This was the day that I was joined by the group from the University of Newcastle. We’d all come to China to hike along several parts of the Great Wall, some parts well known to tourists but many others which are hardly ever touched by hikers’ boots; some parts are in a rather decayed state. Our aim was to raise money for the UoN’s “Shaping Futures” scholarships program which assists students who are doing things tough while they study at the Uni.
I became involved in this trek because my partner, Jennie, has been a passionate advocate for and a donor to the UoN ‘Shaping Futures’ program since its inception. We’ve seen many lives changed for the better through these scholarships. These Scholars are determined to change their lives and the lives of their families through their education. Such students, of whatever age, and in any faculty, are the reason for the trek.
As a trekker I paid all of my own expenses. However, in the fund-raising aspect of the project, I’ve been sponsored by friends, family and acquaintances. Jennie and I would like to thank every one of those sponsors on behalf of the many students who will benefit. Now, through these musings, we’d like to share something of the experience. I did the training and the trek and now Jennie is pulling together my diary notes and my photos to publish on the web. We’ll try to publish an episode every second day. Please enjoy. And now, back to the story….
Our time together as a group began with a special lunch to launch our adventure and get to know each other a little better…. some of us had not even met as yet. We would need to work together to support each other on the difficult walk ahead of us. Just how difficult it would be we didn’t know and perhaps that was just as well. But the lunch was a good beginning… a nine course Chinese banquet. We would not eat like that again on the trek!
We planned to use the next couple of days to get over jet lag, stretch our legs and do some exploring together. First stop was Jingshan Park. I’ve been to China on several occasions, but never to this park. It was good to experience something different.
Everything about this entry gate is meticulously maintained; maybe a result of the Olympics having been held in Beijing in recent years.
Jingshan Park is a large park covering 23 hectares (57 acres) close to the centre of Beijing. The extensive lawns, though very inviting under the shade of many conifers, was simply off-limits. All of the grassy areas were roped off. It seemed a terrible waste to me but, thinking of all the Chinese who would want to use it if it were available, the lawn wouldn’t last long.
The highlight of the park for me were the acres and acres of peony roses. The web site for this park proudly proclaims that there are 200 varieties of peonies in the park with 20,000 peony plants in all. I was blown away. But not as much as I would be if I was to visit this park in May, in the Chinese springtime, when all of these peonies would be covered in the glory of their beautiful, blowsy blooms. I shall simply have to come back in May sometime!
Being in Beijing in autumn, I even missed out on the flowering of the peonies in my own garden in spring back home in Australia. But, at least, Jennie sent me a photo to enjoy.
Amongst the hundreds of trees in the park, the beautiful bark of Pinus bungeana caught my eye. It’s common name is very apt: Lacebark Pine. It’s a slow growing native of the mountains of China and can grow to 25m high. It’s a real stunner!
Being a horticulturist with sap in my veins, other plants also attract my attention.
These purple berries are the fruit of Callicarpa.
And who could not take a photo of such delightful yellow daisies? They matched the outfit worn by the man we had come here to meet, our Tai chi teacher.
One of the reasons we’d come to this park was to have a Tai chi lesson. Our teacher was fit, handsome and, thankfully, extremely patient. Balancing on one leg, waving our hands around in all directions, we must have looked a real sight. Passing Chinese were most amused. Since I was a participant, there are no photos… probably for the best!
When the Tai chi lesson was over, I took a moment to look at the capped tiles that covered the roof over the ‘verandah’ of that courtyard. The ivy added a softening touch.
A closer look at the curved roof structure, its tiles and its decorations.
It was time to move on, stretch our legs and climb up a hill to explore more of the park that is just to the north of the one time Imperial Palace, ‘The Forbidden City’. In fact, the park was established almost a thousand years ago as the private Imperial Garden. It was not open to the public until 1928… only those who lived within the walls of the Forbidden City ever walked where we walked on this sunny, autumnal day. ‘Twas time to ponder times past.
And time to ponder just how this park came into being. For this hilly section of the park is made up entirely of soil excavated when the moats around the Imperial Palace and nearby canals were formed. One can only imagine the thousands of hours of labour that went into this project… both human and animal labour. And, no doubt, many lives were lost.
The whole of this hill area is called “Jingshan Hill” meaning ‘Prospect Hill’. But the hill was formed with five ‘summits’ and on each ‘summit’ there’s a pavilion. Each of the five pavilions originally housed a copper Buddha statue. They represented the five tastes; sour, bitter, sweet, acrid and salt. Sadly, not one of those Buddhas can be viewed today. They were all lost during warfare in 1900. But the pavilions are restored and resplendent.
We visited the beautiful, octagonal Pavilion called ‘Guanmiao Pavilion’ which means ‘Wonder Appreciation Pavilion’. Fortunately for us, signage was in both Chinese and English. So we were able to learn that this pavilion dates from 1750, and that it has a ‘twin’ pavilion to the west of the central summit. The ‘twin’ is known as the ‘Jifang Pavilion’, or ‘The Pavilion of Fragrance Gathering’. Chinese names are so colourful, aren’t they? Both pavilions are alike in architecture and in the design and colour of their decorations. Their double eaves have jasper coloured glazed roof tiles finished in yellow edges. Both are a delight to the eye.
A little higher and we had a good view over the top of this pavilion to central Beijing.
We needed to climb up even further to reach the highest point of the park, indeed the highest point in the city of Beijing. And right at the very top of the central ‘summit’ is this very grand pavilion, the Wanchun Pavilion (Ten Thousand Spring Pavilion).
Every detail has been faithfully restored. Very impressive.
And from here on the highest ‘summit’, the view was also very impressive.
There seemed to be a camera clicking chorus!
It was indeed a wonderful overall view of ‘The Forbidden City’, which is now an amazing museum of the Imperial ages of China. It’s a ‘must see’ on everyone’s list when visiting Beijing. and we planned to visit it next day. But this day wasn’t over yet.
All photography Copyright © David Young of jtdytravels
More of our travels on www.jtdytravels.com