Breathtaking Beijing

 – Kashiraj Pandey

With a shimmering kaleidoscope of abundant natural scenery, history and colorful cultural identities of numerous ethnic groups, China is rich in arts, beliefs, customs, cultures, and scientific accomplishments. Besides being a leader in manufacturing industries and development works, it features many magnificent natural and historical sites with royal cities.

I first arrived in Kathmandu leaving my home in 1987 when China had a profound imprint in my mind. Almost everything Chinese around me; to start with, a pair of shoes, clothes, pens, pencils, cups, utensils, and later a lovely Phoenix bicycle that I bought with my first cheque, were all manufactured in China. Therefore, it was a dream for me to visit China and for long I was hopeful about my coming to this beautiful country of amazing people, specially to see two places that I heard from time to time; the Great Wall and Tian’an’men Square. Not surprisingly, on 8 May 2012, I arrived in Beijing and I am writing from here today. Filled with reflective and vivid thoughtfulness, a hope to visit many more places itself is an excitement. Travelling with a group of educationists and writers like myself from 18 different countries of the world is an additional benefit to me.

Regardless of several rumours about Beijing’s pollution, on the very next day of my arrival, I was happy to witness a clear blue sky, the rising sun and a panoramic view of the city from the window of my dormitory room at Beijing Chinese Language and Culture College. Below, I could clearly observe a group of people walking, running and doing exercises; stretching out the parts of their body in the bright sunlight, twisting and bending in a seemingly choreographed shadow-play; couples, youths, children, students and everybody. Moreover, my first observation of Beijing is to see everyone proud to use either bicycles or public vehicles as the most common modes of transportation, and therefore, this cuts down greatly on air pollution despite the city’s size and dense population.

I too could see cultural and linguistic variations in Beijing, representing different regions of this vast country. For such a large nation it is interesting that the society is relatively uniform, with a sense of national identity based on the ideals of equality and hard work. Beyond the beauty and steady progress of China, I am amazed to see how they have successfully tackled the challenge to encourage people for mutual affection and unity, a lesson all Nepalese should learn at the critical juncture of the history of our nation.

For me, it is simply awesome to see the hard work and commitment people have put in to build this nation and expand the rich heritage and virtues to the outside world. My trip to China, therefore, has proved more than wonderful. This will remain in my memory forever and I wish to unfold Beijing from the tours, arranged every Sunday from our college, which also served as great breaks from the intensive in-house activities.

A trip to the Great Wall

In line with the purpose of my visit to China, I was taken around the significant sites of Beijing where an excursion to the Badaling Great Wall became among the best treats I was given during my stay, which is some 55 kilometers north of Beijing, linking many high hills. After a short drive, our day started with an ecstasy preparing ourselves for an uphill walk at least for more than an hour.

To anyone who has the energy to walk up to the top of the area where the tourists congregate all the times, busy taking pictures and enjoying the convalescent fresh air from the natural Air Condition with superb views, this trip with spectacular sight will be etched out in my mind.

Each guard tower, appearing on the way up, literally chills the visitors, while thinking how anything so big and so long ever came into being. Everything I saw around was simply simple and well managed as the Great Wall has always been a fascination for the visitors. Thousands of tourists from all over the world have come to experience the walk on the wall with the majestic view of nature and the hills around.

The Great Wall was primarily built to protect China from outside aggression, especially from the North to stop Mongolians, and for the safety of the country and her people as early as the 5th century BC which has become the major touristic site these days.

Bearing an exceptional testimony to the civilizations of ancient China, this military structure holds historic and strategic significance. It is said that a great army of manpower, composed of local people, soldiers, and prisoners built the wall. Any moment I could imagine an overwhelming sense of awe at the weight of history embedded in every stone on which I was stepping (up) on that day.

A feeling of an unconscious heroism appears in all who reached to the top. With more than an hour’s strenuous walk, I too wonder who had thought of my climbing the Great Wall this time, and same is the feeling of the other people around me. I, along with my two other colleagues from Fiji Mr. Waisake and Ms. Venina also walked uphill to the top among many other travelers, all mesmerized by the blend of natural and architectural grandeur, one of the most appealing attractions for people from all around the world.

I notice everyone sweating but never tired of walking up the wall, up, straight and curves; people over seventy or eighty, women, children, and couples – all are energized while climbing. I could witness everyone being at the highest degree of joy; our spirits have taken us beyond the imagination, thinking how the Chinese erected such highway-like huge walls during those days; the masons and resources, hats off for you also built it to preserve your culture from foreign invasions. The wall that proved useful as a main road, transporting people and supplies during the past, was also wide enough for four to five horses to be ridden side by side on its top.

After a while, with a rejuvenated mind we had no option but to return. First time in life, I had an ecstatic experience of human traffic on the way. Unlike our initial planning to meet at 10.45 am at the base, we arrived an hour late, a wrong calculation as the organizers also failed to sense the flow of tourists and budding beauty of nature all around that one had to capture in the camera.

Fortunate I find myself today, for I am writing from the highest point of Badaling Great Wall, a symbol of spirit of determination and human intelligence of Chinese people. From this powerful site, among the Seven Wonders of the World, the only man-made structure that is visible from the moon, which also saw countless wars between Chinese rulers and other warring nomadic tribes. Standing here I am trying to constantly envision many brave soldiers in one of the lookout towers who safeguarded this country, centuries ago. Standing by the walkway, and looking out from the top of the Great Wall of China, today, I must be gazing at the same scene that thousands of workers, men and women, then armies of soldiers, and tourists alike would have also looked out during the past centuries, almost every day. Whenever cherishing this day in future, I know I will say I would have rather spent another day or so at the Great Wall, alone.

A glimpse of Tian’an’men Square and the Forbidden City

On the fourth day of my arrival in Beijing, I left my hotel room at four o’clock in the morning.  With an excitement to witness the popular flag hoisting ceremony at the sunrise, I hurried toward the Tian’an’men Square. As early as 5 am, I reached at this biggest open theatre of the world that “can accommodate one million people at one time” according to Yuan Yuan Laoshi, a Chinese language teacher at Beijing Chinese Language and Culture College.

When the Emperor and his courtiers were quite corrupt in China, people felt the need of a real revolution for long and they got the result of their wish in 1949 establishing the country as People’s Republic. With this historical background, Tian’an’men Square is a widely popular site of several demonstrations and events, as well as the location of Chairman Mao’s tomb. Other attractions of this site are Tian’an’men tower and the Great Hall of the people. The Hall was built in 1959 within 10 months, said Zhou Laoshi of Beijing Chinese Language and Culture College, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of People’s Republic of China.

Looking the world around from this Square, I could easily feel the difference between the Republic of Nepal and another republic, adjacent to us. Instantly, I proceeded towards the Forbidden City, an endless complex of labyrinth right behind the Tian’an’men Square, that served as the home of 24 Emperors, their court and households for centuries. The Forbidden City, with its Chinese name Gugong, is a Palace Museum too. With an impressive architectural vocation of temples, palaces, courtyards, a magnificent and awe-inspiring sight with wide passageways and gardens around, this is a must-see spot for travelers that has “9999 rooms in total”, said Wang Laoshi, Associate Professor at Beijing Chinese Language and Culture College. As I was walking from one courtyard to the next, our tour unfolded a many-layered vista of palaces, as if it was wrapped as gift for each group of visitors.

Each gate of the palace building opens to the royal chamber. With a predominant red colour throughout the City, every palace boasts flamboyant ceilings with intricate interlocking of wooden painted tiles. Looking at each of the palace, my eyes are dazzled seeing a big container to measure the grain, an indicator of time, an image of crane, an artistic water tank to extinguish the fire with a vision of good fortune, comfort, power and safety centuries ago. My surprise knew no bounds when I saw a stone carving that would weigh over 200 tons.

A human crowd is busy every moment and from all directions to capture its picture in the best possible angle, while I imagine how the Emperor made it possible to get this huge stone. It is written in the inscription that “some 1000 horses and 2000 people were deputed” to carry this stone from about 90 km away. Although this complex was off limits to civilians in the past, people, sightseers and tourists can admire its terraces and pavilions today.

A day’s trip to the Summer Palace

Another remarkable site is the Summer Palace, also known as the ‘garden of gardens’ which is apparently Beijing’s another popular tourist site, a classical garden with worldwide reputation. The Summer Palace, Yi-He-Yuan in Chinese translates as ‘Garden of Peace and Harmony’, which is the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China. As its name implies, the Summer Palace was used as a summer residence by China’s imperial rulers – as a retreat from the main imperial palace now known as the Forbidden City.

Indeed, the Summer Palace represents a distinct Chinese ideal of harmony between nature and its inhabitants. This is the proof how China has preserved history so well where thousands of tourists pour in to have a glimpse of their intelligence in garden arts. Situated between Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill, in their unique styles, the pavilions, halls, trees, rocks, bridges and temples, all blend together – harmoniously.

Kunming Lake is the main attraction of the Summer Palace, and as I walked around I could feel cool summer breeze floating across the Lake. Perhaps it is more mesmerizing to me because I could associate it with the Phewa lake of Nepal every moment.

Although a little smaller than the Phewa, the way this was maintained beautifully, it featured to create a poetic effect between different scenes in me. I think the emperor and his family must have enjoyed immensely looking around the hillside and the lake at once while sipping the green tea during those summer days.

Walking leisurely through the corridors that encircle the lake is the most pleasurable moment with the crowd of tourists from everywhere. The rich paintings that adorn the cross-beams and walls, along the entire walkway with the beauty of four octagonal pavilions fascinate anyone. Moreover, exploring the lake on boat perfectly serves the purpose of any tourist for a day.

The street artists and the musical programme that was held at one of the pavilions by the bridge made me realize the significance of accessories to develop tourism in Nepal.

 [Published in The Rising Nepal, 13 July 2012]


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