After several days enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Beijing, it is a bit of a shock to be woken at 5.30 in the morning so that we can make the 4.5 hour journey to Chengde by train. There is a huge crowd of locals milling around the station, elbowing their way through. It was here we taught our courier a new word for her vocabulary ‘SHIFT’. When we reach the platform, the train seems to go on forever, and carriage 18 as expected was at the far end. We were told we would have a carriage to ourselves but as it’s so busy and we were the only Europeans, we get an upgrade to first class. This meant comfortable seats – instead of the wooden slats we had cushions that were very thin, so I can’t imagine what the journey would have been like on the uncomfortable seats.
The people in our carriage were very friendly and kept nodding and smiling in our direction as we pointed out the change in scenery. We were now moving away from modern tower blocks and high technology to green fields and mountain ranges, this is apparently the real China. The journey was a very different experience to anything we have done before, the ‘refreshments trolley’ caused a bit of a stir as you bought your noodles and then the steward came round later with a huge jug of hot water. The toilets were also an experience! These consisted of a hole in the floor, a plastic bag full of water and a twig for cleaning. I resisted the temptation to see what it was like until almost the end of the journey, however even then, it was spotlessly clean. The hand washing facilities were tucked into the corner of the adjoining corridor. Fortunately, I always carry wipes so didn’t have to use the basic tap over a plastic washing up bowl.
When we reached the end of our journey, the railway station and the bus station are side by side so the area is teaming with life. We were met by Karen the local guide and taken to our coach and on to our hotel. Connie our Tour Director was at pains to tell us that we were now in the ‘country’ and hotels were not the same standard as in the city although the hotel we were in was the best in town. What we didn´t expect to see as we pulled up ten minutes later were two blow-up gold elephants decorating the entrance as a wedding was taking place, these looked like an enormous bouncy castle. Just like these from the internet…
We went to our rooms had a wash and quickly left for our visit of another emperors Mountain Resort.
In days gone by Chengde Summer Resort was the private retreat for Chinese emperors. The site was chosen, you’ve guessed it, because the summer temperatures in Beijing were unbearable but in the mountains of Chengde, they were pleasant (just like now). The resort is larger than the one in Beijing and we walked around taking in the lakes and buildings. It consists of a huge park, which emperors used as hunting grounds and eight outer temples. We managed to visit three of them, most are vast and after a couple of hours, everything seems to look the same.
The Puning Si Temple (Temple of Universal Peace) was impressive and houses the world’s tallest wooden statue of Buddha. It is the only active Lama temple in Chengde. This picture is taken from the internet, as we were not allowed to take pictures inside any of the temples.
We went on to the Putuo Zongcheng Temple, which was built to resemble the Potala Palace in Lhasa similar in scale and simply breathtaking and we finished with the smaller, but also impressive Temple of Universal Happiness (Pule Si), with its Buddha of Happiness.
These temple visits for me were one of the highlights and many of us prayed to Buddha for happiness and longevity. We learnt a mantra that I keep repeating. 佛說大乘莊嚴寶王經 which was translated phonetically so we could remember it – Oh Ma Ni Ba Mi Hon while spinning the prayer wheels or lighting torches of incense.
Om purifies pride. Ma purifies jealousy. Ni purifies passion/desire. Ba purifies ignorance and prejudice. Mi purifies poverty/possessiveness. Hon purifies aggression/hatred.
After our early start, we were knackered but went to visit a paper-cutting workshop. Paper cutting is a popular Chinese folk art and in the past, every girl was expected to master it. I thought here we go a hard sell but in fact everything was extremely inexpensive for the amount of work involved and everyone bought a picture. We got two magpies that represent happiness.
Back to hotel and a visit to the local supermarket for some soft drinks, shelves were overflowing, nothing was in too much order but it was an interesting experience, a visit to Tesco will never be like this.
After another wonderful meal – we were told that people lose weight after being on this tour but with three meals a day, I keep saying I am going to miss lunch but can’t resist once I see all the tempting dishes, I think weight will be gained. The strain of lots of walking is taking its toll so a long soak in the bath, with lashings of hot water is what is called for. We had received an apology at the beginning of the day that this wasn’t a 5 star hotel and although the staff were good and room nice some I think will moan about the hard bed. I am used to my Tempur mattress so for me it was perfect however, there will be moans in the morning from our fellow travellers.
Continued …. The Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors etc Page 2 below.