CHINA - Beijing’s Palaces, Parks and Temples - September/October 2019


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September 27th 2019
Published: September 27th 2019
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DOWNTOWN BEIJING



Since our last blog from Beijing, formerly Peking we have enjoyed getting acclimatised to the area whilst resting after our flight and a great days hike on the Great Wall.



We enjoyed several shorter walks around our hotel watching locals go about their everyday lives, little market stalls being set up on the side of the road and we noticed that the fresh produce disappeared as quickly as the farmers were putting it out. A good sign of fresh produce and looking at the stalls excellent quality. We were going to use the subway and head a little further into the city but Marco our guide for our wall hike informed us that some of the stations were closed because of the security, rehearsals for the pending celebrations - the previous evening he had to walk a long way, just get home … … …



Traffic was not too busy, nothing like the streets of Delhi, Marco said that the government was now restricting the number of cars in the city to help with pollution concerns, particularly as 25 million people live in the city. To get a car and
Zhengyangmen Zhengyangmen Zhengyangmen

Gate of the Zenith - Beijing
drive in Beijing you had to first obtain a licence and these were only acquired on a ‘lottery’ basis - his friend had to wait 4 years to get one. Many vehicles were powered by battery; cars, motorcycles, mopeds and many motorised bicycles as well. I must say that we never noticed any smog and the air appeared quite clear with bright sunshine and blue skies.



You had to be careful when walking the sidewalks as the pavements were uneven and studded with potholes. You often did not hear any vehicle approaching you as well because of course electric cars do not make any noise.… … Compared to Delhi the streets were ‘heaven’ - no constant beeping of horns and we did not miss the utter chaos on the streets in northern India. We also noticed the lack of animals roaming the streets, only a few dogs which all seemed well fed and definitely no cows wandering the highways!



We met up with our fellow travellers in a meeting room in the hotel and as mentioned in a previous blog we would be a group of nine travelling with Helen our local National Guide and meeting local guides along the way.



Our group consisted of a British couple, a New Zealand couple, two single British ladies and one single Australian gent plus us. A good mix of people and we had a pleasant introduction to our tour by Helen who even sang us a local song from her home town of Guilin to welcome us - she had a really amazing voice.



BEIJING - A CHANGED ITINERARY



A melting pot of past and present we were looking forward to seeing what more the Capital city had to offer although disappointedly on a somewhat changed itinerary.



A couple of days before we left we were informed by our tour operator, Wendy Wu (WW) that two of the main highlights would be off our schedule. They were advised that due to the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China; Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City would be closed to visitors from 21 September to 1 October when the main parade would take place and of course during our time in the city.



Obviously we were extremely disappointed, however when we met our local guide Jade she informed us that the square would be open and that we would also be able to go to Jingshan Park to view the Forbidden City from above although the city itself was closed to visitors.





TIANANMEN SQUARE



Tiananmen Square, one of the largest public squares in the world, one hundred acres - said to hold a crowd of one million people and probably a lot more. The square was the centre of world attention during student demonstrations in 1989 and their tragic aftermath which everyone around the world remembers with horror. This massive square houses not only the Monument to the People’s Heroes but is also the final resting place of Chairman Mao in the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Locals were queuing up to see him laying in state. Our guide, Jade said they would queue for a long time and only then had seconds inside the building but people were prepared to wait as the queue was long snaking around the side of the building.



We walked right across the square which was covered in red flags flying everywhere and hundreds of cameras too. The flags were all plain red apart from the tallest one in the centre which was the Chinese national flag complete with five yellow stars, four small and one big. Even walking amongst thousands of other tourists there was always space to move around. Jade said that the square would be closed again for rehearsals before the ‘big day’. She said that there would be a huge parade with aircraft flying over but no-one, not tourists or Chinese people would be allowed to enter a 4 km radius of the square due to security concerns.



JINGSHAN PARK



Located just north of the Forbidden city complex the park is the highest point in Beijing, the hill was created from the rubble and earth that was removed to make a moat system around the Forbidden City. Each of the five artificial peaks was provide with a romantically designed pavilion. The three-tiered Pavilion of Ten Thousand Springs on the middle peak afforded marvellous views over the roof tops of the Imperial City with the modern capital beyond. We climbed to the top pavilion and looked out to the South over the Forbidden City with its tiled roofs shining in the bright sunshine and to the North which housed old Beijing’s Hutongs where we would be having lunch.



On the eastern side of the park a Lotus tree stands in the place where the last of the Ming Emperors, Chongzhen hung himself as rebels swarmed at the city walls. Many locals were dancing and playing music, children were playing and having fun and the place was very serene and peaceful.





GU GONG - FORBIDDEN CITY



It was a shame that we would not be able to enter the Forbidden City but we were pleased we could at least view this iconic place, the sacred centre of the Chinese empire for 500 years and home to the Ming and Qing dynasties. After its completion in 1420 it became home to 24 emperors, their families and servants - fourteen of the Ming Dynasty and ten of the Qing Dynasty.



The last occupant who was also the last Emperor of imperial China, Puyi (1906-1967), was expelled in 1925 when the precinct was transformed into the Palace Museum. A vast complex of over 900 buildings and covering 180 acres it was forbidden to the masses for 500 years, hence its name - funnily enough it was forbidden to us today too … … …



Local information states that an average of 80,000 people visit it every day so perhaps it is just as well we will not be one of them … … …



HUTONGS - (from Mongolian hut or horse trough)



Many neighbourhoods of the old city are lined with old hutongs (alleyways) alongside traditional one and two storey courtyard houses where people have been highly resilient to change and do not want to move into more modern accommodation and areas.



The Mongol rulers of Beijing established this style of housing in the 13th century as tenancy for the growing population of the city. Hutong's were designed to reflect the Chinese system of Feng Shui with 4 hutongs joining together to make a courtyard in the middle, known as Siheyuan. The houses were built so close together that the alleyways were just wide enough for a rider on horseback.



These hutongs have been disappearing fast with the rise in the population of the city needing more space but the government is now trying to preserve the few areas that remaining.



We wandered around the narrow alleyways and stopped to have lunch with one local family inside their small home. The entrance belied what you saw as you walked through a narrow and low doorway strewn with electric cables. Inside the tiny courtyard it was decorated with many red lanterns hanging from trellises and on a small table were four tiny cages and inside these were various coloured crickets and insects - kept as pets! They bought them on the market and they lived for 100 days in the cages before they died - how sad and strange! Sadly birds were also kept in cages as apparently the locals like to hear them sing! These ‘strange to us’ customs go back generations and will take a long time to change.



Sitting down with our group of nine for lunch we shared some of the most amazing food I have eaten in a long while - lots of different dishes all freshly cooked and everyone was equally as good and thankfully none of them was too hot for my tastes. Jade introduced us to the husband and wife who own the hutong, a picture of them when they got married hung on the wall and what a lovely couple they were.



The husband was the main chef and he said that his grandfather was a cook to the last Emperor and he had taught him his skills. He was extremely proud of this and showed us a certificate of excellence which had enabled him also to have a good standard of living and he now owned the hutong building.



The hutong come restaurant appeared to be thriving and asked whether he would ‘sell’, he said he could make a fortune, but was happy doing what he did and did not relish change. Asked whether it was going to be handed down another generation, he said not to his daughter as she had moved away as the living standards were not to her taste, she liked the modern facilities that new Beijing offered …. … ..



The homes do not have any bathrooms and they all share a nearby public bathroom. One of our group needed the loo and she said that the bathroom was completely open with ten toilet holes in the floor with no separation between any of them … … … although they were very clean. Jade said you had no secrets living here … … … That being said we could understand the owner’s daughters choice to move out. However he did say that his grandson was interested in taking over his role, so it would be passed on to yet another generation. We hope that he is an equally good cook as the food was superb.





YONGHEGONG - THE PALACE OF HARMONY AND PEACE



As we were unable to visit the Forbidden City, our tour operator had included a visit to a nearby temple. Originally the royal residence of a prince who would become the Emperor Yongzheng, it was converted from the princely residence to a lamasery in the 18th century and is known as the Lama Temple - the most important Tibetan temple outside of Tibet itself. The architecture therefore being a delightful blend of Chinese and Tibetan influences reflecting 18th century efforts to unify China, Mongolia and Tibet.



A stately complex of buildings containing hundreds of halls the main wooden structure had been completely restored and the exterior was extremely colourfully painted. Arranged on a north to south axis, the temple divine halls ascend in height and importance as you walk through the complex. Entering more divine halls as you walk through each one. As we entered the last many orange and red robed monks were sitting on the floor and chanting a peaceful and serene prayer with the whirl of strong incense in the air.





Finally we entered the last building and inside was the most amazing sight, a 18m high statue of the Maitreya Buddha in its Tibetan form, clothed in yellow satin and reputedly carved from a single trunk of Tibetan sandalwood. The statue was a gift from the seventh Dalai Lama to the Emperor Qianlong, and took three years to be transported from Lhasa to the capital and a further three years to carve and erect. Apparently a further 8m of the statue is concealed below ground - just astounding. Asked how it was managed, it was thought that it was carved whilst laying on the ground and then raised and the building was then built around it. It really hurt ones neck to look at the top which was very dusty but it would be a long reach to clean it …. … …



Tomorrow we continue our journey around Beijing - see you there.


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27th September 2019

Numerous fascinating sights already!
An awful lot to see there, must be a buzz with the festivities planned and you even seem to be enjoying the food! Can’t ask for more - well maybe a bathroom door? Enjoy & keep photos coming. X S & J
28th September 2019

Fascinating
Hi Sue & Jim - thanks for your comments and yes all super good so far. x S
27th September 2019

Numerous fascinating sights already!
An awful lot to see there, must be a buzz with the festivities planned and you even seem to be enjoying the food! Can’t ask for more - well maybe a bathroom door? Enjoy & keep photos coming. X S & J
28th September 2019
Gu Gong - The Forbidden City

The crowds is not a big problem actually
Too bad you couldn't visit the Forbidden City. It is quite an experience actually. Don't worry about there being many visitors. It actually doesn't get crowded. The place is huge and most visitors come on tours. They walk in groups and don't take up much space as they move along. Hope you have a chance to come back some other time and see it. /Ake
28th September 2019
Gu Gong - The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City
Hi Ake - Yes it was such a shame that we were unable to visit the city this time but we were so grateful that at least we had a 'birds eye' view. Regards Sheila
29th September 2019

Beijing
I enjoyed reading this blog very much, thank you for posting 😊 The Hutong meal must have been a wonderful highlight. I'm sorry you were unable to go inside the Forbidden City, but it seems because of it you were able to visit another nearby less-visited temple. The 18m high statue must have been very impressive indeed. Looking forward to reading more.
29th September 2019

Sad but has some benefits
He Alex - yes it was sad not to be able to go inside the Forbidden City but being in China during this time of celebration is proofing to be quite fortutous as we are having so many other experiences and seeing huge preparation for 1 October festival. Hope you enjoy our next posts. Cheers Sheila
8th October 2019

Travel ups and downs
Being in a city for a festival is an exciting time. Sorry you missed some of the big attractions but it is a trade off. Sounds like you enjoyed yourself anyway. Beautiful architecture. Great blog.
11th October 2019

The excitement of travel
Hello Dave and Merry - Thanks for your comment and yes this journey has been a bit of 'ups and downs' with visiting in the middle of their 70th celebrations and even though we have missed a few highlights and been in long queues would still not have missed it. Regards Sheila

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