On the same trip to Asia, during which I visited Okinawa in Japan, I went to Beijing – the capital of China. Due to recent (2019) visa-free program, I could stay in the Beijing area for up to 142 hours. During a short yet inspiring visit, I got a chance to taste a lot of delicious and spicy Chinese food, grasp a few cultural things, and visit a couple of pilgrimage sites.
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Accommodation in Beijing.
Yonghegong (Lama Temple)
Being one of the most visited temples in Beijing, Yonghe Lamasery or in Chinese “Palace of Peace and Harmony” is also an active monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. The monks live and take care of this large complex of temples and you can meet them praying in the halls with Buddhas during your visit.
The Lamasery is located in the Dongcheng district and is easily reachable by public transport. You can reach it with subway lines 2 and 5 and exit on Yonghegong Lama Temple station or different city buses. For me, it took a couple of circles around the neighborhood to find the entrance to the temple but it was a nice walk and I had a chance to see some local life. Perhaps, I also needed to walk a small Camino to enter the temple in peace, who knows haha. Anyway, I arrived at the gates and bought the ticket which cost 25 Yuan (around 3 EUR/ 3,50 USD depending on the exchange rate at the time). Then I went through the security check and walked down the alley of Ginko trees to the next gates. I took a complementary insense batch included into the price of the ticket from the special kiosk and entered through the gate into the first courtyard. I stood there for a minute observing the ritual of bowing to the Buddha and burning the incense. I decided to do it myself although as a visitor I didn’t have to. I thought of it as a nice gesture and so I lighted my incense, went in front of the altar, and bowed three times. Then I put the incense into the special bowl in front of the bowing place and continued into the first shrine. Later I learned from the locals that I also could save some of my incense and divide them among the many Buddhas in different temples. The usual route thought the complex is to turn left after you enter the first courtyard and walk in a circle. I, however, went right and explored it in a bit chaotic way, but it seemed to be fine with the monks. The monks were singing mantras and it was a very calming experience. I was also impressed to see the 18-meter tall sandalwood Buddha statue — me being on the ground floor and looking at the top of the statue three or four floors above me!
More information about visiting the Yonghe Lamasery can be found, for example, on Tour-Beijing, Travel Chine Guide, or China Highlights websites (EN). All these websites are selling tours, but I was only using them to get information and planned all my visits myself.
Miaofengshan Ancient Pilgrims Path
If you’re up for making a pilgrimage related day trip outside Beijing that includes some hiking, Miaofengshan is the place to go. This ancient pilgrimage route takes you to the Temple of Bixia Yuanjun or the Heavenly Jade Maiden. The interesting fact is that the Miao Feng Shan Goddess Temple is a sacred place for three religions – Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucianism. Pilgrims from many places in China come to pay their tributes to the Goddess since the 13th century. Due to a short visit and perhaps a bit complicated public transport connections, I did not go there myself but I would definitely want to see it the next time I’m around Beijing.
So, why is it complicated to reach? According to my getting there research, it is an easy drive by car but if I wanted to take the public transport I would have to catch a local bus from Pingguoyuan station (last west end station on subway line 1) that runs only a couple times a day. If you decide to do it, take exit A to get out of the subway and find bus M05 towards Jianguo village and get off on the last station. Also, in case you’ve missed the M05, take bus 929, get off at Dingyatan station and hire a car to take you to the start of the pilgrimage walk. I suggest being prepared for this trip by writing down Chinese names for the destination and stop you need to get off as it is often that locals are not able to speak English. Depending on where you stay in Beijing, the trip could take up to 2-3 hours one way.
The walk itself is ~5 km uphill of ~900 m ascend, so might be tough on a hot day. From the temple, you can go further into the mountains and explore the scenic areas. It is possible to make a loop hike around the area as Beijing Hikers propose. Mioafengshan visiting and event information can be found on the Tour Beijing website.
The Great Wall of China
Okay, this is not a religious or spiritual site at all, yet it is a cultural monument which took a lot of lives to build it. Also, it is one of the new seven wonders of the world, according to UNESCO. I would say quite a jaw-dropping place to pay respect to human creation while in Beijing.
There are quite a few options around Beijing to visit the Great Wall. The choice where to go for the first time visit wasn’t easy up until last minute when I decided on just going to Badaling. It is considered the most touristy and crowded place but it also has the easiest access by train. The other issue was buying the tickets. Well, at least I thought so after reading the articles on the Internet that said that you need to book your tickets online before going there due to the limited capacity of visitors per day. When I tried the system it was all in Chinese… So, finally, I decided just to go there and try my luck, and it worked very well! I got my ticket at the cashier (cash only payment), and there were not that many people at all! I guess it helped that I went there in the afternoon when the tour groups were already gone and it was a weekday. The price of the student ticket was 20 Yuan (~2,50 EUR/ ~3 USD) and it took me around 3-4 hours to climb the North side of the trail and back to catch the evening train to Beijing. The train S2 leaves from and comes back to Huangtudian station in Beijing and you can use the Beijing Transportation Smart Card to pay for the ticket — 7 Yuan one way (~0,8 EUR/ ~0,9 USD).