Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Beijing April 2013 continued

We had an absolutely beautiful day the weather was perfect and the sky was surprisingly blue so we went to Beihai Park. It was first built in the 10th century as an Imperial garden and is one of the largest gardens in China.
We walked to the park from our hotel and were further away than I thought. We even stopped at a little hole in the wall café for coffee and steamed buns both of which turned out to be quite good. We eventually arrived and started to meander along the main path. 

The White Pagoda

The park covers 69 hectares of which the lake covers half that area. The park was very busy as it was a holiday but as it was so large it didn’t seem over crowded. The White Pagoda dominates the park as it is on the highest point on Qionghua Island. It was first constructed with white stone in Kublai Khan’s reign in 1271 and has been restored twice over the years due to earthquake damage. The climb up to the pagoda offers a spectacular view of the surrounds.
There are several Buddhist temples and small traditional gardens throughout the park which are worth a look. Another interesting construction is the Nine Dragon Wall which was built in 1402. It shows nine complete dragons playing in the clouds and is quite exquisite. This wall is situated north of the Five Dragon Pavilion.

Part of the Nine dragon Wall

It felt as though we walked around the whole park as we spent most of the day there, but I’m sure we only saw a small section.  We exited at a different spot than we entered but managed to find our way back to the main road which passes behind the Forbidden City.
We had booked a tour to the Great Wall for the next day. When I booked I grilled the travel agent about the tour. I had read about scams that supposedly take you to the wall and other places but all you end up seeing  jade and silk factories. After a long discussion I was told ALL tours take you to those places but it is important to book through a reputable agent rather than a tout on the street or small hole in the wall place to get what you pay for.
We decided on the tour to Mutianyu it is further away than Badaling but has fewer tourists, though it was still very busy when we were there. The tour also took in the Sacred Way which is part of the 7 km approach to the Ming tombs. It is very impressive as giant statues line the way; there are 18 pairs which included imperial court officials, warriors, and animals (e.g. horses, camels etc.) also mythical Chinese beasts. We passed under a carved portal with flanked by carved columns. The walk along the Sacred Way was fascinating.

The Sacred Way

Of course we stopped at the obligatory jade factory which is all very interesting and expensive. Not being a jade aficionado I am reluctant to pay hundreds let alone thousands of dollars for the gem. Actually the buying of any gem stone being it diamonds or emeralds etc. is all based on trust if we aren’t experts in the field. So let me say I’m not an expert on jade and I don’t have a lot of trust relating to this field in China.
After the group did the rounds of the shop (none of us bought anything) we had lunch, which was included in the tour price at the restaurant at the back of the shop. There was plenty to eat and a good variety of dishes.
After lunch we made our way to the wall. The weather had turned decidedly bad and by the time we arrived it was cold and wet. We made our way over muddy paths and slippery stones through the entrance passed souvenir shops to the wall itself. This section of the wall provides a dramatic hilly setting with the series of watchtowers along its length, most of which have been restored. The wall here dates from 1368. The picturesque village buildings close to the wall has been converted into restaurants and holiday homes.

The Great Wall

We trudged along a reasonable section of the wall, I think the most impressive part is the view of the wall snaking its way over the mountains and disappearing into the distance. By the time we decided we had had enough of the wall, we were chilled to the bone. As we returning to the pick- up point we discovered a café that sold coffee. A hot drink, would just the thing to warm us up.
We were all rather weary on the return journey but we still had the silk factory to contend with. It was late afternoon when we arrived to a classic Chinese building. It certainly was better than the one we experienced in Hangzhou. It was quiet and it had a superior quality of merchandise at the fraction of the cost. My friend bought a queen sized silk doona for approximately $A150. I would’ve done so too if I hadn’t recently bought a new doona a home.
On the way back to the drop off point near our hotel the traffic was absolutely terrible, which really isn’t that surprising in Beijing.
After such a wet day and with prospects of another similar day to follow, we decided not to go to the Summer Palace. Also being a holiday it would be extremely crowded.
We went to the Lama and Confucius Temples instead. The weather turned out to be more pleasant than we thought it would be. Getting to the Lama Temple was easy on the Metro, the stop Xidan is very close by and it was easy to see which direction one needed to go. It was once one of the most notable centres of Buddhism outside of Tibet. It was shut down during the Cultural Revolution and Zhou Enlai was reputedly responsible for saving it from destruction. Buddhism has had resurgence in China but there are only 70 monks here now when once there were 1500. It is the same sect as the Dalai Lama but the monks here have to reject the notion of Tibetan independence. The Lama Temple (Yonghegong) is a magnificent complex which consists of five main halls and stunning statuary.
Lama Temple
Over the road not far from the Lama Temple is the Confucius Temple. During the Cultural Revolution Confucianism was a dirty word and many of the temples were closed or used for other purposes. At least they weren’t destroyed. This temple was originally built in 1302 and then expanded in 1906. Around 200 ancient steles stand in the courtyard inscribed with the names of those who had successfully passed the imperial civil service exams. It was wonderfully peaceful walking around the gardens as there were only a few people here. We enjoyed looking in the various pavilions and marveling at the ancient trees some over 700 years old. Trees that have a numbered plaque on them are registered world heritage trees, and there were definitely a few here.
Confucius Temple
 After the temples we walked down some narrow streets close by, one in particular had small little modern craft shops and cafes all very quiet, quite unusual for Beijing. We found a place to refresh ourselves with a coffee and sandwich.

We went back to Tiananmen Square to look around but it was closed, blocked off by barriers. There were soldiers everywhere, and a lot of marching across the square, flag raising etc. I don’t know what the occasion was but it was still in progress when we decided to leave to have a bite to eat.
The next day we were off to Xian. 

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