China Day 4 – The Great Wall of China

With 06:00 wake-up call, we were off for our day of activities by 07:30. Due to some visiting dignitaries it was decided we’d visit the Summer Palace in the morning before it got busy and would do the wall later in the day. This would hopefully give the weather a chance to improve.

The Summer Palace, Beijing

The Summer Palace was originally named the “Golden Waters” and built by Emperor Wan Yanliang of the Jin Dynasty in the year 1153. The palace was rebuilt by the Empress Dowager Ci’Xi, a former consort of the Emperor Xianfeng of the Manchu Qing dynasty, who gave birth to a son who became the Tongzhi Emperor. It was through her son she was able to rule over China despite the feudal system not allowing a female ruler. Whilst in power she appropriated funds intended for the Imperial Navy to rebuild the gardens as Yi He Yuan (translates to Garden of Cultivated Harmony) which later got nicknamed as the Summer Palace. This nickname came about from the Empress spending every summer here.

The Summer Palace

The summer palace was quite busy which made it difficult to take photos. There is a man made lake named Kunming which is quite large, and the surrounding buildings are grouped into halls for politics, temples and other buildings of religious purpose, and residential quarters. The designs of these buildings are atypical of others we’d already seen elsewhere in Beijing.

Running alongside the lake is Cháng Láng, the “long corridor”, a covered walkway from the 18th century that famous for being a 728 metres long and intricately painted. This was built by Emperor Qianlong of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty for his mother, Empress Xiaoshengxian, so she would be sheltered on walks along Kunming Lake.

Marble Boat

At the far end of the long corridor near an impressing paifang (a type of archway) is the “Marble Boat”, a symbol of Qing stability but damaged by the French in 1860. This was later repaired by Empress Dowager Ci’Xi for her 50th birthday celebrations. The boat has a large mirror in front of a table the Empress would have used for eating delicacies whilst enjoying the scenery – due to this the boat is referred to as “Boat for Pure Banquets”.

Dragon boat

We then took a “dragon boat”, i.e. a boat shaped like a Chinese dragon, across the Kunming lake to meet our bus that took us on to the jade carving place. Once there they explained about the different types of jade and then gave us 30 minutes to look around. A lot of what was there was incredibly expensive though so I didn’t bother buying anything. One useful bit of information we did find out about here though was how the jade appears when shining light through it and how the colour changes with age.

It was quite a drive to dinner, and was quite later than normal with it being past 13:00. At first the driver stopped at the wrong restaurant, not that we were bothered but presumably the travel company will have some sort of arrangement with them (not to mention a booking for a group of around 15). Once again the meal was similar to the previous days, just not much of it. The restaurant seemed to be a giant greenhouse full of plants, and in particular bamboo.

From the restaurant we were quite close to the wall so didn’t take too much longer to get there. Leaving the coach park it is a walk up hill through various market stalls, in a view akin to Aguas Calientes in Peru. Eventually you get to a junction where you can spend an average of 45 minutes walking up he hill to the wall, or use a cable car. As we wanted more time on the wall itself the group took the cable car up.

From the cable car we could see trees and other vegetation below us as we sped towards the massive Great Wall of China. Getting off we turned left and headed as far as we could at a quick pace, a good portion of it running. At the limit of where you can walk there is a very steep climb onto one of the towers with a Chinese flag. The steps are so steep it is more of climb akin to going up some ladders.

The Great Wall of China

From the top we could see beyond the Mutianyu section of the wall we were on. Though the haze that blanketed everywhere did still limit the viewing distance. I could imagine that on a clear sunny day the view would have been even more amazing. You could see small settlements along the Chinese side of the wall and cherry blossom heavily scattered all over.

Heading back we walked most of the way so that we could take plenty more photographs, and then carried on in the opposite direction just past the first tower. The view could have been better – everywhere was clouded in a fine haze that limited how far you could see. Immediately after getting the cable car on the way own we haggled with a street trader to get the price from 285 yuan down to 250. It was only after that we realised we were paying the equivalent of £25. The price we were told to expect for a cotton t-shirt was 30 yuan. Slight mistake there, but it was a lesson learned for next time.

On the way down we stopped at a cafe being used as a meeting point and both bought a Fanta for 10 yuan. It was good to have a refreshingly cold drink by that point. The drive back to the hotel then only lasted 1hr30.
We still had over an hour to get ready for dinner, and this time it was a walk around the corner to a place that served Peking duck. It tasted a lot better than I thought it would and the duck spring rolls were delicious. After the meal everyone made their way back to the hotel themselves so that some could stay to drink and talk.
Back at the hotel we then had to get suitcases packed and ready for the next day’s flight.

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