Saturday, March 18, 2017

Beijing Trip Day 2 Mutianyu Great Wall Following Michelle Obama Tobbogan Ride and Ming Tombs

We were in Beijing!  We were staying at the Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel, and flew up on Singapore Airlines (see page 1).  As we landed late and went to bed only in the wee hours of the morning, we decided on a later start on Day 2 of our holiday.

The alarm clock woke us up and we had breakfast at the 4th Storey cafeteria (too much to eat!).  After that, we went up to the 21st Floor Club Lounge to get some bottled water, and I was surprised at the buffet spread available for breakfast.  They even had a live noodle station. Impressive.  Here is a video.



The Plan
Today, we hired a private driver.  His name is Simon and he runs his own company - http://simon-service.com/photo-gallery/ My family had used his services before and all was good.  He met us at the driveway at 10AM (as agreed) and he would drive us to Mutianyu and Ming Tombs today.

The drive to Mutianyu Great Wall took a while, I think about 1.5 hours.  The distance was more than 70km.

Along the way, I was watching the cars.  Many nice cars on Beijing Roads.  I commented to Simon that many of the cars I observed on the roads were larger cars (i.e not compact), and many SUVs, Mercedes, BMW, Audi.  Simon confirmed that the Chinese (Beijingers) loved nice cars, especially the Audi.  He said many of these car manufacturers have set up factories in China and most of the cars I saw were made (or at least assembled) in China.  He also said that getting a license to own a Beijing car was like striking lottery.  There was some lottery system and when you got the right to own a car, people tended to splurge and buy the nicest car possible.  Still, given that so many nice cars were widespread here, I could only conclude that people in Beijing were getting rich.  Towards the end of this car watching video, I even spotted the new Tesla SUV.


Mutianyu Great Wall
The visitor center at Mutianyu Great Wall looked rather new.  Simon told us that far fewer coaches and large tour groups go to Mutianyu, as compared to Badaling.   Well, the latter is older and more established (having been opened since 1957) and the Wall was very well preserved.  However, as you will see in my following pictures and videos, Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is pretty awesome too!  Another important reason why almost all tour coaches go to Badaling was because there were plenty of these Chinese shops there.  Tour companies will often make it compulsory for the groups to visit some shops or shopping village.  They want you to spend money.  Simon said there were not that many large shops near the Mutianyu Great Wall, which in my opinion made for a much quieter and more pleasant visit.

We arrived and we were blessed with a brilliant day to visit the Great Wall.  Bright sunshine and good temperatures (around 15 deg). Very light winds. Awesome.

We bought the tickets and decided to have some food before we ascended up via cable car.  Reason was that it was close to lunch time, and even though we had a late breakfast, it was better to fill up on some food before we do the walk.   Since we were so full, we just shared a Whopper Junior Meal from Burger King, and changed the drink to hot milk tea (which was good!)

In this video, we arrive at the Mutianyu Visitor Center, buy our tickets and head to the Burger King nearby to have a light meal.  Then we take the shuttle bus from the visitor center area up to the area where there were cable cars.  In the latter area, you could either take a cable car up to Tower 14, or chair lift up to Tower 6, or walk.  Our route today was to take the Cable Car to Tower 14, walk downwards towards Tower 6, and take the Toboggan back down.


The cable car ride up was fast.  Not many passengers today.  This was the low-season, and also at Mutianyu, you don't get the huge hordes of people that you may see at Badaling, well at least not during low season! The views when we got up the Wall were breathtaking!  We even spotted a Chinese couple take wedding photos.  I can understand why.

In this picture, you can barely make out the Cable Car station in the distance.  Watchtower Tower 14 is at the top of the ridge, slightly to the right of the Cable Car station, followed by by more towers.  I think I was already near Tower 7 or 6 from this angle.  Trust me, it was breathtaking.

In this 5 minute video, you will see snippets of our walk from Tower 14 to Tower 6, which took us about an hour.  Stop to take plenty of photos and videos! Beware of the steep steps. You will see that the steps were very steep at times.  So, come to the Wall while you can still manage steep steps, up and down!  Otherwise, it could get challenging.  Mutianyu Wall is definitely NOT disabled friendly.


At the Great Wall, I saw a photograph of Michelle Obama taking the Tobbogan, and coming back home I found it on the official White House website.  Here it is. (Official White House Photo, 2014)  The guy in black sunglasses following closely behind can't be the odd tourist!  (I am guessing USA Secret Service).

I quote from the First Lady's well written blog:

"Today we drove about an hour north of Beijing to a village called Mutianyu to visit a section of the Great Wall of China, which was simply breathtaking. The scenery on the way there was beautiful – a wide vista of mountains and trees – so the car ride alone was a treat. But then, running along the highest ridges of the mountains, you see it: The Great Wall – one of the great marvels of human history.

"In its entirety, the Great Wall stretches from east to west across more than 13,000 miles of Chinese countryside (that's about four times the length of the entire United States from Maine to Oregon!). It is not a single, uninterrupted wall, but rather a series of smaller walls which sometimes overlap and run parallel to each other.

"Certain sections of the Wall date back as far as the seventh century B.C., but the majority of the Great Wall we know today – including the section at Mutianyu – was built between the 1300s and the 1600s.

"To get to the Wall, we rode a cable car up a mountain (and we later rode back down on a long slide!). The section we visited is one of the more popular parts of the Wall for tourists, and it’s easy to see why. At Mutianyu, the Wall is roughly 20 to 25 feet tall and full of stairs, and there’s a watchtower every 100 yards or so. Those watchtowers serve as a reminder of why the Wall was built in the first place – to defend against attacks from armies descending from the north. Throughout its history, the Great Wall has gone through decades, even centuries, of ruin and disrepair. But it has always served as not only a physical barrier, but a psychological one to intimidate potential invaders.

"During our visit to the Wall, I couldn’t stop thinking about what a massive undertaking it must have been to build it. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and peasants were given the dangerous, painstaking – and often fatal – task of carrying ton after ton of granite, brick, dirt, and wood through the forests, up over the hills, and down through the valleys to create this incredible structure. They did this year after year, decade after decade – and it’s because of their hard work and sacrifice that the Great Wall remains standing today."

Upon reading Michelle Obama's blog (after I returned to Singapore), I realised that we had followed the same route to the Mutianyu Wall!  First, Cable Car up to an area near Tower 14, then walk down, reaching the Toboggan near Tower 6, and taking the Toboggan down.  Awesome.

So, if the First Lady of USA (obviously that makes her a VVIP) could take this ride, I figured it would be safe enough for mere mortals like myself to try.  So I decided to make sure I documented my Tobbogan experience.  Check out the following videos.  First, I arrive at the Tobbogan area.


The cost for a one way downward ride was 80RMB.  So be it.  And, here we go!  The ride was relatively long (almost 4 minutes) and at times, you could go quite fast, if you didn't want to apply the brakes.  They stationed men along the way, especially at the sharp turns, which was a good sign, though some of them were snoozing under the shade.  Fun ride and well worth it! Be warned though, no helmets provided.  If you are a speed devil and try to take the corners at 100MPH, mind your head.


That was fun!  After the ride, we took another short break at the same Burger King (shared some food), and it was time to make our way to the next destination - Ming Tombs! The ride took about an hour as it wasn't that near, and there wasn't a highway to get there.

The Ming Tombs are a collection of mausoleums built by the Emperors of the Ming Dynasty. The following write-up from Wikipedia.

"The first Ming emperor's tomb is located near his capital Nanjing. However, the majority of the Ming tombs are located in a cluster near Beijing and collectively known as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty (Chinese: 明十三陵; pinyin: Míng Shísān Líng; literally: "Ming Thirteen Mausoleums"). They are within the suburban Changping District of Beijing Municipality, 42 kilometres (26 mi) north-northwest of Beijing city center. The site, on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain (originally Huangtu Mountain), was chosen based on the principles of feng shui by the third Ming emperor, the Yongle Emperor. After the construction of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) in 1420, the Yongle Emperor selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum. The subsequent emperors placed their tombs in the same valley.

"From the Yongle Emperor onwards, 13 Ming dynasty emperors were buried in the same area. The Xiaoling tomb of the first Ming emperor, the Hongwu Emperor, is located near his capital Nanjing; the second emperor, the Jianwen Emperor, was overthrown by the Yongle Emperor and disappeared, without a known tomb. The "temporary" emperor, the Jingtai Emperor, was also not buried here, as the Tianshun Emperor had denied him an imperial burial; instead, the Jingtai Emperor was buried west of Beijing.[1] The last Ming emperor buried at the location was the Chongzhen Emperor, who committed suicide by hanging (on 25 April 1644), was buried in his concubine Consort Tian's tomb, which was later declared as an imperial mausoleum Si Ling by the emperor of the short-lived Shun dynasty, Li Zicheng, with a much smaller scale compared to the other imperial mausoleums built for Ming emperors."

So, what's the point of going to see Tombs?  Well, apparently this entire place was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003.  Why?  The grandeur of these 15th Century tombs is a symbolic reminder of how powerful and rich the Chinese were in that era of history.

Our first stop was the Chang Ling tombs, of Emperor Zhu Di (1360 to 1424), also known as Emperor Yongle.  Plenty to read about him online, so I shan't repeat that here.  Interesting that his ascension to the throne was not a given and he led  an internal rebellion against his own relatives and pretty much made himself Emperor.  This was the Jingnan Campaign, a civil war that lasted 3 years.

In this video, you will see the large numbers of Chinese domestic tourists.  People and more people! So many tour coaches in the parking lot!    

After Chang Ling, we headed over to the Ding Ling Tombs. Located in the southern foot of Tianshou Mountain in Changping County of Beijing, Dingling Tomb is the mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun (1563 - 1620) of Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and his two empresses, Empress Xiaoduan and Empress Xiaojing. Zhu Yijun was the thirteenth emperor and occupied the throne for 48 years, the longest among all of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty. Built over six years between 1584 and 1590, the tomb, which covers an area of 180,000 square meters (44 acres), is of great historical value, attracting millions of tourists from home and abroad every year.

At the Ding Ling tomb, you had to walk in a fairly long way and then you could literally walk down many floors (via steps) to the underground Palace.  A very interesting experience.   Check it out!


We stayed at the Ding Ling Tomb area museum until closing time, which was 5pm.  On the way back to the carpark area, we came across this steele on a turtle.


Drive back to Hotel
It was a rather long ride, primarily because the traffic got very heavy as we got closer to Beijing.  Did some more car watching along the way.  Spotted a couple of Trumpchi SUVs.  Didn't know what brand of car this was.  Only later did I find out that this was a local China brand (not to be confused with Donald Trump), and the car would be launching in the USA this year!


Once we reached our hotel (around 7pm), we headed to the 24F Executive Club lounge.  Since there was sufficient food, we decided to take our dinner there.  The lounge was pretty crowded though.  Check out the video I made . !

This concludes Day 2.  Check out Day 3 as we visit Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and others.  Thanks for reading!

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