Posted by: 1of10boyz | March 8, 2012

Family in China – Beijing Part 4a


Pretty excited about today’s adventures. We are off to see World Heritage Sites #5 and #6 today, feeling pretty good about my goal of making it to 10 for the year as we have been here now for 5 months and are making good progress. It is an early day for the other people on this trip, we are supposed to be ready to leave the hotel at 8:00am. We are going to see the Ming Tombs and The Great Wall at Badaling.

I am amazed that we are pretty much ready before the driver arrives, the final bathroom visits are just wrapping up when the driver arrives and calls telling me that he is downstairs. We marshal our resources and head out the door. I am sure that the cleaning ladies will be amazed that we are out of the hotel before they arrive, a first on this trip. We load into the van and get everyone buckled up; we are on the road and heading out of town. We have seen such a small amount of what is here that I don’t dare close my eyes as we head through Beijing, afraid that I might miss something that I will want to return to investigate later. While I enjoy the scenery, it doesn’t look much different than the other big cities we have been in and through in China. There is not much difference in the way things are done here in the capitol compared to the remoteness of Haiyang.

It feels early, and there doesn’t appear to be much traffic headed in the direction we are going. There was a light skiff of snow overnight and the roads in front of us don’t have many tracks in the snow. I wonder if we are going to get there before the ticket office opens. We drive past the approach to the tombs without stopping, while I would enjoy walking through the statues I will hold off on that with the hopes that the next time I come the weather will be better. It is roughly just barely above freezing and the wind is blowing just enough to remind me that my face is smooth shaven.

We arrive at the parking lots for the Tomb; we are at the tomb for Ding Ling (seriously, and you thought the Chinese didn’t have a sense of humor – you have an emperor with that name and make it a World Heritage Site; that’s funny) there are just 2 buses and 5 cars. We will have the place pretty much to ourselves. The tickets are not too expensive (about $60 RMB each – $10 USD) and we opt not to get a guide as the place doesn’t look like they have anyone even available if we had wanted one. We get everyone bundled up and begin walking toward the temple that we can see on a hill in front of us. We wander over to the original gates and I explain what I remember about the 3 different paths that we see in the stone. We roll the stroller on the center pathway, it is for the emperor and she is getting the princess treatment again today.

There are a number of pavilions or their foundation in our route. We start at the main gate (ling men) following the path leads us through the many courtyards and to a main hall (foundation only in this case) it would have been pretty fancy given the number of column foundations that we see and the size of the other footings. We find some very nice child size picnic tables and chairs in the approach to the temple in at least one of the courtyards. The elephant theme is unique and we like them immensely.

We find some rather funny signs, our favorite in this location and one I haven’t seen before is “No Naked Flames”. It takes us a minute to realize that they are trying to say the equivalent of ‘No Open Flames’. I think that neither is much better than other in describing what the intent is, but we enjoy the bad translation none the less.

We begin our way to the entrance. The temple that we have been moving towards is not the tomb but is built in front of the tomb. The tomb is buried in the mountain behind it. The tomb was found or I should say excavated in the 1950s. There are a number of interesting factoids about the way that they actually found the entrance. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be involved in that process in this country at that time. My mind can’t even comprehend how challenging it might have been for the people involved then. I am certain that the situation was delicate and challenging. It is interesting that once they discovered the garden gate they knew that they could find the main entrance.

I am told that the tomb follows the standard plan for imperial tomb design, amazing that something like this could be considered standard. The area is the resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming Emperors, so I guess that it makes sense that there would have been a plan developed at some point. The design is said to be “Confucian layout” and for a necropolis (big fancy word for tomb but I thought I would throw it in for fun) it was alright. I am getting a little tired of going to locations associated with dead dignitaries in this country, even if they have been dead for 600 years. (The Ming Dynasty is classified as about mid 1300 to around 1600) The most impressive thing I remember about the Ming is from a Myth Busters episode where they test out the “missile launcher”; a wheel-barrow with a box of explosive discharged arrows, but hey I am still learning about China.

We have to climb the hill or I guess it is more accurate to say the burial mound. It really looks like it is part of the mountain or range of hills that we are in. The Ming Tombs are in what I would consider foothills. Because of the trees in this area it is hard to tell if this mound is part of the general hill or if it was created separate from the hill and after 600 years it has made itself part of the hill. Anyway, we get to the entrance facility, which has been built on top of the mound. I notice that there is a winding, snaking, path in front of the entrance and I am really glad that the parking lot was empty on our arrival. We walk immediately into the entrance facility and follow the signs, they are all pointing down.

The entrance is similar to what you might see at one of the subways, it is granite walled and floored facility and it has some turnstiles. The area is heated and would be rather uncomfortable if it were any colder. The Chinese are not known, in my opinion, for having their places warm. Another reminder of the need for power in this country, if everyone were able to keep their places at a reasonably warm temperature in the winter (say 65F) the power system would be overworked and would likely collapse. As we begin our decent the stairwell reminds me of a bad office building, stairs and platforms. I note that the temperature is dropping as we descend into the earth. We have arrived at the bottom and enter the first area of the tomb.

It should be noted that we are not entering the tomb from the normal means of access and we are not entering by the means it was reentered in the 1950s. We have entered the tomb from the back and we will be exiting the tomb from the normal route. We pass through some stark looking empty rooms. I am beginning to wonder if we should have asked about a guide, there really isn’t much to what we are seeing. As we look at these antechambers and wonder about them another group comes by with just a couple and an English speaking guide. We have apparently not been missing much as the zoom past us and we have to hurry to keep up. There are just enough English signs to allow us to understand what we are seeing.

We enter into a long passage that has 3 chairs in it; this is the normal entry way into the tomb. The antechambers we have passed through are actually on the sides of the main chambers. We have finally arrived in the main tomb chamber, though it isn’t obvious. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe I have been tainted by the images of King Tut or something more fabulous from the movies but this is very anticlimactic. It is nothing more than some concrete looking walls with a couple of simulated tombs (big red boxes that are supposedly quite similar to what was actually found). I am surprised that the tomb walls are basically blank, no ornate sculptures or frescos or even paintings. I would have thought that a guy that started building his burial tomb something like 40 years before he died could have but a little effort into making it something a little more impressive. I mean come on, you are the emperor of China, and still very much the exotic beginning point of the Silk Road, the tomb is impressive to me because it really isn’t impressive.

We make our way through the room; I am struck again by the consistent “donation” of money that is thrown into or around the boxes. I have no idea why haven’t read anything about what this might mean.

We make our way out of room back into the entry room. We have seen a number of large rectangular stone blocks at each door. We learn that these stones were leaning against the doors from the inside. While the tomb was being constructed or at least until the emperor was interned, the doors were blocked open and the stone stood nearly erect. Once the door was closed the block would have slide down the inside of the door and with the door closed it would have wedged itself against the door keeping out anyone that didn’t have some significant hydraulic horsepower to push it open. I am not quite sure how they were able to get the door to open in the 1950s but I am sure that it was more than a little challenging.

The chairs in the entry way remind me of the children’s story of the three bears, you know – papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear. There are three chairs and the size and ornate conditions are give-aways on what is meant by them. It is interesting that they are facing towards the door and not towards the tomb chamber. We pass through the door and see the entrance to the tomb for the first time. It is interesting as we look at the entrance and the efforts that it took to break into the tomb in the 1950s. The access required the removal of a pretty significant number of bricks to access the door. The room is quite deep and has some modern stairs built to get into the area or in our case out of the area. I estimate that we are about 30-35 feet below the entry point into this chamber from ground level. I wonder how the explorers got up and down when they were making the initial entries, reminds of Indiana Jones getting into the map room in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

We exit the Underground Palace and make our way to the temple and stele that we were approaching on the walkway. We are able to get a much better view of the sacrifice table and area that we saw in the courtyard. The view is pretty good, the mist and fog still hasn’t burned off so we can see too far in the distance. We make our way down the stairs and along the side of the temple. We talk about the difficulty that the builders would have experienced in this construction project. The challenges were significant considering that most of the dirt would have been hauled by hand back into the face of the mountain to cover the underground palace.

We make our way back to the entry point for the area. We stop at one of the gift shops and look at what they have there. Not that we are interested in paying the super high prices that these locations typically have but we do want to see what they have so we can pick up something similar at one of the shops in the Silk or Pearl Markets.

We make a stop at the restrooms on the way out, we are all ready to have the heater turned up full blast and get on our way to the Great Wall. The route takes us back the way we came in order to get back on the toll way. We are making good time, we are keeping our fingers crossed the cloud cover looks to be lifting and the fog is starting to burn off, the sun is beginning to hint that we will see it today.

To Be Continued . . .

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