June 2019


Beijing's Many Charms
June 2019




Cheerful locals engage in traditional games at the Temple of Heaven.

Beijing, the capital of China was once the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors. The word Beijing literally translates to 'Northern Capital'. Today the city is the political capital of the vast country with wide boulevards and modern buildings alongside ancient palaces and squares. Rich imperial history and China's rapid progress come together in an exciting mix in Beijing.

Words: Kalpana Sunder

Brightly coloured kites fashioned like mythical monsters dance above the treetops, and children frolic in the grass. The Long Corridor, the covered walkway, is an entertainment corridor with cheerful locals playing mahjong (tile-based game) or having a picnic. A troupe of local Uyghur dancers in traditional costumes, perform opera arias.

We are at Beijing's Temple of Heaven, the stage for the Emperor to appeal to the Heavens to give a bountiful harvest. Its most remarkable feature is the round, blue-roofed Hall of Prayer for Good harvests, constructed without nails.

The Emperor visited the temple thrice a year to request favour for a good harvest, pray for rain, and to show gratitude. The Emperor would fast in the Forbidden City before he performed the sacrifices in the Temple of Heaven.

It is surrounded by a lush park studded with ancient trees; we enjoy the nine dragon cypress, more than 500 years old, so called because it looks like nine dragons winding with each other.

For a glimpse of Old Beijing, we take a trip to the hutongs. The word 'hutong' is derived from the Mongolian word 'hottog' meaning water well. The first hutongs were built more than 700 years ago when the Mongols dug out wells and decided to live around them.

On a short tour of the modern architectural icons of Beijing, we visit the Bird's Nest or the National Stadium and the Water Cube - the ocean blue Olympic Aquatic centre made of Teflon which looks like plastic bubbles. Most impressive is the peculiar steel and glass doughnut-like CCTV building, which seems to represent modern Beijing.

The focal point of Wangfujing Street is the food market - steam-billowing vats and skewers of spicy meat from sizzling grills.

For more than 500 years, the Forbidden City was only accessible to Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties and their families. We are at the Southern Entrance (called the Meridian Gate), to the sprawling Forbidden City, the world's largest palace complex. We enter a large square with the Hall of Supreme Harmony, which used to be the scene of important ceremonies, where the Emperor ascended the throne, got married and celebrated the New Year.

We spend an afternoon at the multi-floored Silk Market filled with a mind-boggling variety of goods on sale. Bargaining is a must. Our last day is spent at a timeless Chinese tea ceremony. Beijing has a unique identity, a mix of the modern and the futuristic lying close together with the ancient and historical.

 

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    The Temple of Heaven was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies.

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    For a glimpse of Old Beijing, visit the hutongs.

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    The ultra modern Water Cube or the Beijing National Aquatics Center.

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    Wangfujing Street is a world of neon lights and street food.

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    The Forbidden City was only accessible to members of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

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