Published: October 26th 2010October 26th 2010
This is worth all the hassle
Wrapped and ready we decided to keep the royal theme going and we headed off to see where the emperors spent their summer holidays; namely the Summer Palace or Yiheyuan. It is situated a little further out of Beijing but it was really easy to get there on the metro, which incidentally has been very easy to use and unbelievably cheap, even if it meant negotiating the thousands of locals who aggressively push their way on and off the trains every day. (We read on someone else’s blog describing the Chinese attitude to queuing as “aggressive queuing” and that really is how it is).
We paid a bit extra for tickets to make sure that we could go into all the areas of the Summer Palace, and it was well worth it. The palace complex is surrounded by hills and forest and overlooks a lovely lake. The spectacular view that awaited the emperors every morning they stayed here must have been a welcome antidote to the pressures of ruling; it certainly gives a whole new meaning to the term summer home! The beautiful wooded landscaped areas to the north of the lake on Longevity Hill (Wanshou Shan) are interspersed with
The Emperors Gaff
or their summer escape at least
buildings ranging from pretty pagodas and pavilions to truly stunning temples and houses, again predominantly painted in blues, greens and golds; visually sumptuous. Again, as elsewhere, the names of buildings were brilliant: the Palace of Virtue and Harmony; Jade Waves Palace; the Tower of Dawn Light; the Tower of the Fragrance of Buddha; Pavilion of Mesmerizing Scenery and Hall of Joy and Longevity (as a point of interest this is where the Empress Cixi ate her 108 course meals - no I have not made a typing mistake here). Chris was very interested in, and felt we should go and see, the Wenchang Gallery as he misguidedly thought it was the “Wenching Gallery” - some things never change. However, I thought it would be more appropriate if he went to visit the “Wind of Virtue”!
The Summer Palace is mainly associated with the Empress Cixi who was a bit notorious by all accounts. She was initially a concubine, but on the death of Emperor Xianfeng she became regent at the grand old age of 27, ruling in the place of her infant son. She spent loads of money and ruled conservatively for over 40 years, outlived her son, had
and locked to us peasants
her nephew installed as a puppet regent and later had him murdered - not a woman you would want to mess with!
The main reason we had decided to come to China was to see the next place on our itinerary; The Great Wall. We had decided not to even bother to try and get here under our own steam so arranged to join a tour through Downtown Backpackers, who would take us to a section of the wall, Jinshanling, drop us off and after a 2 ½ hour hike along the wall pick us up at a designated spot. We had hoped to hike all the way to Simatai, about 10km away from Jinshanling, but unfortunately this was closed for repairs which would take about 2 years apparently. Oh well, just have to come back to do the rest another time. The ad for the trip had said it would take us to a truly “wild” part of the wall. Now what did that mean; would there be danger from wild animals or even worse from marauding barbarians from the north - we would have to wait and find out. At long last the weather was on our
A magnifcent sight and feat of engineering
side, not too hot, not too cold and not raining - hurrah. The bus journey took almost 3 hours (mainly because of the traffic getting out of Beijing itself) and we were surprised how long we were travelling before we first caught a glimpse of the absolutely magnificent feat of engineering which just totally blew our minds. It is not just the size of the wall itself, which you have to respect, but also the mountainous and rugged terrain upon which it was built- ah that explains the wild term. It is impossible to imagine how difficult it would have been for those building it to drag the stones into position and how many died in its construction. Thanks to them we were now able to walk along what is truly one of the great manmade wonders of the world.
The Great Wall stretches from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert, is 7 metres high in places, has 25,000 battlements and was originally constructed to separate rival territories within China. Eventually, when the empire was unified by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the sections were extended and joined to form a defence against the barbarians. According to our guide
Ancient and Modern
ok, Ancient and Ancient
for the journey, the Wall had been re-constructed 3 times over the years, which very much depended on how individual Emperors viewed its defensive importance, and was now undergoing some restoration in places (hence our inability to walk all the way to Simatai).
The bus dropped us off at the designated spot and, followed by our bodyguard who would apparently follow the slowest person to ensure we all made it back okay, we set off to join the wall and turn left. Apparently if we turned right when we reached the wall we would come face to face with the police - not something we relished too much. We would be walking to the 22nd tower where we would be met by our guide again and shown the way to the bus for the journey home. Again if we went further than tower 22 we would meet yet more police! But all the rules and regulations paled into insignificance when we set foot on the Great Wall - wow. There are truly memorable moments in life and this was definitely up there amongst the greats - we were on the Great Wall of China. So, the most obvious thing
Wot no signal
Actually yep, a great place to SMS
to do would be to text people and let them know where we were - and yep, can’t get coverage in Sutton Poyntz but on top of the Great Wall of China, no problem! The hike was amazing, not as tough as we thought but there were definitely steep sections that made us stop for a breath (and not just from the breathtaking scenery), so we were glad we were properly attired. Some parts were in greater disrepair than others and required a bit of caution because of loose stones, but to be quite truthful this all added to the “wildness” advertised. How do you put into words an experience that is so wonderful - I can’t.
Walking along, as we looked back the wall stretched as far as the eye could see and looking forward towards the unknown, again there was the wall perched precariously on the most stunning peaks. After an hour or so of walking we felt it was time to stop for a bit of lunch. Now we have been lucky enough to have lunch in some great spots but here we were having some nosh on the Great Wall of China - how cool
Both built to repel barbarians!!
was that. Not only that but for a moment, only a moment mind you, there was no-one else around and we had the rugged beauty all to ourselves.
Our bodyguard (man of few words - well English ones anyway) was stalwart in his duty and followed the last walker (sometimes me) and as the calf muscles started to ache we asked him how many towers we had been through (because we are obviously incapable of counting to 22), as he informed us we were at no. 8, bugger we thought not even half way and our 2 ½ hour hiking time was almost up. Maybe we should speed it up a bit although that would be quite difficult with so much beautiful scenery to photograph. Well, as a slow smile crossed his lips we realised he was just having a laugh at our expense - crazy joker. The final parts of our hike did include some of the steepest parts, which meant either clambering up un-restored parts of the wall or trying to get up really high steps - no mean feat for a short person. But even though we were quite tired, and probably the legs would ache
Yep he's thinking of doing a Humpty
the following day, we could have gone on and were somewhat disappointed when our experience came to an end. Something we would recommend to anyone who gets a chance. Definitely the highlight of the trip to China so far and makes all the difficulties we have encountered because of language issues seem worthwhile.
A long bus ride back, again mainly due to the traffic in Beijing itself, showed us what could be considered the “real” China and not the sanitised version we have seen in touristy areas. Not everyone seems to be benefitting from the strong Chinese economy. Back in Beijing and we were definitely up for a culinary treat and Peking Duck was our choice of delight. There was a restaurant down the road from our hostel called “Roast Peking Duck” so we felt it was probably a good bet that the served it there. Although the restaurant would not have passed British cleanliness standards and did not enforce the no smoking rule, the duck was absolutely delicious and it came with loads of pancakes (with some to spare actually). A good end to our day and a definite treat.
For our last day in Beijing we
An incredible stadium, London, your turn.
were going to take it a bit easy and just see a few sights. These included the Olympic Village and the Birds Nest, the Yonghe Gong Tibetan Lama Temple and the Confucius Temple. The Birds Nest is an imposing and quite lovely piece of modern architecture, whether or not people think it measures up to that of days gone by is an individual preference but personally we felt it was a brilliant statement. We hope 2012 leaves as lasting an impression.
After the new some more of the old and Yonghe Gong, built towards the end of the 17th century. It housed monks from Tibet and inner Mongolia from 1744; again a very pretty tranquil religious sight with incense hanging heavily in the air. Its claim to fame is that it has been mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records as it houses a statue of Maitreya which is 26 metres high and is carved out of a single piece of sandalwood. Although it was absolutely magnificent it was also sad that a tree that old and magnificent had to be cut down for the purpose of building a statue. Rumour has it that the monks may not be
genuine but state employees, and they certainly seem to be better dressed than most we have seen with nice shiny shoes; some of them are positively portly!
Our last stop would be the Confucius Temple where emperors used to offer sacrifices to Confucius. It was a lovely courtyard with twisted, gnarled old trees framing the lovely buildings. What could be a peaceful place of relaxation and meditation was somewhat spoilt by us tourists, but it was nevertheless a very pretty place to worship a great thinker (no not Chris). To be quite honest we didn’t feel any more intellectual when we left but it was worth a visit anyway.
All in all we have enjoyed our time in Beijing. It certainly offers a contrast to the modern, and much more Western, Shanghai and Hong Kong. There are so many great sights to see that we have not done it justice, but having seen some of its grandeur we would like to come back and see more and definitely walk some more of the Great Wall.
There are more photos below