisattva Summit, is located on the Liujiu Peak (灵鹫峰) of Mount Wutai. It is the largest Tibetan monastery in Mount Wutai. With many grand royal-style halls and temples, Pusa Ding used to be the exclusive temporary imperial palace where the ancient emperors in Ming and Qing Dynasties lived during their pilgrimage to Mount Wutai. According to Buddhist scriptures, Pusa Ding is the real residence of Manjusri Bodhisattva. Its architecture style is quite different from Xiantong Temple and other Zen Buddhist temple, which is featured in massive use of different colors.

Mount Wutai - White Tower Great White Tower in Tayuan Temple
Mount Wutai - Copper Hall Copper Hall in Xiantong Temple
Mount Wutai - Bodhisattva Monastery Imperial Style Building in Shuxiang Temple

Part Two – Worshiping at Five Terraces

After worshipping the temples in Taihuai Town, it’s time to move on to the Five Terraces. Your pilgrimage to Mount Wutai is only complete after worshipping the five clones of Manjusri Bodhisattva in the five temples on the terraces. These five terraces are East Terrace, North Terrace, Central Terrace, West Terrace and South Terrace where the five incarnations of Manjusri Bodhisattva (Intelligence, Immaculateness, Innocence, Lion Roar, and Wisdom) meditate.

East Terrace

East Terrace or Wanghaifeng (望海峰) is about 20km from Taihuai town. It is the ashram of Intelligence Manjusri. With an altitude of 2795m, this peak is the best place to enjoy sunrise over Mount Wutai.

North Terrace

With an altitude of 3061m, the North Terrace, or Yedoufeng(叶斗峰), is the highest peak in Mount Wutai even in northern China. It is reputed as the “Ridge of North China”. You can worship the Immaculateness Manjusri here.

Central Terrace

Located 10 kilometers northwest of Taihuai Town, the Central Terrace is shaped like a lion. There is a temple on the top of the terrace, named Yanjiao temple, which was founded in the Sui Dynasty (581~619). You can worship the Innocence Manjusri here.

West Terrace

The West Terrace is also known as Hanging Moon Peak(Guayuefeng-挂月峰), which is 2773 meters above sea level. At the top of the terrace sits the Falei Temple (Buddhism Thunder Temple). Falei means that Buddhism is like thunder, which can awaken all living beings. You can worship the Lion Roar Manjusri here.

South Terrace

South Terrace (Jinxiufeng-锦绣峰 2489m) is a single peak, which means it’s not connected to the other four peaks. It is the ashram of Wisdom Manjusri. It also provides amazing scenery of grasslands and flowers.

Popular Da Chaotai Tour: ✔ 3 Days Mount Wutai Buddhism Tour

Mount Wutai - East Terrace Our Clients at East Terrace
Mount Wutai - South Terrace Our Clients at North Terrace
Mount Wutai - North Terrace Our Clients at South Terrace

Worshipping the Five Terraces by Hiking or Tourist Bus?

Generally speaking, taking a tourist bus from Taihuai Town to the terraces is more recommended especially when you are short on time and energy. With the help of the tourist bus, you can worship all the five terraces in a day. The tourist bus sets off from Taihuai Town, and takes you directly to the top of East Terrace, then go to North Peak, Central Peak, West Peak and South Peak one after another, and return to Taihuai Town.

If you are energetic, not short on time and having no trouble with high altitude sickness, you can also choose to hike to the terraces. It usually needs two days to finish the hiking. In the first day, you will hike from East Terrace, via North Terrace and Central Terrace, to Lion Nest Temple under the foot of West Terrace and stay a night in a local guest house. In the second day, you will hike to South Terrace and return to Taihuai Town.

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Mount Wutai Pilgrimage - Wutai Shan Chaotai

Mount Wutai Travel Map (Click to Enlarge)

Brief Pilgrimage – Xiao Chao Tai (小朝台)

Xiao Chaotai is specially offered for those who have no enough physical strength or time to take the Da Chaotai of five terraces. It is located close to Taihuai Town, and can be done in a brief day. During the pilgrimage, you will also worship the essential temples in Taihuai Town like the Da Chaotai does, which can usually be done in a half day. In the second half day, you will walk 1080 steps to get to Dailuo Ding Temple to worship the five clones of Manjusri Bodhisattva on the five terraces.

Dailuo Ding Temple (黛螺顶)

Dailuo Ding Temple is the highest-altitude temple in Taihuai Town. It is located on a slope of East Terrace from where you can enjoy a panorama of other temples and Taihuai Town. This temple houses all the five clones of Manjusri Bodhisattva so that pilgrims who are short on time or energy don’t have to hike 2 days to worship to the Manjusri Bodhisattva on the five terraces. One has to climb 1080 steps or take a cable car to get to Dailuo Ding Temple.

Legend has it that the Emperor Qianlong in Qing Dynasty had a strong belief in Buddhism. Once a year, he came to Mount Wutai to worship the Manjusri Bodhisattva, but failed to worship the Five Terraces because of high altitude, distance and coldness. To help Qianlong realize his pilgrimage dream, the monks in Pusa Ding Temple created the statues of the five incarnations of Manjusri Bodhisattva in the temple hall. Several years later, Qianlong returned to Mount Wutai and worshiped all the incarnations successfully. To thank the efforts the monks had done, Qianlong granted a substantial found to support the temple. Since then, the Xiao Chaotai became more and more popular among both royal families and common pilgrims.

Foguang Temple Is Worth Your Visit

After Xiao Chaotai, if time allows, don't miss out Foguang Temple which is hidden treasure but forgotten by most of tourist groups. Its Eastern Hall is one of three survived wooden architecture of Tang Dynasty (AD 618~907) in China, and best preserved of its kind. The Tang Dynasty architecture, sculptures, murals and inscription have high value of history and art, and praised as “four wonders”. The famous Chinese architect Liang Sicheng (梁思成) praised it as “the No. 1 Treasure of Chinese Architecture” because defeated the option of some Japanese scholars that only Japan is the only place on earth to witness wooden architecture of Tang Dynasty. Please note Foguang Temple is not located in Taihuai Town. One has to drive about 50km to get there from Taihuai Town. The reward is that you can enjoy a much peaceful visit without disturbance from tourist groups.

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Mount Wutai Pilgrimage - Wutai Shan Chaotai Pilgrims on Xiao Chaotai
Mount Wutai Pilgrimage - Wutai Shan Chaotai Our Clients at Foguang Temple

Get Inspired by Real Pilgrimage Story of Our Clients

-7 Days Unforgettable Mount Wutai Buddhist Journey of 31 Pilgrims from Singapore, Malaysia, Tibet China

In August, 2019, China Discovery is honored to create a tailor-made 7 days Mount Wutaishan Buddhist Pilgrimage Tour for Lee G and her Buddhist friends from Singapore, Malaysia and China in total 31 ppl including 4 Tibetan monks. The common strong belief in Buddhism brought them all together in Mount Wutai, one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the world. We designed a pilgrimage trip for them based on their interests and physical conditions. During their 7 Days Mount Wutai Buddhist trip, they not only finished the Da Chaotai (Big Kora) and Xiao Chaotai (Small Kora) successfully, but also worshipped many other influential temples, such as Foguang Temple, Nanshan Temple, etc. All members in the pilgrims group enjoyed their Buddhist trip very much, and Lee even wrote a praiseworthy review on TripAdvisor about our tour and services. Check details below:

What Places Lee G’s Pilgrims Group Visited?

Temples Opening for Accommodation

Day 1 Worshiped in the most important Buddhist temples of both Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism in Huitai Town, including Wuye Temple, Pusa Ding Temple, Xiantong Temple, Tayuan Temple, Shuxiang Temple.

Day 2 Took tourist bus to East Terrace, North Terrace, Central Terrace, West Terrace and South Terrace to worship Manjusri Bodhisattva and enjoyed some leisure walkings around the terraces. (Da Chaotai)

Day 3 Visited Puhua Temple, Nanshan Temple and Guanyin Cave which are not very famous but less-crowded and worth visiting.

Day 4 Worshipped at Dailuo Ding Temple (Xiao Chaotai) and sidetrip to Fomu Cave (Buddha’s Mother Cave).

Day 5 Visited Baohua Temple, Guangming Temple and Bishan Temple which are not far from Taihuai Town.

Day 6 Went to worship at Fongguang Temple and appreciate wooden architecture of Tang Dynastry, then transferred to Taiyuan to catch departing flights and trains.

Above tour is tailor-made by our travel expert Echo. If you get interested, feel free to contact Echo or other travel consultants to learn more details or help you design your own Mount Wutai Pilgrimage Tour.

Other Useful Mount Wutai Pilgrimage Tips

1. How to Get to Mount Wutai

Mount Wutai is located in Taihuai Town, Xinzhou, central-north Shanxi Province, about 350 km from Beijing, 800 km from Xian. You can get there by flights from Shanghais(2.5hrs), Chengdu(2.5hrs), Nanjing(2hrs), Hangzhou(2hrs), Chongqing(2hrs), etc. It is recommended to get to Datong, Pingyao or Taiyuan first, then travel to Mout Wutai by driving. More about how to get to Mount Wutai >

2. Best Time to Visit Mount Wutai

The best time to visit Mount Wutai is from May to September when the temperatures are neither too high nor too low. Otherwise, it might be too cold in the mountain area. The weather on the five terraces is very changeable. You'd better bring your extra layers and umbrella/raincoat always. More about Mount Wutai weather >

3. Where to Stay during Your Tour

You can accommodate in Taihuai Town where you can easily get to the main temples and catch the tourist bus to the Five Terraces. Taihuai Town provides flexible choices of hotels from guest house to luxury 5 stars. If you want to hike the Da Chaotai (Big Kora), you have to stay a night in temple or local guest house. More about Mount Wutai accommodation >

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