Yet another travel report – Chengde and the Great Wall

Great Wall at Jinshanling
The Great Wall at Jinshanling.

This was my third travel weekend in a row, I guess that’s why I haven’t seen many sights in Beijing yet. This weekend I traveled in a large group as about 70 of the German students joined the trip to see Chengde and the Great Wall. Since we were such a large group, we traveled with two coach buses and had all the sightseeing planned beforehand. Therefore we did not need to think about which places to go to like during my trips to Shanghai and Taishan when we were only a small group. But on the other hand, we could not decide to spend how much time at each sight and when to take a little rest.

The tourguide told us some interesting facts about Chengde and it’s temples and history as imperial summer residence town during the Qing dynasty. Unfortunately she was telling some information well known to us about three times during our two-an-a-half-day-trip, so it was sometimes hard to listen – but at least we were allowed to leave the group and discover the sights on our own.

Protect the green Great Wall
Sign in front of the “real” Great Wall to prevent forest fires and save the “Green Great Wall”.

The first sight we saw, was the Great Wall – not the actual Great Wall but the “Green Great Wall” just after we left Beijing. This is a large forest program to prevent sand storms and desertification. Therefore thousands of trees were planted in file, all of the same kind – so one can only hope that there is not a pest harming this monoculture. A big problem for this plantation is the lack of water in this region. We crossed large riverbeds with rivers not carrying any water at all, the fields were all dusty and no plants are growing yet. I wonder when they start to seed or plant on the brown, dry land.
Another enemy of the Green Great Wall is fire. Everywhere one could see fires to prevent fire disasters and to save and value the environment.

Temple and sparse fields near Chengde
Temple and sparse fields near Chengde.

The “real” Great Wall” was impressive: It reached until the horizon, it was impossible to imagine how the stones have all been brought here centuries ago. The part we visited at Jinshanling was renovated, however most parts of the Wall encounter a creeping destruction, either by nature or by people who have been using it as resource for stones after the Wall was not needed anymore for defensive purposes.

The next day we had the “full Chengde tour,” consisting of a visit to the most famous temples and the imperial summer residence. In the morning we first went to Puning temple (普寧寺) that differs from the temples I had seen before, because it was built in Tibetan style. For example there were prayer wheels and a lot of colored banners flying in the wind. The Guanyin statue inside the temple was huge (actually it is the largest wooden Buddhist statue in the world). Unfortunately the importance of this temple for tourists made the temple loose some of it’s spirit: The Buddhist monks are playing instruments for you after you made a “donation” and even worse – there is a whole street of stands where tourist bits and pieces are sold and money is asked for fishy performances.

The second large temple we visited that morning shows the Chinese’ ability to copy – in Chengde they copied the famous Potala palace in Lhasa. But is not a tourist trap – it was copied for emperor Qianlong’s sixtieth birthday in 1761. Although it is smaller than the original in Tibet (there it was intended as palace for the Dalei Lama) it is still very impressive. Ten years after the Potala palace, the Panchen Lama’s temple was also copied and build in Chengde, right next to the duplicate of Potala.

Potala in Chengde
The Potala Palace – not in Lhasa but in Chengde.

In the afternoon we toured Bishu shanzhuang – the summer resort of the Qing emperors. It is larger than the summer palace in Beijing, but while the summer palace features a lot of buildings with a nice view on the lake, most of Chengde’s summer residence seems to consist from forest. Nonetheless, we it was recognized as UNESCO cultural heritage site, maybe also because of it’s historical importance as international guest were welcomed here and treaties were signed.
We had great views on the Potala and the Panchen Lama’s temple and enjoyed a boat cruise on the lake. Unfortunately we the steering wheel of our boat was not in good shape and we had some trouble to get back to the landing stage.

Imperial Summer Residende in Chengde
Boat cruise in the Bishi shanzhuang (“Summer resort mountain area”).

On Sunday morning we visited factory where all kinds of glass manufactured. It was interesting to see, the travel guide told us that some of the workers in the (privately run) company receive higher salary because their work “is not good for their health.” Although the factory was very clean and the workers experienced to visitors, few wore a protective uniforms and it looked pretty chaotic when workers carried chunks of viscous glass from the oven to their working place. The main reason for this visit was to go to the shop of the factory afterwards were kitschy glass art and normal glasses were sold.

After that we would have climbed the “thumb mountain” but as busy Chinese style tourist we did not have enough time for this so we used to cable car to get up the hill and touched to awkwardly shaped 37 m tall rock – according to a Chinese saying I will now live up to 130 years…

The Thumb Rock near Chengde
The “Thumb Rock”.

Last but not least out trip included a famous Manchu-Han-Banquet er – lunch. It was not a traditional “full Manchu-Han Banquet“, that once consisted of several hundred courses, but still, it had some great local dished, was served by waitresses wearing traditional clothes and made most of us sleepy during the way back to Beijing.


3 Responses to “Yet another travel report – Chengde and the Great Wall”

  1. Sumi Says:

    Lustig, ihr habt genau die gleiche Chengde-Tour gemacht wie wir letztes Jahr, sogar mit derselben Reiseleiterin! 🙂 Schöner Blog, der interessanteste von den diesjährigen ECCSlern, zumindest von den dreien, ich gesehen habe. 🙂
    Liebe Grüße aus dem sommerlichen Tübingen! 🙂 Sumi

  2. Prayer Wheels Says:

    Turning the prayer wheel is Buddhist religious exercise a part of their lives, people turn these Mani wheels or Prayer wheels day and night for hours and hours while waking or resting whenever their right hand is free are murmuring the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” over and over again. Buddhist pilgrims use the prayer wheel for meditation and healing.

  3. The Great Wall Badaling (Sights Beijing) · Says:

    […] Interesting Design Hotel The Great Wall at Jinshanling […]

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