1215 AD – Beijing (Northern Capital)
Slowly he walks through the city. The other soldiers are too busy looting and torching the surrounding buildings to acknowledge his presence. It doesn’t enrage him, his mind is a blur with grand plans of future conquests that lay ahead.
With the Great Wall breached by his array of siege engines and Beijing captured the rest of China will follow soon enough to the Golden Horde.
But first a new name would be needed for the city that would rise out of the ashes at his feet. After a few moments and some strokes of his drooping moustaches, the name came to him,as in a dream, Dàdū – Great Capital.
And with that matter sorted a smile formed on his lips, the first in a while for Genghis Khan.
A prophetic name indeed. By 1279, under the rule of his nephew, Kublai Khan,it had became the capital and beating heart of the largest empire the world has ever known.
150 years later the Ming Emperor Yongle created what would become the foundations for modern Beijing.
2014 AD – Beijing
800 years later another army would arrive at the city. Although this army is small (comprised of two people), after nearly 5 months on the march it was fierce.
But we did not come for plunder. Our prize would be photos and good times. On our first full day in The city we visited one of the Emperor’s most prized creations – The Forbidden City, or as Pepe Le Peu would say ‘La Cité Interdite – huh’
Hidden from the outside world for over 500 years by huge walls and a 52m wide moat this is probably one of the most impressive sights on our tour so far.
Today it is known as the Palace Museum. The admission is ¥40, which is a better bargain than yesteryear. The admission for uninvited guests back then was instant execution!!
The palace is divided into three corridors. The middle one is the largest and grandest and is where the legions of colour coded tours invade the sanctity of the inner structures. The other two corridors are quieter and lead off to the various wings of the palace. This is how we ventured into it.
The Forbidden City contains dozens of ceremonial halls, temples, alcoves, gates and even restaurants and cafés. The various sights have fancy names like ‘Hall of Supreme Harmony’, ‘Hall of Mental Cultivation’, ‘Palace of Heavenly Purity’ and so on.
As with all Chinese cultural sights your entry ticket doesn’t get you in everywhere and we had to stump up an extra ¥10 for the Clock Exhibition Hall.
Located in the Fèngxiàn Diàn (Hall), these clocks are so big and covered in more gold ornaments than Bobby George!
Most of them are gifts to the Qing Emperors from England, Japan, America and you guessed it… Switzerland! There was also an old Chinese waterfall clock that uses various levels of water to tell the time.
The Chinese don’t miss a trick and for another ¥30 we could have dressed up in traditional garb for photos. We didn’t avail but took snaps of the locals who did. They looked better anyways.
After a few hours of exploring in the scorching sun we left the Palace to grab some food and as we passed over the threshold of the Shenwu Gate the beginnings of a storm showed.
To hide from the rain we jumped into a cafe that did alright food. With our Kagools on and no umbrella we went across the road into Jîngshān Park.
Lying directly to the north of the Forbidden City, this park acts as a Fèng Shui barrier that protects it from evil spirits. The highlight of the park is the hill that affords great panoramic views over Beijing.
Created with the earth that was dredged to make the Forbidden City’s moat there are three pagodas on top of it. On the climb up we passed a regular Beijing experience, Chinese Opera Singing in the park.
On top of the hill we witnessed the violent storm whilst huddled under the roof awnings of the pagoda as we too stock of our surroundings.To our South was the Forbidden City, North was the Drum Tower, Bell Tower and famous Hutong alleyways. To our East was the Bêihâi Park (Our next stop), and finally to our west was the shopping and business district of Dongdang.
With the rain subsiding we went to the nearby Bêihâi Park. There wasn’t much to see here – just a nice park to stroll around.
We ate nearby as we didn’t want to be too late out as we had the Great Wall trip the next morning. The restaurant was hilarious and I can genuinely say that no westerners have ever set foot in it let alone eaten in it. The staff were all Uigher Tribesmen and were not speaking Mandarin to each other, but understood enough to take our order including the two most important words in Chinese Mandarin are: Bing Peiju (Cold Beer).
We finished the night chatting back at the hostel with a Scottish boy called Joe who had come to China to learn Mandarin.
Bring on the Wall!!