4th May 2006: Our first ever trip to the capital city of Beijing. After almost 20 years in Hong Kong this was a trip that was long overdue. We booked a Dragon Air package and I can recommend them to anyone who is visiting Beijing for the first time.
Our first stop was at Wangfujing. There is not much difference between this area and Hong Kong - malls everywhere and brand name shops elbowing each other for window space. From Luis Vuitton to Armani - they are all here.
Our first excursion was to the Ming Tombs. There are 13 tombs of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty. We visited Chang Ling, the biggest and most recently restored tomb of the Emperor Yongle. The third Ming Emperor, it was Yongle who actually moved the capital to Beijing and built the Forbidden City.
The main hall of Chang Ling, where we are standing, has been turned into a museum for treasures found at the excavation at another tomb called Ding Ling - the tomb of the emperor Wanli.
Just outside Chang Ling is the Spirit Way. This is a 7 kilometer long approach to the Ming Tombs. It is set in a beautiful garden with the central path lined with 36 stone statues of various animals and officials. It is a beautiful walk but we took the easy way and rode a buggy.
Tian Tan, or the Temple of Heaven, is a Ming Dynasty creation. This temple complex is one of the largest in China. It is here that the Emperors made sacrifices and offered prayers during the winter solstice. Since the Emperor was the son of Heaven, he would ask the Gods, on behalf of his people, for a good harvest.
The round building that we are standing in front of is Qinian Dian - the main temple. The paintwork on the outside, and especially on the inside, is stunning. The hall is entirely made out of wood. There is not a single nail in the building. Unfortunately this building, because it is the highest in the area, gets hit very often by lightening.
The Lama temple is Beijing's most spectacular temple complex. Even though it was not on our itinerary we managed to visit it when we had a few hours free. The complex was built as a palace in the 17th century. It was converted to a Lamasery in 1744. There are five halls with different manifestations of the Buddha. The last hall has a Buddha so huge you have to tilt your head back to an impossible angle to see it all! It is 17 meters high and carved entirely from a single block of sandalwood.
Visiting the Great wall of China - a dream come true for me. One of the Seven wonders of the world, this was the highlight of our trip. I was filled with wonderment at just how much man can achieve when he sets his mind to it. It was quite a sensation - standing on the wall and seeing it stretch into the horizon on either side. I imagined what it must have been like for the soldiers guarding this wall. And when I looked over the edge I wondered how the Mongols had been able to scale it. There must be some parts of the wall that are not so steep.
I felt a little jealous of the Nat Geo writer who traveled the full length of the wall a few years ago. What an experience that must have been. I had to satisfy myself with a trek from one guard post to the other. The steps were pretty steep and slightly scary to navigate. And getting Ricky to even step onto the wall was a challenge. After much coaxing Joe did manage to get him to climb onto the wall and walk a few meters along its length.