The limestone summits of Hua Shan, one of China’s five sacred Taoist mountains, surge in spectacular fashion from the plains of the Yellow River basin, midway between Xi’an and Luoyang. Traditionally regarded as the most forbidding of the great holy massifs, it used to attract only die-hard hermits, plant hunters, shamanic priests and very determined local pilgrims.

In recent years, however, cable cars have been installed to carry day-trippers to its upper reaches, rendering the mountain accessible for anyone who is moderately fit. Aside from the special atmosphere of the old paved walkways, with their incense-filled shrines and stands of wind-bent pine trees, the main incentive to make the climb are the sublime views from its five main peaks.

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