Saturday, January 9, 2010

Beijing - Bewitched in Badaling

Pristine snow covering the sidewalk and shrubbery outside our hotel.

Summer Palace - the imperial tea house made completely from marble.

Summer Palace - Buddhist Temple on Longevity Hill. In the foreground is the Kun Ming Lake.

Summer Palace - barges docked for the winter.

Haaa.. go figure.. he he he..

Awwa's moment of treasure..

Pak Abu trying to outshine Christmas lights in front of an upmarket shopping complex.

Our "Ice, Ice Baby" van..

Refuelling in anticipation of a long day at the Wall.

One for the road before leaving for Badaling. Pix taken in front of the hotel.

Wall decoration in a Muslim restaurant enroute the Great Wall.

The restaurant's prayer room.

Decorative vase made of cloisonne.

Gelato in the middle of winter? Ice cream stand at the entrance of the cloisonne centre.

Before the climb..

"Off with the head!" Check out the array of Chinese ancient weaponry on display at the Wall.

Ploughing into knee-deep snow just to get the pavilion as backdrop for this picture.

Day Three
A thick blanket of snow greeted our third day in Beijing. From my hotel room, excited whoops and shouts filtered through, emanating from the sidewalk on the other side of the street.

Taking a peep through bleary eyes, I spied three youngsters throwing snowballs at each other. It was not yet seven on a Sunday morning, yet there was already a sizeable number of folks up and about, taking in the heavy fall.

We were to learn later that it was the heaviest snowfall Beijing had experienced since 1951. In the northern parts of the city towards the mountains, snow was waist-deep, with temperature plunging to -23 C. Small wonder there was so much excitement around.

The whiteness dazzled as we stepped out into the cottony hail. There was magic in the air as plum-cheeked children scampered about and woolen-clad canines paraded past, straining on leashes held by adults togged in fashionable winter gear.

The evening before we concluded our day's tour with a brief visit to the Summer Palace, the retreat of China's imperial rulers during the hot summer months, for almost one thousand years.

This complex of halls, pavilions, bridges, courtyards and temples, with its equally magnificent classical Chinese garden named Yi He Yuan (Garden of Peace and Harmony), dates back to the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234).

Located in the northwest suburbs of Beijing 12 kilometres away, the Summer Palace is the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China, not to mention the best existing example of classical Chinese garden arts.

Although best viewed in spring or summer when the flowers are in full bloom, the stark beauty of its naked trees and shrubs, frozen ponds and snow-covered stone gardens and cobbled pathways could not be denied.

Outstanding features of this sprawling complex include the huge man-made Kun Ming Lake, the nearby Longevity Hill and the Buddhist Temple perched atop it. It is interesting to note that Longevity Hill too is man-made, built from silt excavated and dredged to build the lake.

An interesting footnote: The garden was plundered many times over the centuries due to various skirmishes. In 1860 it was destroyed once again when Anglo-French Allied Forces invaded Beijing during the Opium Wars, in the reign of Emperor Xianfeng.

Twenty-five years later, in 1885, Empress Dowager Cixi restored the garden to its original splendour with funds brazenly embezzled from the Imperial Navy. (Trust a woman to do the job! She just knew where to find the money!)

Our van, caked with hardened snow, arrived promptly at 8 am. Its heated interior offered such cosy comfort from the relentless snowstorm outside that we clambered to get in.

We could tell from the body language of driver Jiang and tour guide Lu as they chatted animatedly that they shared a mutual worry - the inclement weather.

We were headed toward Badaling, 65 kilometres northwest of Beijing and site of the most visited section of the Great Wall. The portion running through this site was built during the Ming Dynasty, along with a military outpost reflecting the importance of this strategic location.

The severity of this year's winter became more apparent as we inched our way towards Badaling. The going was painfully slow; a portion of the highway was chock-a-block with hundreds of lorries, trucks and other heavy vehicles unable to go any further due to road closure.

This was because the climbing highway had become progressively slippery and could endanger lives. Only vehicles with nine passengers and less were allowed to proceed. This ruled out tour buses as well.

Under normal circumstances, the drive to Badaling from Beijing city centre would take no more than 45 minutes. But we had been on the road for two hours since and had covered only a small section of the journey.

Looking at cars stalled by the roadside and the winding jam ahead, we began to worry if we would ever reach the Great Wall on this maiden trip. Our driver Jiang tried a side road, but turned back when he realised it would not make the going any faster.

Enroute, we stopped by a jade centre but prices were rather steep. Still, a deep green 'live' jade stone beckoned invitingly, and I ended up making a purchase (there was an unexpected twist to this, but the tale's for another day).

The traffic crawl also called for a slight shift in plan. Earlier, it was to have been the Wall first and then lunch and a visit to a cloisonne manufacturing centre.

Since the centre was along the same route, and the Chinese Muslim restaurant was housed under the same roof - coupled with the fact that it was already noon and we were oh so hungry - we decided to eat, pray and shop first before continuing our journey.

This particular restaurant, located on the third floor of the centre, had a spacious curtained-off prayer area adjacent to its dining hall and a very clean, well laid-out 'wudhu' area for taking ablution.

Frankly, all my worries about cleanliness, ablution and prayer places in Beijing were unfounded. I had to constantly remind myself that China has a long Islamic history dating back to the year 651, just two decades after the death of Prophet Muhammad (saw).

This was when Prophet Muhammad's (saw) uncle, Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas, was sent as a special envoy to Emperor Gaozong during the era of Caliph Uthman.

Today China has some 40 million Muslims from 10 ten ethnic groups - Hui, Uyghur, Kazakh, DongXiang, Khalkhas, Salar, Tajik, Uzbek, Baoan and Tartar - each with its own written and spoken languages, cultures and unique traditions.

Back at the cloisonne centre, the girls and I were doing the rounds as Pak Abu stepped out for a smoke. The bright hues of cloisonne jewellery tempted us enough to purchase a couple of charm bracelets.

Cloisonne, in a nutshell, is traditional enamelware. In China, this art form dates back as far as the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) and became popular during the reign of the Ming Emperors in the 1400s.

All done, we stepped out the shop and into the frigid weather once again to continue our journey. The tortoise pace continued; stomach full and lulled by the crawl we nodded off, even snoring contentedly.

Soon traffic came to a standstill. People poured out from cars behind us and started walking. We stayed put in the van whilst guide Lu left to check on the snow-plowing progress and assess the situation. Pak Abu and Ann followed.

Soon Mr Lu returned. Pointing to a hazy outline high up the mountains ahead he exclaimed, "You can see the Great Wall from here. We can start walking now because it's not very far." And walked we did, up the winding road into knee-deep fresh snow, where an incredible sight awaited.

In the snowy fuzz loomed The Great Wall of China in all its majestic splendour, snaking its way along the peaks as far as the eyes could see. No word could adequately describe the spectacular sight of this precious cultural treasure that epitomises the ingenuity and tenacity of the Chinese people.

The climb was arduous yet invigorating. We had to be on constant alert for ice, to avoid slipping. Whilst the rest headed for the towers in the distance, I contented myself with just ambling along.

I had no desire to conquer any tower; being able to walk any distance on the Great Wall of China while taking in the absolutely beautiful whiteness of the surrounds was good enough for me.

It felt surreal to be there. There were not many moments in my life when I stopped to 'smell the flowers" - life had been one long harried and hurried buzz - but on the Wall I sat, in quiet contemplation, of the greatness of God.

It was almost 7pm by the time we returned to the city. Along the way were hundreds of lorries and trucks still stranded on the other side of the highway, thus clogging this main artery connecting Beijing and China's northern provinces.

We were told the mountain passes and gaps had been closed due to snowstorm. Pak Abu mulled over the fate of two fellow Malaysians who were also guests at the hotel we stayed in.

The young Malay couple (they looked like honeymooners) had left the hotel for Badaling around the same time as we did. Their plan was to climb the Great Wall after which they were to proceed to a mountain resort further up for a bit of skiing. They couldn't possibly have gone through; the mountain road was completely snowed in.

We also saw emergency vehicles unloading and distributing boxes to the stranded motorists. Our guide explained that the boxes contained foodstuffs and blankets for them to survive the sub-zero night until the roads were cleared.

Dinner was a quiet affair (except where Pak Abu slipped on ice and fell on his cushiony bums in front of the restaurant, but that too is another story).

We were completely knackered by the events of the day but it didn't stop us from polishing our food down to the last morsel. Somehow, the meals seemed to be getting more delicious as the days progressed....

It was past 9 pm when we finally got back to the hotel, worn and weary from all the walking and climbing, but absolutely thrilled that we made it to the Great Wall of China after all...


NanaDJ said...

You would do well to be a representative of Beijing Tourism Board or whatever they are called. Now I feel like going to Beijing (but dare I brave the winter or should I see Beijing in the spleandour of Summer or Spring?)
Very good photos and superb description, you make me feel that I was there with you. Thank you.
No more ahem...romantic moments?

tireless mom said...

I second nana DJ.

I have never been to Beijing and your posts really made me want to go visit. Hopefully tak sampai sana bila dah dapat brain disease pulak hence the sign would be applicable to me then!

Pak Zawi said...

I thought it was the wrong time to visit Beijing. You proved me wrong as the winter provided you with such an adventure. My previous visit during a summer was mild in comaprison to yours. Keep the post coming.

Kenali Seni Lukis Kelantan said...

Salam..seronok ya dpt melancong ke China. Tu la tengok TV salji tebal di Beijing..apa2 pun solat kat mana pun sudah menjadi kewajipan kita..kan kat China tu ader di sebut di dalam hadis pasal menuntut ilmu. Perfect pics.


Kama At-Tarawis said...

Nana - I thank my tourism background (ITM '84)and four years as the pr for Thai Tourism Board, for this. Have always loved travel writing.

TM - China is an ideal travel destination; it's so vast..

Pak Zawi - hope you are ok healthwise. Long time no hear from you. I hv never fancied summer travel, it can be scorching.. spring/ autumn/ winter are good months for me.

Deen - bab sembahyang tu, deen, antara nak buat dengan takmau aja. sejuk is no excuse really.. air panas ada, facilities semua cukup. saya terkedu jumpa chinese muslims kat mesjid di sana..

MA said...

Kak Puteri,

I never was interested to travel to Beijing before (or any parts of China) due to the horror stories I have heard of the travels and coming from my Msian Chinese colleagues - lagi lah I tak teringin.

Like others who commented before, you gave a different overview on the beauty of the tour (good halal food,solat facilities,reliable guide etc) that makes me put Beijing on my next travel destination. Ada chan main snow at a cheaper price than going to Switzerland!

Take care.

mekyam said...

whether it's writing about scorching in arabia or freezing in china, you really know how to transport us with you! :D

Typhoon Sue said...

the cleanliness aspect, particularly of the toilets, have improved tremendously since the beijing olympics, or so i heard. i dunno how it is now, but when i was there, their public toilets are dirtier than ours. what made it worse was the fact that they are very kedekut with water thereby making flushing very very difficult. can't blame them really since water is precious commodity there.
anyway, here's another take on Islam in China

Kak Teh said...

Puteri, London is not as bad as we touched down at 0510 this morning but really felt the cold after the scorching heat over the last few days in Malaysia.

Am i glad to be back? to see the children and the cats, yes. But I left so many loved ones in Malaysia.

Kama At-Tarawis said...

MA - I recommend you give Beijing a try. Chances are you won't regret it.

Mekyam - You are too kind with words, as always.

Sue - I think you are right with regards cleanliness et al. Perhaps the recent Olympics did play a part in transforming Beijing, so to speak. Whatever the case, we were fortunateenough to hv met only with goodness all around.

Kak Teh - You're home, safe and sound! Alhamdulillah. Tq for dropping by so soon after getting back. We only hv good memories of you recent visit. Insyaallah, we'll try our level best to 'serbu' you before the year is out (kalau ada rezeki).

Naz in Norway said...

Salam Kak Puteri,
Allright, darling...YOU HAVE TO WRITE A BOOK.
Please please please....pweety pweese!
Salam from Kak Wos ;D

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Naz - i am waiting for kak teh to write first..hehehe.. oh, please kissey kissey delectable Kak Ros for me...! We hv to meet before you go ..

darling said...

kak puteri,

ohhhh bestnye!! can you share the name of the tour company you travelled with?

Tommy Yewfigure said...

Hi Puteri,

I’m sure now u have got no brain disease, else u wouldn’t had written this post so well..hahaha.

Did u & Awwa attempted to make a snowman in front of the hotel, I see there?

Like I said in your previous post, gee how we love the cold, appetite improved, full of energy to burn, the hugs & cuddles & ahemm the romantic moments to keep each other warm (Psst, NanaDJ, hope this answer your inquisitive question to Puteri, but I shall leave the 'errr' to your imagination lah).

Looking forward to your next instalment,


KG said...

Kak Puteri, cantiknya! And next time kalau you nak pi rendezvous @ Lake Club ajaklah I and Haq, nanti I suruh Haq nyanyi lagi tee hee!!

Kama At-Tarawis said...

Darling - my next entry (the final one) will hv all the details of the travel agent. I know I want to use them again the next time..

Tommy - the headless snowman! of course lah cuddle cuddle under the blanket tommy, it was cold maah!

KG - I am waiting for KLGCC punya new karaoke lounge to open soon.. kita pi try depa punya spanking new system..

Anonymous said...

hello there thanks for your grat post, as usual ((o:

Unknown said...

Well done ! You are so brave and adventurous! These are great pictures of the Great Wall! Which reminds me... I should go through my India pictures and post some. Having read this I thought it was rather informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it! In return, I also found a great blog of Great Wall travel tips, I'd love to share it here with you and for future travelers.