A sequel to my blog “When I went to Shanghai…“, this post is an attempt to encompass the explorations of yet another Chinese metropolis – the Chinese capital and the historical city of Beijing, but this time, with a twist. I saw Beijing through the eyes of my husband. Over our daily chats and Skype calls, I felt as if I was as much in China as was my better half. And so here’s an account of the place as seen through my partner’s eyes (and of course his Nikon DSLR).
Three weekends were what my husband had to see the touristy Beijing apart from of course, the daily experience of being plugged into the Chinese capital city. If you are in Beijing and you have to choose to visit just one place, I don’t think its much of an ordeal making the choice. The Great Wall of China is it then where he headed first. Spreading over 13170 miles, the Wall is claimed to be the only man-made structure visible from the Moon!
The time of the year was January while the chilling winters were on in full throttle. An hour’s drive from the main city took him through roads lined with golden coniferous leafless trees, while chocolate brown mountain ranges framed the background.
One of the best preserved and well known sections of the Great Wall is at Mutianyu. With 23 watchtowers, this section of the Wall has a denser distribution of watchtowers compared to other sections. The view from top of the Wall is breathtaking. And for Game of Thrones fans, this is the closest you will come to a real version of The Wall in the North! Picture yourself as Jon Snow and feel the thrills! 🙂
An embodiment of the audacious ambition of Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the third century BC, who envisioned a fortification protecting the northern borders from the barbaric attacks of the Chinese nomads, the Great Wall of China stretches from Dandong in the east to Lop Lake in the west. The Wall as we see now, took more than a millennium to be built and has been constructed by soldiers and convicts of the Chinese army along with commoners. After the fall of the Qin dynasty, the Wall went through the hands of many other dynasties including the Mongols before the mighty Mings took over the construction in 1474 AD.
While at the Great Wall. a visit to the National Stone Place or the Jade Shop will enlighten you about China’s precious stone – Jade. A tour around the place educates you about how the intricate jade balls and figurines are made from the jade rocks. Happiness balls, laughing Buddhas, jewelry, show pieces, dragons, lions – you will definitely pick up a few souvenirs.
Next up were the Ming Tombs, mausoleums built in stone, commemorating thirteen emperors of the Ming Dynasty. Lined by stone figurines of 12 humans and 24 animals, the impressive Sacred Way is an approach road to the necropolis of Emperor Changling. Interestingly, each animal figurine, either standing or squatting, conveys something special. While the Lion represents solemnity and ferocity, the camel and the elephant, as transports in the deserts and the tropics respectively, symbolize the vastness of the empire. Xiezhi (an unicorn) wards off evil spirits and the Horse signifies the emperor’s mount.
The evening culminated in the happening Wangfujing Avenue, an immensely popular shopping center and snack street. Home to upscale brands merged seamlessly with flea market outlets, one drifts past various shops and malls lining the streets, lit up in different colors. The place offers one of the best street food experience too. From deep fried scorpions to dumplings, from meat on sticks (chuanr) to candied fruits (tanghulu), if one is experimental enough, there is ample to satiate your quest for authentic Chinese street food.
Situated in the heart of Beijing is a formidable imperial palace that served as the royal residence of 24 Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties from the 14th to the 20th centuries. The Forbidden City! Back in time, the king was deemed a Son of God. And as a mark of respect, his palace was constructed as a replica of the Purple Palace, the abode of the God up in the heavens. Unapproachable by the commoners, the palace came to be forbidden!
Divided in to the Outer Court, where the Emperors conducted ceremonies and state affairs and the Inner Palace, where the royal family lived, it sprawls over 72 hectares with over 8000 rooms, 90 palaces, close to 1000 buildings and magnificent watchtowers. One enters the complex through Tian’anmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, passes by the palatial entrance – The Meridian Gate and crosses over the Golden Stream Bridge to arrive at the Outer Court. Meandering through various halls and courtyards, one comes across the Inner Court before exiting through the Gate of Divine Might.
The Palace Museum inside the Forbidden City treasures more than 1 million pieces of art.
The Imperial City centered around the Forbidden City opens up to the enormous expanse of the Tienanmen Square. Sprawling across over 100 acres, it is one of the largest city centres in the world. In the center of the Square stands the towering 124 feet Monument to the People’s Heroes, commemorating the martyrs who devoted their lives to the Chinese people. The Square has the colossal Tienanmen Tower in the north and the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall in the south, a tribute to Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China. To the east sits the National Museum of China while the Great Hall of the People adorns the west. The Square is famous for the protests held on various occasions in the recent history of China.
Sunday was dedicated to the picturesque Temple of Heaven Park, home to the alters of worship for good harvest built by the Ming and Qing Emperors. Magnificent rounded structures with square bases, in agreement with the Chinese belief of “A round heaven and a square Earth” can be seen rising above a flight of steps. The most famous of all is the iconic Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, an breathtaking edifice with a triple layered bluish purple umbrella roof mounted on a three-tiered marble terrace. An astonishing feat is that the wooden pillars support the ceiling without cement or nails. When in China, how can you not encounter a dragon? Embedded in the ceiling is a carved dragon, a symbol of the emperor.
The iconic lakeside retreat of the royalty from the heat of the Imperial City – The Summer Palace is the biggest Imperial Garden in Beijing and the largest royal park in China. Dominated with the Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake, it was declared as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Kunming Lake is entirely man-made and the excavated soil has been used to build the Longevity Hill.
An amalgam of Chinese landscape gardens and palaces, temples and bridges, this space serves like an open air museum. The major attractions being the various halls and corridors and towers of the Front Hill and the 17 arches bridge leading to the Nanhu Island.
A former imperial palace converted into a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, the Yonghe Temple or the Yonghe Lamasery, popularly known as the Lama Temple, is a riveting piece of architecture. The carved arches, the frescoes, the carpentry and the tapestries create a masterpiece along with the Tibetan prayer wheels, wall carvings and the guardian Chinese lions. The censers fuming with the dense clouds of incense create a magical ambiance!
The temple dates back to the 17th century AD to the reign of the Qing dynasty. The complex houses The Hall of Harmony and Peace with its bronze Buddha statues of the Three Ages – The Past, The Present and The Future. A 26 metre tall statue of Buddha carved out of a single piece of white sandalwood is placed inside The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness. One can shop for souvenirs outside the temple entrance.
And last by not the least, if you are looking to pick up some cheap fakes of the renowned brands in apparels and accessories, then you must head to the Silk Street Market. Chinese antiques, handicrafts, hats, bags, shoes, jewelry, carpets, paintings and even electronic gadgets – this place is a shopper’s haven. Don’t forget to bargain here!
And thus culminated my husband’s visit to the Chinese capital! Busy, crowded, ancient, modern, palaces, temples, gardens – this place has it all! I can guarantee, one cant leave this magical city without a few Chinese souvenirs and a bagful of memories!