It Takes 9,000 Steps to Reach China's Fanjingshan Temple

By: Carrie Whitney, Ph.D.  | 
The Temple of the Buddha, on the left, and Maitreya Temple sit perched among the clouds atop Mount Fanjing in Tongren City, Guizhou Province, China. Costfoto/Future Publishing/Getty Images

The current tallest building and tallest human-made structure in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE, reaches an astonishing 2,716 feet (828 meters). That is certainly impressive, but a centuries-old Buddhist temple pair on a mountain summit in Southeastern China offer an even more spectacular view, albeit without elevator access.

Located on the Fanjing Mountain in Tongren City, Guizhou Province, Fanjingshan Temple — actually two temples, the Temple of the Buddha and Maitreya Temple — sits impossibly atop a spindly rock formation called Red Clouds Golden Summit whose narrow form ascends 330 feet (100 meters) from the already high mountain. That's about the height of the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria or the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben). Brave visitors can hike to the top to be "surrounded by mists and sea of clouds," according to China Discovery, and take in additional beautiful natural and architectural sites along the way.


What Is the Fanjingshan Temple?

Perched more than 7,600 feet (2,336 meters) above sea level, the dual temples are accessed by a series of steps winding up the mountain.Fanjingshan is a Chinese word that means "Buddhist tranquility." The Temple of the Buddha, which is dedicated to the worship of Shakyamuni (Buddha) represents the present, and Maitreya Temple represents the future, according to Heritage Daily. The final path to the temples symbolizes this significance, with the Temple of the Buddha being reached first, and providing access to the other.

To get to the Red Clouds Golden Summit, visitors must be prepared to climb — it takes almost 9,000 steps to reach the Temple of the Buddha. To get to its partner temple, simply cross the Gold Sword Gorge via a stone bridge which runs between the two peaks.


The two temples atop Mount Fanjing are connected by a stone bridge, which is accessed from the Temple of the Buddha, on the left.
Costfoto/Future Publishing/Getty Images

History of the Fanjingshan Temple

Fanjingshan, or Mount Fanjing, is the highest peak of the Wuling Mountains, formed during the Tertiary period, somewhere between 65 million and 2 million years ago, according to UNESCO. The temples atop the towering peaks are much newer. By one account, they were first built during the Tang Dynasty, which lasted from 618-907 C.E. According to another source, the temples were constructed during the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty — the Yongle emperor ruled from 1403 to 1425.

While Mount Fanjing and its temples were highly regarded within Buddhism, during the 16th century, many temples were destroyed, according to China Discovery. It was the later Qing Dynasty government (1644-1912) that began building and rebuilding temples, including those along the Fanjingshan range. To withstand the mountain wind, the current temples feature iron tiles and layers of stone 17 feet (5.18 meters) wide and 18 feet (5.48 meters) deep.


UNESCO World Heritage Status

Not only are the temples at the top of Mount Fanjing marvels of human inspiration, the Fanjingshan mountain ranges have been recognized for their ecological importance too. Fanjingshan became a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1986 and was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2018, included for its "high degree of biodiversity." Fanjingshan's flora have evolved as if the ranges were an island; in fact, they are described as "an island of metamorphic rock." This level of isolation has created significant endemism, meaning it's populated by species that are limited to a small geographic area or are unique to an area.

In fact, there are 3,724 plant species on the site, as well as 2,317 invertebrates and 450 vertebrate species. It's the only place in the world where the Fanjingshan fir and Guizhou snub-nosed monkey are found.


Accessing the temples is no walk in the park, and there are many "steps" to getting there. China Discovery details the route, which begins at the Fanjingshan Scenic Area about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Tongren City. The visit starts gently with a sightseeing bus ride that can be followed by a cable car ride to the first station, and along the forest hiking road, there are sites to enjoy. The steps along the side of the mountain from Pudu Square to the summit are narrow and steep, sometimes offering an iron chain railing to hold. It's slow going, and the estimated time to visit just the peak is four hours.

As incredible as the temples atop Red Clouds Golden Summit are, there is also plenty to see throughout the Fanjingshan site, especially for nature and landscape lovers. Visitors with more time to spare can consider a multi-day tour that includes additional sightseeing and a several-hour hike — weather permitting, of course.