Beijing. A modern marvel. An ancient wonderland. And so many sights to see you need weeks in the city to really get to grips with what ‘Beijing’ really means.
Weeks we didn’t have, so we succumbed to running from sight-to-sight. Whilst this isn’t recommended, we are leaving Beijing still loving every minute of it… And hoping to be back soon.
We focused on only one dimension of this sprawling city – its staggering history; the Beijing of Emperors long since past, the Beijing that now lies behind the revered shadows of the benevolent and beloved father of China.
So, through the smog haze that smothers Beijing every day. Ignoring the ever-worsening grating feeling in our lungs and throat as pollution poured into our bodies day and night. And through sleep-deprived – bleary eyes – we weaved our way through Imperial masterpiece after Imperial masterpiece.
First, the forbidden city. The foreboding walls that stand erect in the centre of Beijing.
It is, for me, a Palace juxtaposed. The wonders of Emperors in one hall, fades into ruins as you pass through another archway.
Ostentatiousness staggers into simplicity as another courtyard gives way to a tranquil garden.
It is a maze. And yet its design is rigid and straightforward.
It is a glimpse into the past of how rulers once lived, and it is a peep at the people of China today: the rising middle class; their attitudes, their needs, their wants.
Yet, it remains the icon of the city. Lit by light from front to back. The city inside sleeps peacefully every night. Holding back secrets? Perhaps.
From one palace to another palace. The Summer Palace. It lies to the north west of Beijing and acted as a respite from the city for weary emperors… Must have been a tough job I guess, as this palace is vast.
When only the emperor and his entourage wandered gracefully through this garden, its tranquility can only have led to clear thinking when returning to the city.
Now, tranquility is hard to find, but the garden’s beauty still sparkles at every turn.
And the coy carp still swim, ever offering a quiet, calming influence to those that stand and stare as they glide in their mesmerising patterns.
Governance settled. Relaxation settled.
But the gods still need a place to be appeased in old world China, strict with rules and traditions. Our final trip-through-time took us to the Temple of Heaven.
A marvel of ancient craftsmanship – due to its circular construction. – the Temple, to the Southeast of Beijing, sits unassumingly amidst cedar and juniper trees.
The cost – monetary, materials, human-life – of making these marvels boggles the mind.
This, no doubt, will be a recurring theme of all things ancient in China. From Terracotta warriors to the Imperial Palace. To the Great Wall…
… But that is for another day, another post.