Thick smog. Serene Temples. Black bicycles. Exotic hutongs. Shiny pearls. New SUVs. Culinary surprises. Divine foot massages. Large squares. What does your Beijing look like?
A while ago I had a chance to visit Beijing, China. It had been a dream of mine to see the Forbidden City, Great Wall of China, Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Badaling, and the Beijing Zoo. Most of the places were real tourist attractions, but as I had always heard about them since I was little, my mind was set on visiting them. I wasn’t sure how well my search of tranquility would go in a city that has millions of inhabitants, but it was worth a shot to go there and see. Even though I did a lot of shopping and socialized with other foreigners quite a bit, little did I know how much peace I would found from China’s massive capital and the surrounding areas. Here are some of the places in which the peace of mind was the easiest to reach:
Meditating in the Summer Palace
The gardens of the Summer Palace were heavenly. It’s no wonder that this area was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage site as it is very attractive. The Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill dominate the landscape. The pavilions, temples and bridges form a harmonious entirety against the background they create.
I was lucky to be there around the time when there weren’t too many tourists around, so I spent the whole day in the area, walking around, taking in the beauty of the place and meditating in the gardens.
The Qilin Statue was an interesting detail that caught my eye. It was cast during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. Qilin was an auspicious animal that appeared in Chinese legends. It had the power to punish evil and repel the wicked. The animal took an interesting form, one that combined the head of a dragon, the tail of a lion, the hooves of an ox, and the horns of a deer with scales all over its body.
Meeting pandas at the Beijing Zoo
The giant pandas at the Beijing Zoo were the very reason why I wanted to visit the place as it is rated among the top five places to see pandas in China. Usually I find zoos quite disturbing as the animals are often confined in small spaces and express their stress by applying redundant, meaningless behaviors, but these pandas seemed to be doing well.
The Panda Hall covers the area of 2.5 acres, and seems to manage to account for the housing of such large animals as well as offer aesthetic surroundings for them. The inside of the hall replicates the style of traditional Chinese gardens and is shaped in the pattern of a Tai Chi diagram. I loved to see these cute, furry fellows and learn more about their natural habitat and the dangers threatening to eradicate it, so even though I may not be able to call it a Zen-like experience, it was fun anyway!
Feeling the history in the Ming Tombs
The thirteen tombs of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) are located about 30 miles northwest from Beijing. The area is scenic as it lies at the foot of Tianshou Mountain. In the scenic area, each mausoleum has its own independent unit. Only a few of them are open to the public.
The Sacred Way is the approach to the Changling Tomb. It is built from north to south and considered to be the road leading to heaven. The Emperors, known as the Son of the Heaven, were thought to leave their empire through this road. The road is lined with stone statues. Human figures and animals have symbolic meanings.
In the other end of the Sacred Way there is the Great Red Gate. This road is an excellent place for taking a moment to relax, think and meditate if there aren’t large groups of tourists passing by.
Changling Tomb is the tomb of the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty. It is the largest and the most completely preserved of these tombs. It is a beautiful building with lots to see, and with the mindful attitude, it is easy to sense the past centuries that tell their stories in this attraction.
Climbing the Great Wall
Another UNESCO World Heritage site in Beijing, the Great Wall, is the place to listen to the stories from the past. A lot of them are violent and full of anger, but some of them are also stories of perseverance, bravery, and love. The Great Wall stretches approximately 13,170 miles from east to west of China. Some sections of it are in ruins or have disappeared, but the parts of it that I saw are among some of the most beautiful and impressive places that I have ever visited.
Walking along the Wall can be a good exercise as it is quite steep at some places. The poor condition of some steps may make it seem even dangerous, but especially if you follow (eavesdrop…) a group with a guide, the information they tell is so fascinating that the challenges are worth it.
The views are breathtaking, and the winding wall offers plenty of spots for stopping, sitting down and taking in the magnitude of the structure. After seeing this amazing wall and practicing mindfulness on top of it, your way of looking at your life may be a little different. The serene feeling can last a long time, and even carry over to your everyday life.