That there is much to like – even love – about the city and perhaps in equal measure some things not to like.
Xiangshan Park – widely known as Fragrant Park Hills – is one of those treasures that make you want to shout your love for Beijing.
Located 17 miles or 28 kilometers northwest of the city center, Xiangshan is a huge forested park at the western hills. It covers almost 400 acres (160 hectares) and is full of history Within the park you will find the house where Mao Zedong once lived.
You will see pagodas and temples, imperial gardens and mountain peaks – chief among them Xianglu Peak (Incense Burner Peak) which you can climb on foot or by adrenalin-pumping chairlift.
The ride to the top of the peak takes 17 minutes and it’s quite a steep climb sitting on what is basically a bench with nothing more than a bar to keep you in. Nothing to stop you from lifting the metal bar. No seat belts or safety harnesses.
On the day I went unfortunately it was smoggy. I could not see the spectacular cityscape ahead.
But Xianglu – at 1,827 feet (577 meters) high, offers impressive views on clear days.
If you aren’t afraid of heights I recommend you take the chairlift up. If you aren’t pressed for time and are physically able, walk down. It will take at least an hour to reach the bottom, depending on your pace. But count on it taking two to three hours as you are bound to stop to see the sights and sounds of this immense park first built in 1186 during the Jin Dynasty, in power from 1115 to 1234.
There’s much to see on the way down, with a few surprises.
One of those surprises, totally unexpected, was stumbling upon a bunker used by Mao and his lieutenants. It’s not one of the things in the park that is publicized. They emphasize instead the gardens and the scenic beauty of the park, as well they should. But it was an added treat to see this bit of history carved out of the mountain. I went inside for a look.