Did I mention already that it was one of the coldest Winter in the last 60 years and that we were all really struggling in this cold? Plus… We also were not properly prepared AT ALL! Anyway besides going to Beijing and the Great Wall, we also went about 3 hours more up North to a city called Chengde in the province of Hebei. It’s not very well-known but if you are in Beijing and you have the time to do the drive up North and stay there 1-2 nights it’s really worth it… I would recommend to go in Spring or Fall and not Winter. p.s.: The picture above, that is actually a frozen lake (just to give you an idea of how cold it was)
Upon arrival we first explored the city ‘center’ for a while, that part is definitely not very interesting, it’s your typical industrial city in China. Large lanes, lots of construction, tall buildings… I still don’t have a clue what exactly this guy was doing, all I remember is that it smelled really toxic and chemical, not very pleasant. It’s a common sight though in Chinese cities to see some random person just sitting along the road doing/producing/constructing whatever it is that he is doing. It shows a side of China where there is obviously a big conflict between the developed side and the developing side. In my opinion it’s one of the larger issues this country has; The gap between rich and poor, between development and developing, traditions and modernisation. This country has changed so fast that a lot of people can’t really keep up with it, especially the older generation but a lot of people are also forced into urbanization against their will, because their town all of a sudden expanded into a megacity, because the government forces them to it, their homes are being torn down but also because their kids who have to care for them when they are older moved from the countryside into the cities. Anyway I’m dwelling a bit here but seeing this picture now after being in China for so many years, it has a whole different meaning to me as what it meant when I took it.
The curious stare down you still get as a foreigner in certain cities and towns. Locals who are curious about the ‘Laowai’ (the everywhere used slang for foreigner) and want to start a friendly chitchat.
This temple and its surroundings are the reason why you should go to Chengde. It’s the Putuo Zongcheng Temple, constructed between 1767 – 1771 by Emperor Qianlong from the Qing dynasty. It’s a temple complex from the Buddhist era and loosely based on the famous Potala Palace in Lhasa. It’s one of the largest temples in China and it covers over 5 square kilometres, which is about half of the urbanised area of Chengde. I’ve done my fair share of temples in this country and this one is definitely in my top 3 of favorite temples in China. It’s unique for its architecture and for its setting situated in the mountains of Hebei, the views on a bright day are extraordinary.
Another great reason to go to Chengde is to visit the ‘Mountain Resort’. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and was used by the Qing Dynasty as their Summer retreat. 避暑山庄 its Chinese names literally means Mountain Villa for avoiding the heat. So yes, as cold as it gets in Winter in Beijing. It can also get ridiculously hot there in Summer… So they used the ‘Mountain Resort’ as their escape during the heat. Just like the temple it was also built by the Qing Dynasty and it took about 89 years to complete, so not just by Emperor Qianlong. It’s a vast area that contains Chinese gardens, temples, palaces etc from built in the architectural style of different regions in China. That’s why it’s so important today because it represents the styles and traditions of a China from before and different parts of China in the past.
Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the ‘Mountain Resort’ due to the extreme cold in Chengde at that time and the fact that some people were already getting hypothermia.
Just wondering, have you guys ever been so cold on a trip etc. that you just can’t take it anymore and have to abort?