Imperial capital of yesterday's China, today, Xi'an is a prosperous and touristical town in the province of Shaanxi. Although it preserved its historical treasures, which attract millions of visitors each year, Xi'an is still one populated, noisy and polluted city, as many of the large cities across the country.

Xi'an, Shaanxi - China

Thus, it is not easy to imagine that hardly a 120 kilometers away, the Hua Shan mountains dominate the valley in absolute serenity. An imposing landscape straight from the misty paintings of ancient China.

Culminating at 2200 meters of altitude, these granite sugar loaves disappear into the heat haze which emanates from the valley - where it is said that the Hua Shan peaks look like a hatched flower. The "Hua" mountain means "flower" in Chinese, a name given to the five summits because of their shape when looked at from a distance.
 
Monts Hua Shan, Shaanxi, Chine

If the peaks seem protected by impregnable barriers, however, abrupt staircases carved on the very rock allow to reach them. A thousand meters higher, everything is vertical: some pine trees hang on to the walls and temples face the void. In the distance, the valley, so close, yet so far.

East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China

Belonging to the five sacred mountains of eastern China, the Hua Shan are, above all, an important taoist pilgrimage. Mountains always were privileged places for religious activity in China. The Chinese translation of "pilgrimage", "Chaosheng", is indeed is linked to the expression "Chaobai Shengshan" which means "to pay its regards to the holy mountain".

Today, the religious taoist rites don't attract the visitors anymore but the mountains, by no means, lost their symbolic aura. Every day, thousands of Chinese tourists crowd up: groups, families and young couples gather here to taste the area's beauty but especially to seek luck, happiness and prosperity.

East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China

The tradition wants young couples to attach locks to the chains which skirt the chasm. Symbol of their eternal union, these lucky charms, tied to red ribbons, form true garlands of hope. But the true reason behind these tourists's strenuous climb is to be present for the next morning's sunrise.

East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China

During the summer months, when the heat crushes the valley, it is almost impossible to climb during the day. Those who try the adventure pay a high price of suffering and sweat…

Fortunately, before the night climb, the more careful visitors can rest and restore themselves in the Huashan village, nestled at the foot of the famous East peak.

The village makes it possible for each one to be equipped for their adventure: walking shoes, caps, flashlights and white gloves to protect themselves from the stains caused by the rusty chains along the way - which will enable the visitors to rise to the summits. But it is at night that the troops are move on.

East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China

It will take them four perilous hours of walking to reach one of the five sacred peaks. Upon their arrival at the top, the tourists will shout in victory. Then, they will wait, patient and tired.

East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China

Exhausted, muffled in thick army coats, the pilgrims then slowly recover from the sustained efforts of the night and, yawning aloud, patiently wait for the sunrise.

East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China   East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China

The atmosphere is good, even festive, a true image of this new Chinese middle-class which taste the joys of tourism. Far from the ancestral taoist traditions, it is with the latest digital compact cameras that these young Chinese reach the highlight of their trip to the holy mountains.

East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China   East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China

The tension is palpable: it is necessary to be the first to see the so much awaited sun, promise of luck, happiness and prosperity for the years to come. When the object of all these desires finally bores into the thick layer of fog covering the valley, an hilarious crowd lends itself to the traditional photo pause.

East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China   East peak cliff - Hua Shan, Shaanxi, China
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