Shanxi Province, 327km (203 miles) SW of Beijing, 210km (130 miles) S of Datong, 238km (148 miles) N of Taiyuan
The mountain known as Wutai or "Five Platforms" is actually a cluster of mountains, which long ago collectively became the northernmost sacred peak of Buddhism. Situated roughly halfway between Datong and Taiyuan, Wutai Shan is, in Buddhist lore, the earthly residence of the great bodhisattva Manjusri. Often depicted astride a lion, he is said to embody the perfection of wisdom. To this day, though tourists far outnumber them, pilgrims come entreating Manjusri to reveal himself again. The peaks of Wutai Shan have an average height of 2,000m (6,561 ft.) above sea level, and from northeast to southwest they stretch 120km (75 miles). Cradled at their center is the small town of Taihuai Zhen, with an elevation of 1,680m (5,500 ft.). Part tourist slum, part sacred site, the town is a combination of souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants, temples, and shrines. Summer is the best time to visit -- when Wutai Shan offers an escape from the heat and humidity of lower climes. In July and August, the average temperature is only about 10°C (50°F), with warm days and cool nights. Even at this most temperate time of year, the mountain itself is rarely overcrowded during the week. Weekends are another story, and national holidays should be avoided at all costs. Winters are severely cold, with temperatures dipping as low as -40°C (-40°F). Even in June, snow is not unheard of.
One of the liveliest of Wutai's temple festivals is held on the 14th and 15th days of the sixth lunar month, when demons are exorcised and the Diamond Sutra is honored in a ritual dance. All who join the parade from Pusa Ding to Luohan Temple are promised blessings.
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