Just 15 minutes outside the ancient town of Weishan (巍山), south of Dali in Yunnan province, Mount Weibao aka Weibao Shan (巍宝山 – ‘shan’ means ‘mountain’ in Chinese) is a one of China’s fourteen sacred Taoist mountain.
Weibao Shan is also a national forest park dotted with 22 well-preserved Taoist temples that date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. The perfect place to hike, admire ancient Chinese architecture and learn more about Taoism and its myriad of deities.
There is an entry fee of 80 RMB per person. They come is a small, but handy map of the mountain.
Steeped in legend
An inscription in one of the temple explains that Xi Nuluo met Lao Zi (the legendary founder of Taoism) while farming on Mount Weibao (巍宝山). After his conversation with Lao Zi, Xi Nuluo found the Tao (the path) and became the first ruler of the Kingdom of Nanzhao (南诏) with Weishan as capital.
Thirty generations of kings of the Yi ethnic group succeeded on the throne of before the Nanzhao was overthrown.
Weibao Shan is not only an important Taoist mountain, but also sacred the Yi people. Indeed, one of the most important temple, the Temple of the Ruler of the Earth of Nanzhao (南诏土主庙), recently renovated, is dedicated to the dynasty of Nanzhao kings.
Hiking Weibao Shan
Neat trails in the forest (or not)
There are well-maintained trails that circles around Weibao Shan. It is an easy hike to the top. Depending on your speed and the time you wish to spend visiting the Taoist temples along the way count at least 3 to 4 hours.
Bring water and food. There are a few shops that sell overpriced bottles of water and food between the main entrance gate (the one by the parking lot) and the hostel.
Two ways to the top
To go straight to the top, take the path on the right-hand side of the hostel. The first half of the trail runs through the forest while the second half gives you an open view on the valley. It takes 45 minutes to one hour to reach the temple of the God of Fortune (财神殿). A long flight of stone stairs will bring you to the top. Once you have reached the Kuixing Pavilion (魁星阁), you start to go back down.
If you are more interested in the temples than in the landscape, take the stairs in front of the hostel, then turn right. Most temples are on that side of the mountain. First, you will see ancient stone graves in the forest on the way to the temple of the Ruler of the Earth of Nanzhao (南诏土主庙), the first of the series of temple that dot the way to the top.
Weibao Shan temples in a nutshell
In front of each temple there is an short explanation about the temple, when it was built, which Taoist god it is dedicated to. Temple care-takers, elderly couple or Taoist monks, live in or right by the temple. Some will welcome you with a cup tea.
Every year, during the first week of second month of the Chinese lunar calendar, members of the Yi ethnic group come to the Temple of the Ruler of the Earth of Nanzhao (南诏土主庙) to worship the spirit of the ‘ruler of the earth’ (土主). It is the only non-Taoist temple of the mountain.
In the nearby Wenchang Temple (文昌宫),dedicated to the Taoist god of Culture and Literature, there is a small a small pavilion in a middle of pond. On each side of the pavilion, there are faded paintings and miniature scenes which date back to the construction of the temple.
Behind the Lingguan temple (灵官殿), you will the Yuhuang Temple (玉皇阁) or the Temple of the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝). In the Taoist tradition, the Jade Emperor is the ruler of Heaven, Earth and Hell and one of the most important deity in Taoism and Chinese folk religion. His temple is the largest in Weibao Shan.
If you bring someone who can speak Chinese and masters the Taoist terminology, you will be in for a philosophical talk about the Tao with the monks who live in the temple.
The last temple on this side of the mountain, is the Temple of the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion (观音殿). In Chinese folk culture, the goddess of Mercy is the Bodhisattva Guanyin 观音 (also known as Kum Lam in some parts of South China). Guanyin is the Chinese avatar of the Indian god Avalokiteśvara. Guanyin is often pictures with many arms to help those in need. After finding the enlightenment, she vowed not to enter the Nirvana and help all beings to find the path.
How to get there and where to stay
Mount Weibao or Weibao Shan is 15 – 20 km southeast of the ancient town of Weishan (巍山) which is one hour south of Dali (大理).
From Dali : take a bus from the southwest bus station (西南站) in Xiaguan (下关). There is a bus every 15 minutes and the journey lasts about 1 hour to Weishan.
From Weishan : there are no buses to Mount Weibao and you will have to hire one of the green mini-buses around the bus station. You probably want to negotiate the fare with the driver so as he waits for you. I paid 150 RMB for the ride from Weishan to Weibaoshan and back + a 4 hour wait.
Accommodation. There is a hostel on Weibao Shan, after the main entrance gate . Unfortunately, I was not able to visit the rooms or get any rates – there was no staff to be seen. You should be able to find a room if you don’t go during weekends or high-season. There is no other restaurant than the hostel restaurant (and I suspect the food will be very pricey). It should be a very quiet night.
Worst case scenario, there is plenty of accommodation in Weishan, either next to the bus station or inside the old town. Since it is relatively close to Dali, you are able to do a day trip from Dali if it’s where you are based.