Phenomenology is the new black

All good things must come to an end!

My final day in Beijing and what better way to end this amazing adventure than to travel to The Ming Tombs and The Great Wall at Mùtiányù.

Another scorcher of a day but being the last day of exploration this will be the last “Mad dogs and Englishwomen out in the midday sun!”  I am taking yet another excursion with The China Culture Centre who are so good at organising these events, great guides with exemplary English and a love of their native culture, such a great combination. The Tombs lie about an hour north-west of the city and feature 13 of the 16 Ming emperors – only opened to the public in the 1990s it seems amazing it has been hidden from most people’s eyes since its inception in the 1400s – the site was chosen for its feng shui location and principles – The Ming Dynasty Tombs are now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the area covers some 40 square kilometers enclosed by the mountains and nestled in a what was once a quiet valley – now all you can hear is the noise of traffic and tour buses – the emperors would not be amused!  Your eyes are immediately drawn to the huge front gate known as the Great Red Gate and lead you onto the seven kilometer road, The Spirit Way which leads to the tombs festooned with huge statues of mythical animals and officials – some eighteen pairs larger than life-size and all guarding the souls of the deceased. There are only three tombs open to the public and I only visited one – not a great deal to see as much of the excavation was completed in the 1950s, damage occurred and loss of some of the beautiful artefacts – all in evidence today is an empty chamber – but the sheer scale and space of the tomb is amazing and the view from the top of building worth the climb.

image of Great Red Gate

Great Red Gate Ming Tombs


image of Spirit Way

Spirit Way – Ming Tombs


image of stone official

stone official Ming Tombs


image of temple Ming Tombs

temple Ming Tombs


image of temple MIng Tombs

walking through gateway to view temple Ming Tombs


image of gateway to Ming Tombs

Gateway to Ming Tomb


image of offerings/wishes

offerings outside the emperor’s tomb


image of view from top of Ming Tomb

view from the top of the Ming Tomb

Many of these buildings mirror the architecture of the Forbidden City which was completed some time after the start of the Ming Tombs complex.

So, hot and sweaty we head back to the tour bus fighting off the endless street vendors trying to coax us to buy a Chairman Mao communist party hat, guilty! and any other little piece of jade or some such – old! surely not??

Lunch was about a mile from the Great Wall and words cannot do justice to the delicious feast that was spread for us mere tourists – am salivating just remembering the culinary experience – all’s well and good but we do have to scale the greatest and longest wall in the world this afternoon and it is sweltering hot! Another Nanjing Beer and all will be well!

Squeezing back into the bus we snake our way up to the entrance of the Great Wall at Mùtiányù – previously visited and conquered back in 2007 with my children and the temperature that day in December were a mere -9 degrees, insane then and ditto again – on both accounts!

This 2250m long granite section of the Great Wall dates from the Ming dynasty circa 1400. It is most notable for its numerous guard towers and amazing views and is in much better condition than the previous trek of the Great Wall at Shentangyu. It is less commercial and generally in inpeccable condition though is does defy your thinking when you consider the height the wall scales and the sheer labour that was involved with the construction.

Again, the endless stream of stall keepers shouting out their wares and a very welcome cable car – seriously, you did not think we were walking up? You can, apparently, take a toboggan to descend the wall further down on a track or take a path but in this steaming weather the cable car will suffice. The beauty of this section of the wall is it being a little out-of-town you don’t get the hoards of tourists as in other parts and taking into consideration the extreme temperature of the day few people had ventured to visit. Once deposited by the cable car I decided to take the same path trodden in 2007, which is long and steep and ends in a final ascent that is only for the strongest of constitutions – my kids made it but my vertigo stopped me, sensibly! So, as luck would have it the wall was pretty much mine so I could enjoy the full gamut of the views – saying that, the smog is as bad here as it is in the city – apart from birds of prey gliding on the hot thermals as my companions and the occasional distant whoops from successful climbers, I was alone. Prior to leaving for China my old friend Geoff Cotton suggested I continue my theme of installing my red shoes in specific sites – much as I had done at Auschwitz in 2011 – this seemed somewhat incongruous – but in a sense once placed the stark redness of the blood-red shoes compared to the grey of the Great Wall and its winding path, it somehow worked – the feet of thousands maybe millions have trodden these famous bricks maybe not in pointe shoes – who knows!

Always up for a challenge I installed them and found the images did not in fact look out-of-place – it does work…………

image of red shoes at The Great Wall Mutianyu SYP

red shoes Great Wall Mutianyu


image of red shoes watch-tower Great Wall

red shoes in watch-tower Great Wall 2


image of red shoes Great Wall 3

red shoes Great Wall 3


red shoes at Great Wall 4

red shoes at Great Wall 4


image of pointe shoes 5

pointe shoes Great Wall 5


So there you have it – all thanks to The Red Gate Residency Program – dreams do come true!





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One Comment

  1. Posted September 5, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    You beauty, Sonia – those red ballet shoes do the trick AGAIN! The shade is perfect – Mao red, I guess? I’m going to miss your travelogue. But then, maybe you could make a trip from Budgerigar to Less-is-more sound exciting.

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