China Part 2, Beijing-Hangzhou
The first week in Beijing I spent mainly reading and lounging. After all, you have to be able to recover on vacation. On Sunday morning it was time. My mother landed in Beijing in time. So that she did not immediately get jet lag problems (6 hours time difference), we decided to visit the Beihai Park. Kublai Khan reigned from here his vast empire. Long before the Forbidden City, this was the navel of the world.
Back in the hotel my taste buds were in a happy mood, as my mother unpacked the many Swiss food products. Butter braid with cheese and chocolate. What more do you want?!
Again and again strong thunderstorms moved over the city. Nevertheless, it was already quite warm during the day (30 degrees).
The next morning we took the metro to the Summer Palace. The imperial court once retired here when the heat in the Forbidden City became unbearable. The park and its temples, gardens, pavilions, lakes and walkways have always been imperial gardens. Emperor Qianlong had it extended and expanded in the 18th century. 100,000 workers had to dig deeper and enlarge the Kunming Lake. In the Second Opium War (1856-60), the British-French troops destroyed numerous buildings. Empress Dowager Cixi simply redirected the aid to build a powerful navy and had the park rebuilt. The unsinkable marble boat on the northern edge of the lake looks like a caricature of misguided means.
The next destruction brought the Boxer War (1900) - again, restoration work was required. By 1949, the palace fell more and more and had to be fundamentally overhauled. One pays for the entire park 60 RMB (10 CHF) entrance and can thus visit all attractions. Of course, photographing is usually prohibited, which makes you wonder again and again about the purpose for which such utopian prices are demanded.
On the north shore of the lake, the elegant, wooden Lange Wandelgang runs along, which is decorated with countless pictures. The slopes and peaks of the Longevity Mountain grace Buddhist temples. The pavilion of the Buddha-Weihrauch is connected by walkways in north-south direction with the hall of the moving clouds. On top of the hill stands the Buddhist temple Sea of Wisdom.
We took the ferry to the island in the southern lake, where the Temple of the Dragon King and the bridge with 17 arches is located. At the end of the day, there was a visit to Suzhou Street with a delicious dinner.
On the second day, for a fee of 160 RMB, I was finally able to pick up my extended visa. More than 14 days I had invested now for this one page in my passport. A new record!
Afterwards we visited the nearby Lama temple. This is supposed to be the most famous temple of Tibetan Buddhists outside Tibet. Precisely because the Chinese have recently closed Tibet for foreigners since monks first lit in Lhasa, they try to supplement their image with such temples. The monks in the temple somehow seemed like a few Mickey Mouse figures from Disneyland, and the grounds themselves were pretty much overhauled.
Initially, the temple was the residence of the later emperor Yong Zheng, until he was converted in 1744 into a lama monastery. In the main hall stands an 18-meter high statue of the Maitreya Buddha in its Tibetan form. Of course, with an entrance fee of 60 RMB, photographing is prohibited in all halls. At least you can still scan the buildings from the outside. How generous!
By subway we drove to the Forbidden City. Nobody was allowed to enter the city for more than 500 years. Here lived two imperial dynasties, the Ming and the Qing, who were forced out of their well-being by force. Once again it was 80 RMB to pay admission to visit the city. If you still pay something for every special attraction, there is much more to see in the city. If you have enough money, you can do a lot more in China!
Yongle, the third Ming emperor, began building the Forbidden City in 1406. At times, one million slaves and more than 100,000 artisans are said to have built it. Only by such an effort, it is understandable that the construction was completed in 1420. In 1860 British-French troops occupied the Forbidden City until the end of the Second Opium War. In 1900, Empress Dowager Cixi fled the Forbidden City during the Boxer Rebellion, which was again occupied by foreign powers the following year.
After the Xinhai revolution, the last emperor, Pu Yi, abdicated in 1912. He lived after his abdication with his family for a while in the Chinese Imperial Palace. In 1924, they finally had to leave the Forbidden City and the gates were opened to the public. The entire complex has a floor area of 720,000 m² and a constructed area of 150,000 m².
On the grounds are 890 palaces with countless pavilions with 9999½ rooms. Half of the room is symbolic. According to legend, only the sky was allowed to have a palace with 10,000 rooms, so the "sons of heaven" had to settle for 9,999½. Especially the huge dimensions of the city were impressive. For me, however, the plant was much more like an oversized prison. I never wanted to have lived in it.
In the evening we already had to pack our bags, because the next day we drove by train from Beijing in 7 hours to Datong. We almost missed the train. There are several train stations in Beijing. On our tickets was not specified. So we first landed on the central station and were sent from there to the Westbahnhof. The train ride in Hartsitzer was not exactly comfortable because of the completely crowded train. But soon we found our hotel with the help of the locals.
The next day started with a lot of rain. So we decided, first of all, to get the necessary tickets for our onward journey through China. Unfortunately, the only English-speaking lady in the travel agency was quite insidious and did not want to recommend the right train. Luckily we were helped very competently in the hotel and in the afternoon we were able to walk to the city on foot.
Datong first became important as the capital of the Tuoba, an association of Turkish-speaking nomads. They united North China (386- 534 AD), converted to Buddhism, and their culture eventually merged with the Chinese. The city is currently being restored to its old state. A huge, artificial city wall is built around the center without regard for the local residents. Not exactly a nice sight. First we visited the nine dragon wall. This old ghost wall from 1392 is 45 meters long, 8 meters high and 2 meters thick. It shows nine spiraling kites and is the largest glazed brick wall in China. Long ago, the palace of the Ming Dynasty, for the protection of which it was said to have been destroyed by a fire.
Thereafter, the Huayan Monastery followed with 80 RMB admission fee. This time the price was reasonably justified, because you could take pictures everywhere. The monastery is divided into two separate complexes. There is the active monastery and a museum. The temples were built by the Khitan during the Liao Dynasty (907-1125 AD) and face east, not south as usual. The Khitan are said to have been sun worshipers. The main hall of the upper temple dates from 1140. The statues in the interior are from the Ming period, the murals from the Qing period. The back hall of the lower temple, dating back to 1038, is the oldest building in Datong. Inside, wooden sculptures from the Liao Dynasty can be seen. The side halls contain various relics from the Wei, Liao and Jin dynasties.
The rain lasted until the evening and made for fresh temperatures. Luckily, the weather was from the sunny side. So we could easily venture by bus to visit the Yungang Grottoes. The first time we were baffled at the ticket counter when 150 RMB (25 CHF) entrance fee per person was requested. First, the path led through a temple.
The Yungang Caves date back to the 5th century and consist of more than 51,000 statues. They were worked out of the sandstone by the Tuoba and set themselves apart from the initial influences of Buddhist elements in China. They are Indian, Persian and even Greek inspired. The work began in 460 AD and lasted 60 years until all 252 caves were finished. Today 45 caves can be visited. Eight grottos contain huge Buddha statues, the largest of which, the seated Sakyamuni, is 15 meters high.
Of course you can not take a picture of him. That would be too much to ask for such a high ticket price! Other caves contain intricate square pagodas carved out of the stone. Still others represent the interior of temples, chiseled and painted so that they look like wood. There are pictures of animals, birds and angels and almost every grotto contains the 1000 Buddha motif (tiny Buddhas sitting in niches). Although I had admired the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang with Tim and Andi last November, and I was already very impressed with them, I was quite stunned after this tour.
Back in the hotel it was already packed again. On Saturday our train drove to Hangzhou. The 28-hour drive in the Hartschläfer was surprisingly pleasant. I like to travel by train in China. Already when getting out, the heat hit us with the high humidity. 38 degrees, almost 10 degrees more than in Datong.
Our hotel was out of town and the comfort was just bad. After the long journey we were just too tired to look for a new hotel and spent one night on the nightmare.
Since the Lingyin Temple was nearby, we visited the facility the next morning. First you pay 40 RMB for the whole area and you have to pay another 30 RMB for the main temple and not take any pictures. By now we had seen so many temples in China that we were not really that impressed. The Buddhist temple Lingyin, which translates as "Temple of Soul Sanctuary," was built in 326 AD. Wars and other disasters caused him to be destroyed no less than 16 times.
After 2 hours of searching in the heat, we found a new hotel near Lake West. Chinese television reported a heatwave on the East Coast in China that evening, and Hangzhou was on top of the list. What else could you wish for!
At the same time there was a danger of flooding in the south. Such extremes can only occur in a huge country like here. Hangzhou's history dates back to the beginnings of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC). When Marco Polo came through the city in the 13th century, he called it Kinsai and noted that Hangzhou was only 100 miles in circumference, while 12,000 bridges spanned the city's waterways. Hangzhou's wooden buildings made fires a perennial threat, with several severe fires, and the great 1237 fire reduced 30,000 homes to a pile of ashes.
The next day we had reserved for a walk around the Westsee. The lake was originally a lagoon connected to Qiantang Jiang and was built in the 8th century when the governor of Hangzhou dredged the marshy area. Over time, the lake was increasingly maintained and beautified. Gardens were created, pagodas, dams and islands built. First, we walked across Bai Dam to Gu Shan Island, where Zhongshan Park and the Seal Carving Company are located.
The poet Su Dongpo had a share in the development of the lake. From his tenure as a local governor in the 11th Century, the Su Damm plant dates from which we crossed next. That was not easy, because Chinese tourist groups came to meet us again and again. After a while in China they got used to it a bit, but it is incomprehensible to me how to voluntarily participate in such group travel. At the end of the dam, we visited the Red Carp pond for a short while before continuing along the southern shore.
After 7 hours we had the whole lake surrounded and at a temperature of 39 degrees. The pedestrian traffic was especially hard for us. The drivers do not pay any attention to other road users. Crossing the streets is sometimes almost a suicide squad.
Fortunately, the area around the West Lake is very well developed and almost every pedestrian crossing has a red light. However, only very few people are interested in this. It is best to wait until a group forms and then cross the street together. Actually, we wanted to visit the next day the Ocean Park to get some change. However, the scoundrels demanded 240 RMB (40 CHF) admission. From the outside, the park looked pretty neglected. We skipped this project and visited the Qinghefang Altstadtstrasse. There is an impressive bronze art collection.
Of course, we could not miss a visit to the National Silk Museum. Especially after traveling for more than 15 months along the Silk Road. We liked the museum at the first moment. No entry fee was required and you were allowed to take pictures of everything. From the silkworm cycle, to the processing of silk, to the influence of silk today, everything was nicely documented in a large exhibition. It took us almost 2 hours to look at everything.
By now we had enough of the whole tourism. Somehow, like many other things in China, it is very superficial and not at all authentic. Once you move a few meters away from the attraction, you get an impression of how the government works in China: hypocritical.
We always noticed the posters of the government with their slogans such. B .: "Be patriotic and obey the laws". There is a lot of effort to turn the country into the best possible light. However, this creates much greater deficits that even a blind person can not overlook. China is an extremely fascinating country for me. Unfortunately, the image of this beautiful country was and still is damaged by the government.
The last two days in Hangzhou, we tried as possible without any tourist activities over the stage. In the evening we enjoyed the dance lessons of the locals in the park at the lake, which gather here every evening in the cooler hours of the day. The sun provided wonderful spectacles at the end of the day. Exactly the right thing before it went with the express back to Beijing. In a few days, we will leave the Asian continent for Berlin by plane.