Bell and Drum Towers

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September 3rd 2019
Published: September 8th 2019
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I took the subway to Gulou Dajie and came out of exit G as that was the closest to my destination. It felt like ages since I'd walked around these smaller, older streets. I headed down the main road and the took the second left into a hutong. The main street had several signs on it, describing the history of the area. I hadn't wandered around a hutong for ages, so it was nice to reacquaint myself with these traditional Beijing neigbourhoods. I came out onto a small square. Since the midday heat was still out in force, it was quite quiet. I went to check my phone to see how far away I was from the Bell and Drum Towers and as I did so, had a proper look around. The tower I had seen from the subway station exit was right in front of me, idiot! I had a walk around the square, I loved the dilapidated entrance ways and all the share bikes lined up.

I made my way to the tower, but there was no entrance on this side, so I followed the road around. Now I could see both towers and another pretty little square that separated them. The first tower I had seen was the Bell Tower, I wanted to take a look around, but a ticket was needed and there didn't seem to be a ticket office attached to it. I made my way across the square to the Drum Tower, which is where the ticket office is located. A joint ticket allowing entrance to both the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower cost 30 RMB, and they accepted Alipay and WeChat. I had just missed the performance at the Drum Tower, by about ten minutes, so decided to head back over to the Bell Tower. When I first visited Beijing many, many years ago, I came to the Bell and Drum Towers, but recall very little of my visit, only the steep steps and one woman's magnificent camel toe that my travel companion had pointed out to me.

Before entering the Bell Tower, I read a little about its history on the board outside. It was first built in 1272 during the Yuan Dynasty and was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty atthe northhern end of the central south-north axis of the ancient capital during the Ming Dynasty in 1420, but was once again destroyed by fire. The current structure was built during the Qing Dynasty. The Tower is 47.9 meters high and is made of brick and stone masonry. It's covered with black glazed tiles and has a green glazed trim on the top. I entered the tower's grounds and made my way through the sevurity check. The tower is pretty impressive especially when you think about when it was built. I made my way to the back, where the entrance is and saw the steep flight of steps in front of me. Those I remembered, but I must be fitter these days as the climb wasn't too bad. Also, there weren't too many people which meant no rushing. At the top of the stairs, I was rewarded with a view of the bell that sits in the centre of the tower. I had a quick look at the bell and read some of the information about it. There were lots of information boards related to the bell, the tower, and ancient beliefs. I enjoyed reading some of them especially the one about how time was divided during the night in ancient China. One problem that prevent me from reading all the boards was that they were placed behind benches, which usually had people sitting on them, obscuring the text. Not the best layout design in the world. I walked around the Bell Tower, looking at the bell from different angles, not that interesting and I also took in the view of the surrounding area, much more interesting. I first saw across to the Drum Tower and then as I made my way around the roofs of the hutongs. That's one thing I rather like about Beijing is the lack of skyscrapers in the city centre. It allows the city to retain some of its traditional charm and stops it looking like another anonymous mega city.

I made my way across to the Drum Tower and went through the security check there. A tour group was going through at the same time, so I decided to take a walk around the grounds before tackling the tower. There wasn't too much to see, but there was a nice shaded table and chairs to sit at. I didn't see an information board like I had at the Bell Tower, so I was a lot more uninformed about the Drum Tower. The stairs seemed steeper and longer in length tham those at the Bell Tower. I was very sweaty by the time I reached the top. I had a look around the different drums and statues on display, and waited for the performance to start. The drummers appeared at 3:30 on the dot and started drumming. There were four of them and they didn't use thebig drum in the centre, but the four of the smaller ones next to it. The performance lasted about 5-10 minutes, which was long enough. It was good, but quit samey. Once it ended, I took a walk out on to the balcony at the front of the tower. I should have come here sooner as there was a beautiful breeze, which helped to cool me down and dry my sweat. The view was quite different to theone at the Bell Tower as the area in front of the Drum Tower was a lot more built up and tbere was a busy road filled with cars and buses. You could only walk around the front section of the balcony, which was a bit gutting as I would have liked to have taken in the whole view.

When I came out of the Drum Tower, I started to male my way back towards the station. Then I realised that I hadn't seen the other side of the Drum Tower, so I took a walk around. I shouldn't have bothered though as there was nothing to see. I made my way back through the plaza I'd been in earlier. Since it was now late afternoon and starting to cool down (not really in my opinion as it was still too hot for me), more and more old people had ventured out to the square. The tables were set up with Mahjong boards and many games were going on. It was fun to watch the people, mainly old men, play. Quite a few people were in their wheelchairs, having been wheeled out to the square. Living in a big city means it can be quite an international place, but scenes like this firmly remind me I'm in China.

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