Beijing Backpacking, Day 24: No Pain, No Gain, and the Greatest View

The greatest view is a form of enlightenment, and a great reward in Beijing
The greatest view is a form of enlightenment, and a great reward in Beijing

At this latitude, the seasons can be punishing. In July, just off the height of summer, temperatures coften go into the mid-30s. But, often coincidentally, summer also tends to give Beijing some of its cleaner days of the year – especially after the rains come in and wash the pollution away.

It gave me an opportunity to revisit the best of what Beijing has to offer. And just like the other parks, it’s not free, but it’s something locals and visitors alike enjoy on a daily basis. But unfortunately, on this day, although it had just rained, the pollution retuned quite swiftly, as did the scorching temperatures. This happened to be the day I allocated to scale central Beijing’s only two ‘natural’ hills in the skyline, at Jingshan and Beihai.

Jingshan, perhaps aptly, translates literally to ‘View Mountain’ – and, being directly behind (to the north of) the Forbidden City, offers quite the spectacular view. Immediately to its northwest is the large lake of Beihai (literally ‘North Sea’, also in reference to its position relative to the Forbidden City), meaning that the panorama goes all the way around. It’s a 300 metre-plus vertical trek, and in this weather, you’re sweating profusely. But, despite naturally boosting the sales of the drink vendors surrounding, that doesn’t seem to deter the hoards of locals which scale it and the four pavilions which flank the central Buddhist shrine on its eastern and western sides, generating an east-west arch-like formation of sacred structures that outline the hill.

I had thought that Beihai, immediately to the northwest, would provide some relief: a tranquil lake, surrounded by tree-lined walkways blossoming in the summer.B But at the centre of Beihai lies another hill to scale: this time with a stupa on top. And they’re still scaling it at 1 pm when the heat is at its harshest. All for a good view … or enlightenment, of course. I forget about how harsh the conditions are when I find a place to sit, and simply marvel at it all. Contemplate. Reflect. When I get comfortable first. I’ll need a good drink to cool off for that first.

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