4. Beijing: China’s smoggy head
After another 1,000 kilometers to the north, the metropolitan tour will come to an end in Beijing, the political and cultural center of China. Between the years 2000 and 2009, the capital exploded, the size of the city was almost quadrupled. The expansion of the infrastructure, the construction of new high-rise buildings and the high population density, however, all have their price, which can be seen primarily from the well-known smog problem. This of course affects the impression of the city, which should still be big enough due to the numerous sights.
The classics belong to these attractions, of course, as the historical significance alone dictates. First and foremost the Forbidden City, the emperor’s walled seat in the center of the city, which is made up of a total of 890 palaces, plus a myriad of pavilions. Almost more astonishing than the total size of this complex – an impressive 72 hectares after all – is the fact that it did not fall victim to either the Maoist cultural revolution or the pressure to modernize.
In contrast to the hutongs, which are also worth seeing, the old town quarters of Beijing, which are being pushed back further and further by modern buildings. The narrow streets and courtyards can still be found a bit away from Tian’anmen Square, the parade ground of socialist China and the place where the student protests were put down in 1989. In Beijing, amazement and horror sometimes go hand in hand.
In addition to the city’s well-known temples – above all the Temple of Heaven and the Lama Temple – the New Summer Palace Yihe Yuan, a gift from Emperor Qianlong to his mother, is particularly worth seeing. The huge area was not just a residence, but is still a single landscape garden, which also includes a lake. Unlike the Old Summer Palace, Yihe Yuan has been rebuilt after numerous destruction in the past.
If you are more interested in contemporary architecture, a trip to the Olympic Park, including a visit to the Olympic Stadium known as the “bird’s nest”, is worthwhile. If neither architecture nor history can inspire you, but all kinds of technical gadgets, you should consider visiting the Zhongguancun district. The science and technology center in the northwest of the city offers, among other things, the opportunity for extensive electronics shopping.
China is of course more than its booming and overflowing mega-metropolises. Shan Shui, which translates as mountains and water, is not just a traditional form of Chinese painting: it also wonderfully describes all the stretches of land that have shaped the image of China’s landscape. Despite all the tourist development of regions such as the Guizhou province in southern China with its rice terraces, grandiose and unique landscapes can still be experienced. Shan Shui for real, so to speak.
5. Huangshan: China’s sacred mountain
Approximately 400 kilometers southwest of Shanghai, those with a head for heights and daring can climb the Huangshan Mountains. This is not only part of the UNESCO world natural and cultural heritage, it is also one of the five pillars of the firmament, as China’s sacred mountains are called. Accordingly, Huangshan was therefore popular as a motif in poetry and painting. Anyone who has ever been confronted with traditional Chinese ink pictures will immediately recognize the canon of forms used there when they see the “Yellow Mountains”.
The steep granite mountain slopes and the jagged rock peaks to which pine trees cling – it looks like a painting made in stone. If there are also clouds or wafts of mist around the peaks, which is actually quite often the case, then courageous summiteers can guess why Huangshan is considered sacred by the Chinese.
Some views may be withheld from one or the other, because although there are many well-developed hiking trails through the mountains, in some places only very narrow stairs nestled against the rock walls are the only way to climb. Those who want to combine a unique landscape experience with a good dose of thrill, is definitely correct in Huangshan.
6. Guilin: A landscape like a painting
In the southeast of China, directly on the Lijiang, lies the city of Guilin, with a similarly distinctive environment as in the Huangshan Mountains. Here it is only partly characterized by mountains, even if the steep karst cliffs are among the landmarks of the region. The scenic attraction is mainly due to the interplay of these mountain formations with the Li River and its tributaries that meander between them. This unique combination has made the Guilin area famous beyond the Chinese borders.
Without much physical exertion, the best way to enjoy the landscape is from one of the boats that sail, for example, between Guilin and Yanshuo to the south. This also enables a good view of the elephant trunk hill – it is hardly surprising that it bears his name because its outlines resemble those of a drinking elephant.