Hiking Mount Jizu in Yunnan, China

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”.
~Jawaharial Nehru

It is 2 am and we are about to climb a 3248-meter-high mountain: Jizu Shan.

Also known as: Chicken Foot Mountain.

By leaving at this time we will be ahead of the crowd of visitors that will start climbing in an hour or so, and we’ll have the peace and quiet of a silent night.

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Hiking Mount Jizu

Silent it is; a deep, dark silence encompasses us. Although the sky is clear and we have zillions of stars, it is a ​new moon and in order to find our way on the uneven trail through dense pine tree forest we need our headlamps. Steadily we climb hundreds of stairs. The high temperatures of the afternoon have given way to a cold night and we have to keep moving to stay warm. We take short breaks for a sip of water or a piece of dried mango.

A few visitors have left even earlier than we, we notice when arriving at the thirteen-story Jing Ding Temple on the top of the mountain. They have already lit large incense sticks in a tray, which in the darkness of the night looks majestic, especially because the glow is accompanied by the chant of a monk which reaches us through the open doors of the temple.

What’s in a Name?

I haven’t verified the explanation, but I am told Chicken Foot Mountain was given this name because from one particular point (northeast side of Erhai Lake), the range looks like a chicken foot with three hills on one side and a single hill at the back.

The first temple was built during the Tang Dynasty (around AD800) and is related to a legend about a monk called Jiaye who brought Buddhism from India to southern China and who fought with the evil Jizu king. Throughout the subsequent dynasties of the Song, Yan, Ming and Qing, temples were added. With some 300 temples, pagodas and monasteries, Jizu Shan was a sacred place for Buddhists for many centuries.

Unfortunately, most of it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. As we stroll the grounds, visit temples and see the remains of what once were sacred places, it is impossible to imagine the power of a leader (or of the mass following him) capable of destroying so much beauty and centuries-old culture. Fortunately, religion has been returning to people’s lives in communist China and when we visited the mountain, construction and renovation were going on all over the place.

Around the Sunrise

Hiking Mount Jizu; here warming up at a bonfire in front of the temple.

We are way too early for the sunrise and keep on walking around to stay warm. More visitors arrive and together with a number of monks hold a prayer session in the newly restored temple where they offer at three enormous Buddha statues. One monk who beats the rhythm by playing a large drum accompanies their chants. This serene moment in the silent night with burning incense sticks and a chanting monk compensates for all the hardship of climbing I don’t know how many steps.

At six-thirty the sun appears on the horizon, its beams quickly warming our chilled bodies. The JingDing Temple complex glows beautifully in the soft tinges. By now a large crowd has gathered and we join them on the east side of the complex. We also join them in the sense of awe when watching night turning into day and the rising of that red balloon announcing a new day.

Additional Reading on Yunnan Travel

Why does a daily phenomenon like a sunrise move us as it does? No matter how often you’ve seen them, sunrises, especially in the mountains, remain majestic and I can see how these ritual gatherings contribute to a feeling of spirituality or religion.

I feel connected, but to what or whom? Mother Nature, my creator, my higher self? Maybe it’s not about knowing, but just about feeling. As I watch yet another sunrise, I feel peaceful inside and connected to my source. I am lost in the beauty of it all until my cold feet bring me back to reality: I need coffee.

Practical Information on Hiking Mount Jizu

  • Jizu Mountain lies in Yunnan, in southeast China. Dali and Bingchuan (approx 30 kilometers) are both good gateways to the mountains (take a bus or taxi).
  • I recommend spending at least one night here because there are various other temples worth a visit, like the Zunsheng Temple, Huideng Temple and Jiuling Temple.
  • Near the mountain most accommodation is simple; for more comfort check out a hotel in Binguang.
  • For non-hikers, there is a cable car going up Jizu Shan as well.
  • There is also the option of a 2-day return hike from Dali, a beautifully restored town that’s worth a visit.

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Photos by Coen Wubbels. Follow our overland journey on Landcruisingadventure.com or on Instagram.

4 thoughts on “Hiking Mount Jizu in Yunnan, China”

  1. I visited China a few years ago and I absolutely loved it. Your post makes me want to go back and explore the rest of this country.

  2. Wow, the monastery/temple has changed a lot in 20 years! When I was there in late 1990s or early 2000s I am pretty sure there was no big building. They were about to build something though. I took a pony up in rainy season. It was fabulous looking *down* on the clouds from the monastery. Also listening to the night time ringing of the bell. I walked up the spire and got dizzy. Must have been high altitude. The accommodation and food was very sparse at the site – I slept under comforters in an unheated room, and was given a thermos of hot water. There was no place to have a warm shower if I recall correctly. The place was hardly even occupied, just a teenage girl, an old lady and a couple of monks. I thought the sunrise view was over-rated and the mossy, misty walk up under-rated.

    At the village at the base of the mountain I met a man mixing local mountain herbs. There were some Tibetan Buddhist (not Mahayana) monks visiting from Sezchuan.

    Curiously, whenever I asked people, in and out of China, about ‘Jizu-san, that Buddhist mountain in Yunnan’ nobody had ever heard of it. On the train and bus at lake Erhu were many people dressed in ethnic costume, including women with blue turbans coming to market on small horses.

  3. I am just reading the autobiography of China’s most famous 20th century monk Xu Yun “empty cloud”, and he is describing his visit to Jizu Shan.


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