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Published: August 6th 2007
After Macau we were on the second speed leg of our trip in order to get to Beijing, met up with another enviro geek and get our onward train to Mongolia which meant more consecutive nights on the elaborate Chinese rail network in our luxury hard sleeper cabins ...
Here we were spoilt with a room with a balcony that overlooked the Bell Tower and plaza in the heart of the town. An early evening stroll through the square revealed a thriving nightlife: teenagers navigated ramps on rollerskates; children flew long lines of kites; couples canoodled; and astronomers with giant telescopes offered a glimpse of Saturn in the night sky. Walking through the Muslim Quarter we were overwhelmed by the rich aroma of meat juice mingled with exotic spices, and marvelled at the 101 varieties of meat on a stick.
The main "not-to-be-missed" tourist attraction here is the Army of the Terracotta Warriors, which the locals claim as the "eighth wonder of the world', and they may be right! The construction of the Terracotta army began in 246BC under the direction of the Emperor Qin, and took hundreds of thousands of men nearly four decades to complete. The
Emperor was the first to succeed in unfiying China, and in doing so he obviously had made some powerful enemies. The army was there to guard his Masoleum and help him rule in the afterlife. The army is an imposing sight - over 8,000 lifesize warriors and horses stand aligned in battle formation. All are beautifully constructed with varying body forms, sizes and heights, differing hairstyles, even their dress is different according to their rank and title. The most striking touch is that the facial features are all unique - no two warriors have the same facial characteristics. Very, very cool.
We literally just stopped in here for the day, arrived on the morning train, and left on the evening overnighter. In hindsight we're glad we didn't have longer to spend there - the city was grim. We were proudly told that one third of China's coal comes from the Datong area, which explained the bleak skies and poor air quality. We took a long drive out to the Hanging Monastery which is a series of buildings cut into the side of a mountain, linked by a some rickety bridges and wooden stairwells. It was OK, but it
was no Tibet! Closer to Datong we checked out the Yunang Grottoes comprising of about 45 caves of varying size and quality each containing a plethora of buddha images carved into the rocky walls and massive freestanding buddha statues that left us awestruck. That alone was worth the trip to Datong.
Long ago we'd organsied to meet up and stay with an Amercian guy who is working in renewable energy research in Beijing. The plan was to spend a couple nights lamenting the current situation and to propose some achievable solutions, or at least share some info ... We started with a few beers and swapped stories before John was whisked off to a global warming summit and we were left to fend for ourselves. Ah, all the answers will unveil themselves next time perhaps ...
So with our plans to save the world put on hold, we busied ourselvess with the ample tourist attractions that Beijing has to offer. We checked out where the royals recluded, hiding away from the masses in their haven at the Forbidden City. This fortresslike walled city is comprised of palaces, abodes, gardens, temples and lots of paved courtyards.
met up with Kat and Mike (from our Tibetan overland advetures) in Tiananmen square, before heading off to spend the day together at the Sumer Palace. Standing in Tiananmen Square it was hard to imagine what the scene would've been like there in '89 when thousands of pro-democracy supporters were ruthlessly gunned down by the military. Now the square (although devoid of shade) is a popular place for families to recreate, laughing children run amuck, tourists clamour to take photos, and souvenir sellers pimp their wares. The green gardens and cool waterways of the Summer Palace proved to be a nice escape from the hot and dry city, so we spent the day wandering alongside the lake, nosing through buildings, and taking a boatride across the lake.
Another mandatory excursion is of course a walk along the Great Wall of China. We'd been warned off the touristy parts of the wall and were in search of a hidden and remote section of the wall to clambour along all to ourselves, and were richly rewarded with exactly that. We set off with a few others and drove for a couple of hours before being met with a local guy who
guided us up through the bush to a long and sweeping unrestored section of the wall. So we did it - we walked about 7kms along the Great Wall, and apart from our group there was noone else there!! It was steep in parts, overgrown and crumbling in others, and remarkably well kempt around the ramparts.
So that marked the end of China ... off we went on another overnighter this time to a whole new country. Bring on Mongolia ...
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