Fragrant Hills

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October 31st 2019
Published: August 21st 2020
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Fragrant Hills (香山公园/Xiangshangongyuan) had been on my list of places to visit in Beijing, but after seeing pictures of it in the autumn I knew I had to visit then as the trees all looked really pretty. Getting there was pretty simple and only involved a couple of buses for me. Fragrant Hills also has its own subway station, so it's really accessible from the city centre. As I made my way from the bus stop to the entrance, I was surprised that there were so many people about on a weekday. By this point, I really shouldn't be as there are crowds in most places in China. I enjoyed my walk along the streets leading to the park's entrance and it reminded me of the streets leading the trailheads in Korea and those leading to the temples in Japan, as the streets were filled with restaurants and shops. When I made it to the entrance, it looked like bedlam, there were so many people there. The nice, quiet hike in nature I had envisioned was not to be. I headed to the ticket office, bought my ticket and headed to the queue to enter.

It didn't take long to get inside and immediately through the gates, I came to Qinzheng Hall (the Hall of Diligence). The hall was built in 1745 and is a main part of the Jingyi Gardens (the Garden of Tranquility and Appropriateness). It was where the emperor met his officials and dealt with state affairs when visiting the gardens. The other halls around it were used by ministers and other high ranking officials as resting places. You couldn't venture inside the hall, but the outside more than made up for this. It was a beautiful, bold looking building and the large orange leaved tree in front of it was stunning. It definitely felt like autumn. The only annoying thing was the hordes of people. I consulted the map and most people seemed to be taking one route or the cable car, so I opted for the other route to make my way up to the top if the mountain, which I could see high above me.

Fragrant Hills is an offshoot of the Yan mountains and the park was built during the Liao and Jin Dynasties, and has been added to over the years. I made my way along a path that would eventually lead to the peak. There were a few people about, but it wasn't as busy as it had been at the base. The path also wasn't too steep, which was a blessing considering how unfit I am. I didn't need to head too far uphill as I soon came to Zhi Yuan Zhai. The garden was built during the Qing Dynasty and was an important place where Emperor Qianlong handled official business. There was a pool of water in front of the hall, which reflected the hall and the plants all around it. It was a beautiful and tranquil scene. Continuing on, I made my way higher. The trees above me looked beautiful in the sunlight. I had definitely lucked out with the not only the weather, but also the lack of pollution as the sky was a beautiful shade of blue.

The path lead me further uphill and I came to the Yuhuaxiu Scenic Area. Yuhua Temple was the first building to have been built in 1444 and was followed by Yuhuaxiu Hall and the surrounding buildings in 1745. The buildings were destroyed by the Anglo-French forces in 1860, during the Second Opium War. The area became a private villa in the early 1930s and in the mid 1950s was opened to the public. Restoration work was completed in the late 1990s. I was quite surprised to see that the area had been turned into a picnic spot as there were lots of tables filled with people eating their lunches, but it is a great spot to stop and take a rest in. I liked looking up and seeing the stone walls above. There were also great views of the temple's roofs and the city far, far in the distance. Also the eaves of the roofs looked great in between the autumn foliage.

Walking up and away from Yuhua Temple, I could see all the green trees on the mountain and the cable car carrying those to the peak that didn't want to make the trek up. I got some more glimpses of the city below. Also there were lots of different coloured trees to look at. The views were pretty nice and I was pleased that I had decided to come in autumn. it reminded me of the city hikes I had done in Seoul and other cities in Korea. The views were a little similar, but whereas I was used to seeing the urban sprawl of Seoul being surrounded by mountains, here the city was surrounded by flat land as far as I could see. There was also a bit of haze over the city, which was thankfully missing from Fragrant Hills. The hike had also started to get hard as it was all steps and quite steep. I'm glad the views were good as I needed to stop to catch my breath quite a bit. Also, I was surprised at the amount of people that were walking up the hill, it was more popular than I thought it would have been.

I made the final push to the peak and was not too surprised to find what felt like a million other people up there. One reason I'm glad that this place attracts a lot of visitors means that there was a shop at the top and I was able to buy a drink. I would have liked an icy cold one, but China's aversion to cold drinks meant I had to make do with a lukewarm one. I took a walk around Xianglu Peak. The peak is said to look like an incense burner and is 575 metres above sea level. The peak also has the nickname of 'Worried Ghost' due to the mist that shrouds it and the precipitous slopes. It was pretty much impossible to get any photos of the peak marker as there lots of people wanting their photos taken with it. I wandered around the buildings at the top. I really liked the red good luck charms that were hanging from one of the trees. The views from the peak were great. In one direction, I could see the city, and in the other directions I could see other mountains and some kind of radio.telecommunications station. After having a walk around the top, I started my descent. I took a slightly different route down. I walked past a large wall topped with barb wire. I presume that there was some kind of military installation behind it. This route intersected with the route I had taken up. I was glad to get to the bottom as I was rather sick of stairs.

The hike to the top of the mountain is not the only thing to do in the Fragrant Hills Park. I made my way across to the other side of the park to see the sights that were there. I passed through a gorgeous ornate gate and made my way to Heart Mirror Johkang Temple. The temple is built in the Sino-Tibetan style and I would have loved to have taken a look around it, but it wasn't open for visitors. I liked the look of the temple as it looked Chinese in some aspects but also had what I presume to be Tibetan characteristics. I continued on and came to the Tranquil Heart Studio. This was first built in 1522 and was renovated in 1796. It is said to be the place where the emperors admonished their ministers. I would happily be admonished there as it was a beautiful place. There was a pond in the centre surrounded by rocky outcrops on one side and then small buildings and a corridor on the others. The next place I visited was Biyuan Temple (the Temple of the Azure Clouds). This temple dates back to the 14th century. It was a pretty temple and I enjoyed my walk around it, it was pretty tranquil. The temple is important because Dr. Sun Yat-sen (the father of Modern China and the first president of the Republic of China) was first taken here after he died, before the mausoleum was built in Nanjing and his body was transferred there. The Memorial Hall that housed his body now displays a glass lidded coffin that was sent by the Soviet Union but arrived to late for him to be placed in, and some of his books and writings. At the back of the temple complex stands Vajrasana Pagoda. The pagoda is off limits to visitors, but I enjoyed seeing it from the outside. It houses some of Dr. Sun Yat-sen's belongings. From here, I took a different exit to the subway. I enjoyed visiting Fragrant Hills, I had gone there expecting to only do the hike but was surprised to see the other things that were there and that Dr. Sun Yat-sen's body had been placed there.

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22nd August 2020

Fragrant Hills
This was also on my list of places to visit in Beijing but unlike your colours of autumn visit ours was in heavy snow somewhat limiting walking or trekking. Yet it is one of our special memories that I have included in my CHINA...Travels with a Rickshaw Driver blog. We planned to visit many of the temples as you seemed to have but we ended up spending the whole day at Biyun Si (Biyuan Temple) and a peasant restaurant nearby. I love the way we may visit the same places as others but have different experiences. It seems from your description that you shared the Fragrant Hills with hordes while we with just a handful. Loved your pics. Autumn looks like a beautiful time to visit there. Maybe that's why the Emperors liked it so.
23rd August 2020

Fragrant Hills
Winter sounds like a very peaceful time to visit. I will check out your blog. It will be interesting to read about your impressions and experiences. I agree, I love reading about the differences each individual has.

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