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China > General information > Region and city guide > Around Beijing : The Western Hills

 

West of Beijing 

 

The Western Hills 


The Western Hills stretch from the summer palaces out into Beijing’s hinterlands and present plenty of opportunities for hiking and picnicking away from the madding crowds within easy reach of the city (as long as you avoid the weekends). 

 

The Botanical Gardens 

(daily 7 am-7 pm; ¥5, Conservatory ¥50; bus #333 from the Summer Palace; bus #331 from Xinjiekou subway or #318 from Pingguoyuan subway).  

 

Beijing Botanical Gardens North of the Summer Palace, the Botanical Gardens have the largest plant collection in China, including 300 varieties of orchids, over 1,000 types of roses, and bonsais over 1,000 years old!

The predominantly northern plants and trees are spread through formal gardens and are labeled in English. If you pay an extra ¥50, there’s an expansive conservatory that offers tropical and desert environments you can amble through on wooden walkways.

Here you’ll find cacti and even carnivorous plants hidden among the foliage.

   At the Beijing Botanical Gardens
 

The Wofo Temple(daily 8 am-4:30 pm; ¥5) is also on the grounds, originally built in the seventh century but badly damaged during the Cultural Revolution and inadequately restored afterwards. Nevertheless, the temple still contains its 16-foot-long recumbent Buddha, originally cast in 1321, which is surrounded by offerings of giant shoes for the barefoot icon!

 

♥♥ The Fragrant Hills, near Sanjiadian  

(daily 6 am-6 pm; ¥10; bus #331 from Xinjiekou subway or #318 from Pingguoyuan subway).  

 

West of the Summer Palace, the Fragrant Hills were once an imperial hunting retreat and today offer wooded walks past temples, pavilions and scenic pools – a great spot for a picnic. Accessing the park from its eastern gate, it’s about an hour’s climb up to Incense Burner Peak from where, on clear days, you’ll enjoy good views back toward the capital city, but if your time is limited there’s also the option of taking a chairlift to the top (¥40).

The walk is particularly spectacular during fall when the leaves glow warm reds and browns in the sunlight. But this beauty comes at a price, as you’ll have to share the slopes with hordes of visitors, especially on the weekends. 

 

By the park’s northern exit you’ll find the exquisite Azure Cloud Temple (Biyun Si; daily 8:30 am-4 pm; ¥10), which holds the 100-foot-tall Diamond Throne Pagoda and is more reminiscent of India than northern China.

Inside the temple you’ll also find some 500 arhats, each of which has its own unique expression, along with a more bizarre find – a crystal coffin that once housed Sun Yatsen and was donated by the Soviets. Sun was interred here between 1925 and 1929 before his remains were moved to
Nanjing and there is an exhibition detailing the whole process. You could quite easily spend a day or two in the park and if you’d like a night’s respite from the city, the Fragrant Hills Hotel is a good option.


 

Badachu  

(daily 6 am-6 pm; ¥10; bus #347 from Xinjiekou subway or #972 from Pingguoyuan subway). 

 

A few miles south of the Fragrant Hills, Badachu has been a Buddhist retreat since the Tang dynasty but the current temples date from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Aside from the temples, it’s a great place to come for a hike through the forested hills of gnarled old pines, cypresses and gingkos.  

 

Badachu means Eight Great Sights, paying homage to its eight monasteries and temples, including the Temple of Sacred Light (Lingguang Si), which allegedly once held one of Buddha’s teeth and is the only temple with monks still in residence.

 

The temple has a scenically placed 13-story pagoda dedicated to the tooth, although the tooth is long gone and the pagoda is a modern one, since the original was destroyed by the Allied Forces in 1900. From Lingguang Si you can walk, or take a chairlift (¥30) up the mountain past several more of the park’s temples, but none of these is as impressive and it’s best taken as a jaunt through the forest. 

 

Jietai Temple  

(daily 8 am-5 pm; ¥35; bus #931 from Pingguoyuan subway or tourist bus #7 from Fuchengmen; one hr). 

 

Set in the forested country that stretches just outside of the city proper, Jietai Temple was first constructed in 622 and gradually expanded over the ages to reach its current size. In contrast to the pretty charm of Tanzhe (see below), first impressions of Jietai are of its imposing red walls, although these were unable to repel the attentions of the Japanese or the Red Guards. 

 

Inside, the temple is far less austere, particularly in spring and summer when the courtyards are adorned with pretty flowering trees. The three impressive bronze Buddhas in the Mahavira Hall date from the Qing dynasty when the temple was greatly expanded.  

 

Another of the temple’s stunning features is the serene statue of Sakyamuni seated on a lotus flower. It rests on the marble platform of the Ordination Terrace. However, in spite of this grandeur, empty niches inside the temple hint at the temple’s suffering through the ages –the Japanese invasion and the Cultural Revolution both took their toll, leaving present-day visitors only to guess at its former splendor. 

 

Tanzhe Temple 

(daily 7:30 am-5:30 pm; ¥35; bus #931 from Pingguoyuan subway or tourist bus #7 from Fuchengmen; one hr).

 

A little farther from the city and easily visited in conjunction with Jietai, Tanzhe Temple is said to be older than Beijing itself and, while this isn’t strictly true, the place certainly has some history, dating as it does from the third century. Since its earliest days, Buddhist monks have been coming here tomeditate, pray and study; today the temple continues to attract followers from around the globe. 

 

Most visitors come to see the Guanyin Hall, where Kublai Khan’s daughter reputedly prayed so hard that she wore away the rock. But just a walk past the stupa terrace, through the courtyards, taking in the ancient gingko “Emperor Tree,” which is over 1,000 years old, makes the trip to Tanzhe worthwhile. 

Beijing pictures

Getting to Beijing, Getting around Beijing

The Forbidden City

The Temple of Heaven

The Summer Palace 

Tian’anmen Square and Hutong 

Jingshan Park, Shichahai, & Tibetan Lama Temple

Other places of interest in Beijing 

Around Beijing : The Ming Tombs 

                        The Great Wall

                        Zhoukoudian & Peking Man Site 

                        The Qing Tombs

                        Chengde , Bishu Shanzhuang

Shopping in Beijing 

Beijing Opera, Shows, and Nightlife 

 

 

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Beijing Travel Guide homepage

China Travel guide homepage 


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Travel to China - Sightseeing, Attractions around Beijing : Fragrant Hills, Badachu, Jietai Temple, Botanical Gardens