Frosty temple hikes help warm the soul
Updated: 2011-02-09 08:18
By Shannon Aitken (China Daily)
There are three routes leaving from Longquan Temple across the dusty mountain range, all of which offer hikers some calming views of Fenghuangling Nature Park. Photos by Shannon Aitken / For China Daily
Though luxurious and crowd-free, a private car is not always an essential bit of kit for getting out of the city and having fun.
Few places illustrate this better than a day trip to Fenghuangling (Phoenix Mountain) Nature Park in the city's northwest, standing as proof that some of Beijing's best escapes can be cheaply and easily accessed by public transport.
Taking Line 4 to Beigongmen at the north gate of the Summer Palace and then switching to bus No 346 will drop visitors off at the foot of the mountain, costing a mere 4 yuan.
Top: Buddhist Longquan Temple, which dates back to AD 951, offers a chance for quiet contemplation. Above: The view from the top is a panoramic portrait of old and new.
The bus ride to Fenghuangling is an interesting experience. Passing from city to village, it passes dramatically contrasting sights - estates of mansion-like houses, boasting wealth and lofty living, before encountering countless brown-brick shacks meshed together along narrow and low labyrinthine streets that resemble nothing of familiar Beijing. Finally, the journey enters the countryside, with plantations of fruit trees and an arc mountain range.
The entrance to the park is the final stop for the bus. On entering, visitors will immediately realize this is a different kind of destination to many other places of interest - it is clean and maintained but far from gaudy or commercialized.
With craggy peaks extending over 15 square kilometers, Fenghuangling offers a good two days' worth of hiking routes. Hiking poles in hand and loaded daypacks on their backs, the more serious of Beijing's hikers typically take off on either the north or south circular routes for a day of religious sites and ruins.
A carved structure known locally as Immortal's Footprint. Photos by Shannon Aitken / For China Daily
One of Fenghuangling's major attractions is Buddhist Longquan Temple. Not far from the entrance is the ancient temple, originally built in AD 951. Inside the gates is a single-arc stone bridge, which is the largest and oldest of its kind in Beijing. There are also two ginkgo trees, a male and a female, that have stood here for more than 1,000 years.
The original temple was almost completely destroyed in the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), but when the park was opened in 1995 the government and devotees worked to restore the temple and its monastery.
Leaving the temple, hikers will need to decide which route they will take: south, middle or north.
However, it does not matter much which track is taken since, as the girl at the park's ticket office noted, there is no "best" place.
"Just as long as you're out walking, then that's good enough," she said.
Being the most accessible pass, the middle route is definitely the most trodden. It rises up into the mountains and has an ever-present view of the valley below. It is not the most beautiful vista, marked by pockets of high-rises and factories, but it is impressively expansive.
Along the way, there are numerous pavilions to rest at and contemplate the world below. There are also dozens of other features, such as shrines, ponds, springs, pagodas and caves.
Interesting natural rock formations are everywhere. Lion Hill, Jade Rabbit Stone and the Immortal's Footprint are just a few of the features that look just as their names imply.
Pressing higher, the scenery changes. The world below disappears and the track becomes less beaten, less concrete. A silence descends and travelers are surrounded by nature.
In warmer months, guesthouses can be found along the south route to allow some extra days of hiking.
Fenghuangling is perhaps one of the more enjoyable hiking areas in Beijing. It is peaceful, constantly interesting and crowd-free.
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