DISCOVER SOME ALTERNATIVE PLACES IN OUTSKIRTS OF BEIJING. MOST OF PEOPLE VISIT GREAT WALL and MING TOMBS. BUT SAME AS IN CITY YOU HAVE TO VISIT UNCOMERCIALIZED HUTONGS HERE IN OUTSKIRTS THERE ARE AMAZING HILLS FOR HIKING WHICH ARE UNCOMERCIALIZED AND ARE NOT OVERCROWDED. IF YOU WANT TO FEEL TRUE SPIRIT OF CHINA AND RELAX FROM NOISY CITY THESE SPOTS ARE PERFECT FOR YOU TO ENJOY IN NATURE, PEACEFUL PAVILLIONS AND TEMPLES! THESE PLACES ARE VISITED BY LOCAL BEIJINGERS TOO WHICH ARE VERY FRIENDLY! EXCEPT NATURE THERE IS A LOT OF CULTURE, HISTORY AND ARCHITECTURE WHAT PERFECTLY GOES HAND IN HAND!
Before you visit remote mountains or if you have time on weekends only you should discover areas around Beijing. There are many of them and even me personally still can say that I didn’t saw every corner of Beijing interesting suburbs-mountains temples and villages. Believe me Beijing suburbs and neighboring provinces are more than perfect for hiking.
First place that I can recommend is my favorite place in China Xiangshan Gongyuan or in English Fragrant Hills Park. It is just 20km from Beijing but you can feel that it is much further both by kilometers and by centuries. This place has stayed a lot in time. Large part of history of China is there. Prior to XI century when emperors of Jin dynasty started to be interested for this area it was place popular for Taoist retreats. Taoist monks used to live here in nature and practice alchemy. First pavilions were built during XI century during Jin dynasty. Later were built some temples and also imperial villas between XII and XVIII centuries. This place also has experienced damages during colonial aggressions of UK and France at beginning of XX century. There is memorial hall to Chinese first president Sun Yatsen and also after WWII Mao Zedong had headquarters in one of the villas and led last battles of liberating Beijing from KMT. I wrote before about this place but it is so stunning that I will mention it in this text as well.
It was place where emperors used to hunt during free time and also there were several temples where Buddhist Monks used to live for centuries and still live there. As soon as you get out from bus you will find yourself in a village. It looks so old and remote but Mcdonalds there destroys such picture. However there are many souvenir shops leading to the gate of the area. You can find anything from zodiac figures, different Buddha statues, paintings, chaplets, incense sticks… Once you enter a main gate there is an small imperial hall that dates from Ming dynasty. Inside was inner garden, small pond, bridge over small pond and red residence buildings. This was one of residences of emperor when he was coming for hunting.
On the left there is path to the Jingcui Lake small lake which is very beautiful with its green water, lotus flowers and willow trees. Behind lake there is small pavilion. It is my favorite place on Xiangshan as I wrote before it is perfect for having rest under willow tree, meditating and listening to nature. Usually it is very silent with only few people having rest, practicing tai chi or playing nice tunes on traditional instrumentsThis place is really magic.
Once you continue by stone path towards top of the hill. You will see many trees both pines but also if it is spring cherry and plum blossoming trees. You will see few people practicing tai chi on road. On the road to the top there are many interesting things among them is Shuanqing villa where Mao Zedong was living at the end of Civil War and coordinated latest battles for liberation of Beijing between 1948 and 1949 what brought communist victory. You can enter villa to see some paintings and Chairman Maos coat and shoes. Next to villa is small pond where you can have rest too. Also there is one wall with carved Buddha and I am not sure if it belonged to some temple or what.
Further when you continue hike there are ruins of Fragrant Hills Temple. There have remained just few pillars. It was oldest temple here which dates from XI century. It was looted and burnt by British and French Colonial troops during surpassing Boxer Rebellion in 1900. As you continue hike stone path becomes more and more steep. But you can have rest in shadows of pine, and in small pavilions and viewpoints. Before peak there is one more villa with inner garden and there are several tablets with ancient carvings. At the peak there is pavilion and place where you can buy refreshments and some snacks. Peak is called Xianglu Feng( Incense Burner Peak) as there is stone which reminds on incense burner. By mentioned eastern path you can reach 557m tall peak within 2-3h. Peak provides nice view on countryside and suburbs of Beijing.
There is also another path northern one which is branched on more sections. But you can use one for climbing another for going down. On this side there are many pavilions, villas with inner gardens and ponds… Such combination of architecture and scenery is amazing. Those constructions date between XIV and XVIII century. There is one nice villa and viewpoint where you can buy refreshments and talk to friendly hikers which are resting in shadow and enjoying tea.
Below hill there are several pavilions and two restaurants with delicious food. Nice spots here are Spectacles Lake- two pure lakes separated by old stone bridge and small waterfall falling from rocks there. You can enter a cave and enjoy behind waterfall in coolness of cave and water.
Nearby is a bit larger rounded pavilion with lake in the middle and teahouse. Lake is full with Koi fishes which are quite large and you can buy food there and feed them as it is considered as good gesture and compassion. Nearby on lower parts of hill is newly reconstructed Zhao Miao Temple( Bright Temple) Temple was built in 1790 by Qianlong Emperor in honor of Panchen Lamas visit from Tibet. So Temple is in Tibetan style. It was destroyed by British and French colonial forces looted and burnt down. Only one wall and main gate remained and also a green glazed pagoda. As a child I used to rest there under apricot tree next to small pond and wait sunset. But since 2012 it is under reconstruction. When I was last time there it was almost completed but still closed for visitors so I think it is just matter of time when it will be reopened. I remember when as a child I used to sit next to pond of Zhao temple under blossoming apricot tree. Next to Spectacles Lake there is Cable Car station in case that you do not like to hike so you can take cable car to take you halfway or full way to the peak.
Lastly there is very old and mysterious temple- Biyun Si- Azure Clouds Temple that dates from XIV century. It is Chan Buddhist temple. It is my favorite temple that I have visited so far. It is amazing temple, very specific ,silent and mystical. Its entrance is protected by few meters tall and scary statues of guardians of temple so called kings of 4 sides of world. They have big strict and scary eyes, large heads, strong muscles , sword or spear ( determined for defense of temple). According to traditional belief they have purpose to protect temple from evil ghosts.
I am not sure from which material they were made. When I was coming here as child mother to calm down my unpredictable behavior had to tell me that if I wont be silent they will eat me. This usually worked and made me to be most silent and polite boy during all visit of temple. In first hall of temple is big brown statue of Maitreya Buddha and in another hall there is statue of Amituofo Buddha. It was so quiet inside garden between halls of temple..
Pillars and facades were red, roofs dark green and grey. Naturally there was pond with lotus flowers and goldfishes. On few trees were hanged red ribbons with written wishes. It is a typical Buddhist temple. But untypically silent and different than other temples in Beijing which are overcrowded and noisy. Discovering this temple seems going back to some ancient century. In all Xiangshan you have feeling that you are in some different world, different than Beijing which isn’t so far. It seemed like that time stopped in Azure Cloud Temple. Few monks passed in light orange robes. In temple except monks were only few visitors sitting on grass or on stairs without making a noise. Sun rays were very specifically falling from sky between roofs and through leaves on walls, stairs, trees and ground. It created very mystical atmosphere. Buyin Si is so isolated and preserved from modern world. Because of walls around temple you feel like that you are in some other dimension. That’s why if someone asks me what is my favorite temple that I saw I would say this one. But I am sure that mountains of China are full of many other mysterious and silent temples.
There is hall of Sun Yatsen, first president of Republic of China He was initially buried here. There is his big white statue in one hall. I entered one mystical dark room in which light was only coming from small windows. In that room is collection of brown wooden statues of Arhats. As it is said on board Arhats are those perfected in Buddhism, those who reached complete inner peace, complete harmony with themselves and with all other beings and nature. There were also statues of Buddhisatvas and one statue of famous Buddhist monk Ji Gong about who I will speak later. It was unique atmosphere in this room. Something what I never experienced before. Like some secret place, like in some ancient time, some specific world. In the temple complex you cannot skip tall Vajrasana Pagoda made from stone with many carved Boddhistatvas. I meditated there for about 1 hour in shadow of pagoda and listening to birds while sunrays were falling on me.
If you want to stay overnight there are plenty of smaller hotels just outside the complex. Also there is one big hotel in complex nearby entrance gate. There are many restaurants outside complex. Staying overnight you can really enjoy the calm suburb atmosphere and cooler weather.
How to get there? Subway line 4 until Beigongmen station exit A than take 331, 696 or 563 buses until last stop. Buses operate from 6am until 10pm.
Fees and Opening Hours: Entrance: April to October- 10RMB 6:00-19:00, November to March-5RMB, 6:00-18:00
Biyun Temple- 10RMB 8:00-17:00
Cable Car: 60RMB one direction, 8:00-16:00
Botanical Garden is nearby and its worth visiting because of so beautiful nature and unique Wofo temple.
BADACHU( EIGHT GREAT SITES)
It is another interesting location for hiking around Beijing. It is several kilometers to the south of Xiangshan. Actually these 8 great sites are 8 Buddhist Temples that are located on this hills. Hiking here isn’t steep but I recommend to start hike early in the morning. I came there already at 6am.even without having breakfast. I wanted to use time as much as possible and check every possible detail of this nice place. Area offers you beautiful nature, pine trees, ponds and 8 temples. I have spent a day here from morning until evening. Hill isn’t too high around 500m and climbing isn’t too complicated as terrain isn’t too steep. But anyway to get to the top will take you around 2h. There is also cable car and not bad choice is to climb up by cable car and than slowly to go down and visit each of 8 temples. I firstly climbed up visiting few temples on road and going down I also visited several temples. Each of these 8 temples is specific with statues. In some of them is statue of Wofo( Sleeping Buddha) in some of them are statues of Mi La Fo( Fat Happy Buddha) or Amituofo( Enlightened Buddha), Medicine Buddha.
There are as well various other Buddhist deities such as Guanyin. There are figures of standing version, sitting version and thousand hand version. You will see here many religious people coming, praying, burning incense and meditating. I saw few cats here. From these 8 temples most interesting are Dabeisi( Temple of Great Compassion) and Temple of Divine Light.
Temple of Divine Light has quite tall pagoda and pond with goldfishes .I was sitting there under gingko tree and resting for around 2 hours and watching calm swimming of fishes. But at the end of the day storm almost caught me because I skipped bus as there was stray dog.
If you want to see morning chanting ceremony be there at 6am and you will see monks in orange robes chanting and praying in front of temple halls.
How to get there? Line 1 until Pingguoyuan station and take bus naci broj until Badachu station.
Entrance Fee and Opening Hours: 10RMB, April-October 6-19:30, November-March 6-18:30
Cable Car: 50RMB
Some more spots: Below are few more spots which I haven’t visited that I plan to visit and I have heard that they are excellent for hiking. All of them have stuning to nature and culture there.
Silver Mountain pagoda forest
Enjoy China 😉