During a 2 week business trip to Shanghai, I took a short detour and spent the weekend in Beijing.
My initial reaction to Beijing was no surprise: polluted, filled with culture and very different to Shanghai (one of the few cities that I’ve seen in China). I got lucky with one day of clear blue skies, but it is very typical not to see that in Beijing – where the city is just covered in a thick layer of smog. Given the weather, I decided I’d use that day for a trip to the Great Wall.
The Great Wall was built and maintained from the 5th to the 16th Century BC, and was designed to protect the northern borders from Xiongnu attacks. The Jinshanling Great Wall is located about 2.5 hours outside of Beijing, on the blade of the mountains. The walk from Jinshanling to Simatai is one of the few sections that are in a more natural state, retaining some of the original parts of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall. It’s well worth the drive, especially since it has far fewer tourists compared to the sections closer to Beijing.
I spent my second day exploring Beijing. I started the day early and walked over to Tiananmen Square to take in the imposing Stalin era-style buildings that surround the massive square. You don’t need much time there, but given it is the largest square in the world, it is a sight to see.
I then wandered through some gardens, down side streets, past Mao’s famous portrait, and to the entrance of The Forbidden City. This former Imperial Palace was built in 1406 and served as home to the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Today, it serves as the Palace Museum, filled with imperial collections of Chinese art and treasures. I had been forewarned that this would be underwhelming, but you have to do it!
I then spent the afternoon getting lost in Beijing’s hutongs, traditional narrow streets and alleys that are scattered through the city. They are filled with typical Chinese courtyard houses (Siheyuan), and on some of them, restaurants and shops. I absolutely love the hutongs – they are charming!
I eventually made my way to Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple), a temple and monastery of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism. Upon exit of the metro, you’ll know you are in the right place as the street is lined with shops selling incense. Upon entering the temple, you’ll be overwhelmed by the smell of incense but at the same time, at peace as it is an active place of worship. It is truly magnificent – made up of a number of buildings, each adorned with breathtaking frescos and tapestries, prayer wheels, and tantric statues.
Finally, I ended the day with a great massage. And then it was time to go back to reality, and make my way to Shanghai.