Friday, December 6, 2013

"I went to China for a brief working visit, and I thought that Shanghai was interesting,
but Beijing totally grabbed me." - Marcus Brigstocke

Beijing is the capital of the People's Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world. The population as of 2012 was 20,693,000. The metropolis, located in northern China, is governed as a direct-controlled municipality under the national government, with 14 urban and suburban districts and two rural counties. Beijing Municipality is surrounded by Hebei Province with the exception of neighboring Tianjin Municipality to the southeast. Beijing is the second largest Chinese city by urban population after Shanghai and is the nation's political, cultural, and educational center. It is home to the headquarters of most of China's largest state-owned companies, and is a major hub for the national highway, expressway, railway, and high-speed rail networks. The Beijing Capital International Airport is the second busiest in the world by passenger traffic. The city's history dates back three millennia. As the last of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, Beijing has been the political center of the country for much of the past eight centuries. The city is renowned for its opulent palaces, temples, gardens, tombs, walls and gates, and its art treasures and universities have made it a center of culture and art in China. Encyclopædia Britannica notes that "few cities in the world have served for so long as the political headquarters and cultural centre of an area as immense as China."

1. Great Wall at Mutianyu

The Great Wall at Mutianyu is a little further from Beijing than the most popular section at Badaling, but it doesn't get as crowded.  This section of the Wall is fully restored, there are hand rails to help you up on the very steep parts and the views are spectacular.

There are many day tours and even mass transit bus services available to this section of the Wall. Bus Line 867 goes straight to the Wall at 7:30am and 8:30am and leaves the Wall at 2:00pm and 4:00pm. Note, however, that some 867 buses do not go to the Wall, but only to the terminal in Mutianyu proper, so ask the conductor before you board. Also, note that the Beijing bus terminal for 867 is located a short walk from the main terminal at Dongzhimen station.
The other way to get there is to take the 916 Bus from Dongzhimen Station but it will stop at Huairou Bus Shelter. From this Shelter you can take minibus owned by locals for 40-50 Yuan to the gate of Mutianyu. Or you can take a rented car. There will be people approaching you to offer you their car or minibus. They are OK and friendly. But you still need to be careful and alert.

This part of the Wall is not as crowded as others and the Wall and steps are in good shape. There are two cable cars that will take you to the top of the Wall and back down again. There are two cable car companies.  If you walk on the top of the Wall to the opposite side you will have to buy another ticket. If you plan to walk this far, buy a one-way ticket only from the initial car company. You can buy tickets at the top of  the wall too but it will cost you  a bit more compared to the two-way ticket at the entrance. There is also a luge you can use to return to the bottom.
There is water available at the top of the Wall but it will cost you a little extra. Toilets are limited at the top of the cable car routes. Plan accordingly. There is a Subway fast food restaurant at the base of the Wall for food to take to the top. There are also many souvenir vendors at the base you will need to make your way through to get to the Wall.

This section of the Great Wall, 70 km North East of Beijing and is older than Bedaling section. It has 22 watch Towers and it is very scenic all around the wall. Lush green mountains and streams enhance the beauty of this area. The views are simply awesome from the top of this one of the seven wonders of the world. The clear skies and the sunny weather helped. I would recommend using the chair lift, which is 550 metres in length, to go up to the top and then walk on the wall as much or as little as you can. It takes only five minutes from chairlift station to the best three scenic spots of the wall, Mutianyuguan, Forts and Dajiaolou.
Married couples having their photographs taken on the wall. There is a stainless steel chute, called Toboggan coming very fast down the mountains if young people like a thrilling ride down the mountains (not for the faint hearted) or use the chairlift again.

Built mainly with granite, the wall is 7–8.5 metres high and the top is 4–5 metres wide. Compared with other sections of Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall possesses unique characteristics in its construction. Watchtowers are densely placed along this section of the Great Wall - 22 watchtowers on this 2,250-metre-long stretch. Both the outer and inner parapets are crenelated with merlons, so that shots could be fired at the enemy on both sides - a feature very rare on other parts of the Great Wall. The Mutianyu Pass consists of 3 watchtowers, one big in the centre and two smaller on both sides. Standing on the same terrace, the three watchtowers are connected to each other inside and compose a rarely seen structure among all sections of Great Wall. Besides, this section of Great Wall is surrounded by woodland and streams. The forest-coverage rate is over 90 percent. Today, this section of wall is open to visitors.
There are three methods of ascent and four methods of descent to choose from. Besides utilizing 4000+ steps, visitors may also choose between a two-rider chairlift or four-rider gondola up from the foothills to the level of the wall, which runs along the ridges above. These lifts may also be used to descend. Another feature of the wall at Mutianyu is an alternate method of descent by single-rider personal wheeled toboggan. This allows single riders to descend from the wall to the valley on a winding metal track.

Adjacent to the Mutianyu wall is its namesake village, which has been hailed by the Chinese government as a model village because of its rebirth largely thanks to tourism and glassware industries. Mutianyu Village is twinned with the village of Shelburne Falls in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Due to its proximity to the Jiankou Great Wall, the Mutianyu-Jiankou trail is becoming one of the most popular Great Wall hikes. As Jiankou is in a state of disrepair, this hike combines the preserved condition of Jiankou's Great Wall with the classic restorative brickwork of Mutianyu.

2. Hall of Great Harmony

The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest hall within the Forbidden City. It is located at its central axis, behind the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Built above three levels of marble stone base, and surrounded by bronze incense burners, the Hall of Supreme Harmony is one of the largest wooden structures within China. It was the location where Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty Emperors hosted their enthronement and wedding ceremonies. The name of the Hall was changed from Feng Tian Dian to the current one by the Shunzhi Emperor of Qing Dynasty. Together with the Hall of Central Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony, the three halls constitute the heart of the Outer Court of the Forbidden City.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony rises some 30 meters above the level of the surrounding square. It is the ceremonial center of imperial power, and the largest surviving wooden structure in China. It is nine bays wide and five bays deep, the numbers nine and five being symbolically connected to the majesty of the Emperor. The six pillars nearest the imperial throne are covered with gold, and the entire area is decorated with a dragon motif.
The imperial Dragon Throne, in particular, has five dragons coiled around the back and hand rests. The screen behind it features sets of nine dragons, again reflecting the "nine-five" symbolism. Set into the ceiling directly above the throne is an intricate caisson decorated with a coiled dragon, from the mouth of which issues a chandelier-like set of metal balls. Called the "Xuanyuan Mirror", this object harkens back to Xuanyuan, the Yellow Emperor, the legendary first ruler of China. In the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held court here to discuss affairs of state.

During the Qing Dynasty, Emperors held court far more frequently. As a result, the location was changed to the Inner Court, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony was only used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings. The original hall was built by the Ming Dynasty in 1406 and was destroyed seven times by fires during the Qing Dynasty and last re-built in 1695–1697.

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