This has been our busiest day of the trip! Steed knows how to pack a day full of amazing sights and an overwhelming amount of Chinese history. I wish I could remember half of what he told us!
So a very quick history lesson for you as it pertains to today’s goings on. In the early 1600s Manchurian nomads from the north overthrew the Ming Dynasty and in 1644 established the Qing Dynasty. (Pronounced Ching.)They ruled China until 1911. These emperors liked to get away from the Forbidden City during the summer and get in some traditional hunting and horse riding. They did this up here in Chengde. They also liked to entertain foreign dignitaries a safe distance from the capital. To this end they built eight Buddhist temples for diplomatic and state visits. We visit four of them.
Pule Temple built between 1766 and 1776. This temple contains a 22 metre high wood statue of Guanyin. The legs, torso, head and 42 arms are carved from five separate types of wood. Unfortunately photographs not allowed in that hall. (The Chinese antiquities security folks take their jobs very seriously.)
A little further along is Puning Temple built in 1755 which is still an active place of Buddhist worship. There are prayer wheels to be spun and the resonance of chanted “Om Mani Peme Hum” hangs in the air with wafts of incense smoke. This temple is an artistic and harmonious blend of Chinese and Tibetan architecture. Most temples in China have large tall four sided obelisk type stones called “stele’s.” These stones are inscribed with the history of deeds of the various emperors who had the stele erected. The history on the stele in Puning Temple is written in Chinese, Manchurian, Mongolian and Tibetan. This attests to a close relationship between this emperor (Qianlong) and these surrounding peoples.
Our next temple of the morning (yes it is still morning, we stated early) is Sumeru Temple built in 1780/81 to welcome the Panchen Lama VI from Tibet when he came for the Emperor’s 45th birthday party. This visit is particularly fun because after a fairly steep climb up through the extensive grounds, there is a wooden walkway installed around the roof of the largest building. This affords fabulous view across the surrounding countryside and some close ups of the fabulously ornate roof decorations. These include eight (a very auspicious number) prancing dragons gracing the roof lines.
Lunch? No, first Putuozongcheng temple which is actually a scaled down version of Lhasa’s Potala Palace. Dad goes on strike at this point. He hates ups and downs and we’ve been upping and downing all morning. So I head up the numerous flights of stairs to the higher reaches of the palace while Steed locates a pleasant seat in the sun for Dad. That done Seed comes up to find me. I’ve found the highest place on the palace roof and am enjoying more views from this wonderful vantage point. Most of the interior of this place seems to be closed. The few open rooms are dark and very chilly.
I forgot to mention that this is another brilliantly sunny day. It started hat wearing cold but is now pleasantly warm. Perfect temperature really for exploring temples.
It is now past two and time for lunch. Steed finds us a funny little local restaurant and once again orders a massive quantity of interesting food. Thankfully he seems to have a very healthy appetite so what we can’t manage he finishes.
Our next stop is Bishu Shanzhuang which is the imperial summer palace resort. Dad decides a sleep in the car in the sun is of more interest to him then a brisk walk around a corner of the vast grounds. Steed and I do a quick tour through the simple wooden palace buildings. It is very classic and understated. Treed courtyards and numerous interconnected buildings.
The grounds are simply vast so we walk around one of the lakes while listening to live classical music. The day is waining and we still have one more place to visit!
Upon return to the car we wake Dad and set off for two tall rocks on the top of which are two ancient Pagodas. How people managed to get up there to build the Pagodas is a mystery to me. I have forgotten the name of this place (didn’t write it down!) we arrive just before sunset and the chair lift up the the base of the rocks has already closed for the day. Dad takes one look at the steepness and length of the slope to reach the base of the rocks and retreats back into the car. Steed gets me a ticket and with the sun setting at an alarming rate I begin a lung busting run up the mountain! On the way I see a few signs about entering monkey territory but take little notice. I’m at the top to see the sunset. Then realize I need to hurry along a ridge to get far enough away from the rocks to see the Pagodas on the tops. There is a pathway designed for just this thing. It is covered and looks like a dragon. I dash through the belly of the dragon and am just about to achieve a view of the Pagodas when what to my consternation should appear but two mean monkeys in the twilight. I stop, they bare their horrid sharp monkey teeth. Hmm. Pagoda pictures be damned, I beat a panting and fairly ordered retreat back into the dragon path. Back at the bases of the rocks I find Steed looking totally bewildered. He can’t figure out how I’d run up the hill and further so quickly. It is now getting pretty dark so time to return down to the car. This we do and another surprise awaits us. The gates are closed up tight. We are locked in. Dad is in the car on the other side. Nice of him to have raised the alarm when he saw the place getting locked up! Haha he was asleep and didn’t notice. So Steed and I test the doors and gates. Not opening. We go on a little escape mission and find a night watchman who looks rather surprised but let’s us out! Gee!
Back at our hotel Dad and I have another best forgotten meal with an even worse problem paying than last night. This time I have to take the bill with three items on it to the reception because the dining room staff refuses to take a cash payment. Why they are so adamant to get hold of one of our credit cards we do not know. There is no tip. Steed tells us the next morning that the place hosts embassy staff and diplomats. I will leave it to you to come to any conclusions you wish. Needless to say Qi Wang Lou Hotel is not a place I’d recommend to anyone.
This is a long blog and sometimes things run amuck when I post pictures. Also it’s time for dinner so pictures coming in a separate Blog in a while.