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|
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.