Published: October 28th 2010October 28th 2010
This is not going to be a very long blog because a lot of the trip involves endless waits in airports or train stations and while we can wax lyrical about the beauty of a named 47 that would be admitting to a very geeky youth. So we booked a couple of ‘soft seats’ to Chengde. Obviously when I say soft I mean in the same way as laying on a pile of bricks is ‘soft’ or ‘soft’ as in iron is softer than diamond. The 4 hour journey was in aid of a visit to the Summer Palace; the places that countless Emperors and Empresses went to escape the heat of Beijing. Had we thought about it this meant that it was cooler than Beijing and, as Beijing was hovering just above freezing, urmm, this could have been a mistake. The guidebook warned us that taxi drivers here will not use the meter but at least armed us with the going rate to downtown. The first few drivers took one look and asked for 5-10 times the going rate, yep a Western face here does have mug written on it. Finally a lady driver decided that only ripping us off
cos it's flippin freezing
a little bit was indeed a good way to get a fare, something most of the male taxi drivers don’t seem to understand.
We arrived at the Bifeng Hotel. Because there are no hostels and not many reviews on hotels in Chengde we chanced our arm and booked a 4 star business hotel that had a few decent Chinese reviews. Having safely negotiated reception despite nobody speaking English and us just nodding as if we understood we found our room which we thought wasn’t too bad until we looked closer that is, the carpet and bathroom were filthy. So much for 4 stars, at least it had a thermostat. After 30 minutes fiddling, breaking, mending and generally doing what Chris does we typed “Our heating does not work, can somebody help us” into Google translator, pasted the result into a document and took the netbook to reception. It obviously worked because the receptionist told us “Yes sir I will get someone to help”. Actually she could have said “Your face is like the back end of a bus and I would like to stab you with a rusty spoon” we wouldn’t have known. She left and returned with someone
otherwise known as Temple of Universal Happiness
whose English was understandable who kindly explained that, despite being labelled as a modern luxury 4* business class hotel, the heating is not switched on until 1st November, still 10 days away. Nooooooooo. We are going to die. Soon after returning to our room, while trying to decide if we burnt the furniture could we cope with 2 nights on the floor, the room service supervisor came to check whether everything was OK and we somehow managed to convince her that if she didn’t want her team to have to deal with 2 frozen corpses in the morning could they please supply a few extra blankets. Her ladies returned in a flash armed with extra quilts, blankets and pillows. Result.
Why were we there, oh yes, to visit the Summer Palace and a few temples. We found a taxi and trooped off to the first temple Pule Si, the temple of Universal Happiness. The name becomes obvious as you walk around because all of its statues, pictures and just about everything is dedicated to sexual congress. Nice. Right next door was a cable car up to one of the weirdest geological structures we’d ever seen. We referred to it
Our names more apt
as ‘knob rock’ from then on and you can probably see why. Its official ‘tourist’ name is Sledgehammer Rock and local legend has it that if it ever falls all the local men lose all their virility. So naturally they wouldn’t be too keen if we leaned on it then! The cable car was a freezing 20 minutes journey but it gave a great view of the beautiful surrounding countryside. With pictures duly snapped it was frankly too cold to hang around for long so we headed back down and then back to town.
The next day we rose early to go and partake of the luxury hotel’s luxury buffet breakfast. Wrong again, not only did it look and taste like a pile of slop they were getting the room ready for a wedding and made it very plain, as they continued to set up the room around us, that we were not too welcome. Onwards then to the main reason for our visit, the Summer Palace.
The location of the Summer Palace was discovered by Kangxi, a Qing dynasty emperor, and he built hunting lodges here to indulge in a fantasy Manchu lifestyle. Known as perhaps the
The scene not Chris
ablest and most enlightened of his dynasty he often said “The people are the foundation of the kingdom, if they have enough then the kingdom is rich” so, for pragmatic reasons, he built the palace to overawe the Mongol princes and his northern potential enemies with displays of grandeur and military displays, which he figured was much cheaper and more effective than re-building the great wall. Seeing as no one invaded during his reign he was probably right. It was then used by every leader as the place to escape the summer heat of Beijing (not the winter cold you note!!). Eventually its popularity started to wane as 2 emperors died here (superstitious lot) and, as a few signs remind you, this was also the place that the Emperor was forced to sign the “Treaty of National Shame and Humiliation”, that ceded vast tracts of land to Russia, Britain & France. No messing with the titles then.
It is certainly larger than the palace in Beijing and set at the foot of some lovely hills, with deer roaming free through the large royal park - but that’s about all. The halls and apartments have some interesting displays but, those
Nope, but a great copy
that were open, were fairly simple dark wooden buildings rather than the lavish painted pagodas in the capital. The notorious Cixi, mentioned in an earlier blog, lived here when she was a mere concubine. While the palace is fairly interesting the best bit are the grounds. Bishu Shanzhuang, or mountain resort, is a huge park, half big hills, half rolling grassland & man-made lakes surrounded by a 10Km wall. It proved to be a great opportunity for a hike, which ended up being twice as far as we expected, due to not being able to find our way out of the grounds, but once we got to the north end of the park (where we thought an exit was located) we climbed up on to the wall and then looked down on a few of the huge northern temples that sat just outside the gate. The wall walk turned into a bit of a test as it was quite steep in places but worth it for the views. Especially the view of one of the temples we had decided not to visit because the best thing about it was how it looked. The Putuozongcheng Miao based on the famous Potala
Biggest in the World
and it was magnificent
Palace in Lhasa and was probably as close as we were going to get to a Tibetan temple this trip.
After successfully finding our way out of the grounds we grabbed a taxi and headed off to one last temple which was apparently a must. As we walked round it was all fairly innocuous but finally we came across quite a large building at the rear and inside we were greeted by a monster. Quite simply the hugest Buddha we have ever seen, it’s massive and magnificent. Shame there’s a climate change/save energy drive going on here at the moment because it was quite dark in the temple! We decided to pay the couple of ickys extra and we walked up 4 floors to get a great view at head height. As it turned out, the statue is of Guanyin and it is the largest wooden statue in the world. There you go eh, you find the most amazing things just tucked away.
Just to show how fast things are changing in China we went off to find a restaurant that was recommend in the Rough Guide to find that not only was that establishment closed but the
Buddha's available via SMS these days
whole street housing it had been knocked down and the railway line running next to it had been turned in to a canal. Hope Xian is there when we arrive!
There are more photos below