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Beijing

A two day trip to Beijing earlier known as Peking is the capital of People’s Republic of China.  The name Beijing also means Northern Capital.  We reached Beijing at night and checked in at Ritan International Hotel.  The hotel is in the middle of Russina (Little Russia) area of Beijing City and hence you will notice many Russians staying in the hotel.  The hotel staff also speaks Chinese and Russian. Rooms were pretty decent. I wish if only they could speak English as good as Russian and Chinese 😦

THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
The next morning we drove to the great wall of China.  When I reached the place, I was equally dumbfounded and baffled as I was unable to identify the end and beginning of the endless curvy serpentine segments.  The Great Wall of China can be approached from several places and series of walls were built at different times by different emperors.  My trek or rather an attempt to climb the stone dragon having a length of over 6000 kilometers began. The Great Wall was built as a defense against possible invasions and the construction of the wall went on for over 2000 years.  There were watch towers in the middle of the wall at certain distances. The first few steps were easy but as I progressed ahead I noticed my breathlessness.  The steps were huge, steep and uneven.  As I kept climbing putting my best foot forward on each stone, I feared that I would develop muscle cramps or tear.  The scorching sun began to wear me down and I started feeling dizzy.  Darkness started to cloud my vision further ahead.  I stood for a while looking down at what I achieved and then further looked up with great disappointment.  Still long way to go! I couldn’t stop thinking on how many laborers, soldiers were put to work to construct this magnanimous marvel of the world.  Even though it got its name as one of the largest wonders of the world, it also got its name as the longest cemetery of the earth during its construction.  Few kilometers later exhaustion kicked in where my lungs almost came out of the body unable to breath any further.  I stood at one of the watch towers admiring the beautiful mountain ranges across me before descending.  I also noticed people holding certificates of climbing the great wall or portion of the wall.

Great wall of China 1

THE FORBIDDEN CITY : The Forbidden City was once a palace and a kingdom within a city built for and by Yongle Emperor, the son of the Heaven. Its one of the biggest palace complexes of the world.  Entry to the inner walls of the palace was forbidden for the males except for the Emperor, Empress,his Concubines and Eunuchs.  It was considered to be one of the secret places on the earth and even today only few rooms are unlocked for public.  Yellow is considered to be the Emperor’s color. When you enter the Forbidden city, you notice the construction with red walls and yellow glazed tiles on the roofs symbolizing the sanctum of the son of the heaven.  The city was considered as a sacred place and also the seat of the government. The construction of this imperial palace took nearly 14 years to complete. Standing on white marble terraces with carved marble dragons, the two layered building stood graciously in a sprawling wide rectangular space.  The hall of supreme harmony is the most important building in the complex.  Key events in the life of the emperor took place here. The Emperor’s throne was placed on huge white jade dais with engravings of dragons and clouds on it.  Dragons symbolizes the Emperor in Chinese.  However over time, this hall was hit by many catastrophes and lightening as it was the tallest building in the forbidden city. Hall of Central Harmony is actually a transit lounge for the Emperor where he would recite speeches and receive close ministers.  Hall of Preserving Harmony is used for banquets and imperial examinations.  All these three halls are on the outer court of the forbidden city. When we proceed towards the inner court, we see Hall of Heavenly Peace where the Emperor sleeps. Special trees named Nanmu were used to build the forbidden city. These trains were only found in South Western China.  Monsoon rains were used to float the logs down the mountains and it took years to transport these logs.  The pillars which surrounded the supreme harmony is formed out of one single tree.

During those days the largest group in the city were Eunuchs who did all the palace work along with guarding the Empress and Concubines.  No male except the Emperor was to be found in the forbidden city. This was also to ensure that the Empress and Concubines were not impregnated by any other male other than the Emperor.  The Eunuchs enjoyed all the luxury and privilege within the walled city.

After being home to 24 emperors, the city ceased being the political center of China with the abdication of the last emperor.   What remained was a crumbling palace and ultimately it stood true to its name…Forbidden Palace!. Years of war and neglect left the palace in ruins.  Today the government has initiated steps to restore the palace to its original glory.

TIANANMEN SQUARE : Tiananmen Square is the largest city square in the capital city. At the north end of the square is the Tiananmen Tower. The square was the front door to the Forbidden City.  There is a huge granite monument to the People’s Heroes standing tall at the center of the square.  They also have a national museum and a memorial Hall of Chairman Mao on the other end of the square.  Surprisingly when the guide explained all these, there was not a single mention about the massacre. Welcome to China!

TEMPLE OF HEAVEN : The Temple of Heaven was constructed during the reign of Yongle Emperor who also constructed Forbidden City.  Once a year during the winter, the emperors come to this place to worship and pray for good harvest.  Located to the southwest to the altar of prayer is the palace of abstinence where the emperor  fasted before the ceremony began.  An interesting thing about the hall of prayer is that it is built without nails.  Within the hall of prayer, there are 28 columns divided into 4 central pillars to represent seasons. The 12 inner columns represent months and 12 outer columns represent  two hour section to make up a day. The animal killing pavilion is where the slaughter of sacrificial animals took place. There is a museum where they have a cross section of the temple to explain the architecture. Number 9 is considered to be very lucky and important number in China.  Generally people quote “I am on seventh heaven” whereas to convey the same meaning Chinese quote “I am on cloud nine”.  They believe that heaven has nine layers.  We can notice the impact of number nine in this architecture design too.  There are total nine stairs which lead to the main altar hall.  Also the marble carvings symbolizes dragon and phoenix which are considered to be a sign of good luck and prosperity in China.  Currently the altar has three layers all in same color which is blue.  But when it was first built all the three layers were of different colors blue, green and yellow.  Blue symbolized sky, yellow in olden days were only used by emperor and was considered to be color of royalty and green symbolized the earth. Later the emperor in Qing dynasty changed all the layers to the blue color as it was used only as a place of worship.

Later when we boarded the bus, one of the group members shared his story on Temple of Heaven.  Colonel James Skinner is known for two regiments he raised for the British army later known as 1st Skinner’s Horse and 3rd Skinner’s Horse.  They had fought and seized the temple of heaven as part of the British Army conscription and had taken artifacts during the war. Later in 1994, the Indian Army returned the bell to China which was looted by the British troops and later the bell was put up for display by the Chinese Military. The guy who narrated this story was part of this regiment during his tenure with the army.

BIRD’S NEST : Beijing National Stadium is also known as Bird’s Nest due to the design of the building.  You cannot miss the site as its on a straight axis when you visit the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

SUMMER PALACE : A boat ride in Kunming Lake to the largest royal park in China.  One can notice the longevity hill and the traditional marble lake. Many locals are seen here fishing and strolling in the park.  They also laze around in groups and play Chinese checkers and Mahjong.  The royal families preferred to stay in the Summer Palace and enjoy the beautiful gardens and airy pavilions rather than the walled Forbidden City.

JADE FACTORY : A visit to the jade factory was rather part of the compulsory stops for the tourist group. People in China wear Jade bracelets to improve blood circulation and they also consider it to bring longevity and good luck.  The guide explained us the process of Jade making and how to differentiate good quality jade from the others.  I took a small clip of the explanation where she dots and scolds everybody to listen to her speech.  An interesting fact is Jade being so hard can only be cut and carved by diamond and they continuously run it through the water to cool off the temperature to avoid breaking due to excessive heat.

GOLDEN MASK SHOW : I would highly recommend The Golden Mask Dynasty Show at Happy Valley on your visit to the city.  This is truly one of the best shows of China.  The entire stage moves 360 degrees during a scene depicting war background.  The best part of the show was the flood scene. Water literally gushes down from the elevated platform of the stage and reaches the front seats where we sat.  Though the story line is a little weak, but the visual effects and choreography of the show surpasses it. I have only one word to describe the show : GRANDEUR!

Beijing had more history and is culturally more rich compared to Shanghai.  You get a sense of real China with a conservative outlook and lack of free speech when you walk down the lanes of the capital city.

Copyright ©2014, Lakshmi Nair . This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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