♥♥♥ Bishu Shanzhuang
(Open daily ; ¥90 or ¥60 Oct 16 and April 14).
Bishu Shanzhuang was designed by Emperor Kangxi as a cooler summer retreat from Beijing, where he could indulge in the Manchu pastimes of horsemanship and hunting. He discovered the area accidentally while out hunting, and the majority of what remains today is the result of his passion for the landscape and scenery.
Its design was inspired by the simplicity of Manchurian villages and he was heavily influenced by his imperial travels.
The end result was the creation of a harmonious balance between water, landscape and architecture and a peaceful retreat from Beijing court life. Kangxi’s grandson, Qianlong, also loved the resort, favoring it over his other palaces and added another 36 imperial buildings to the already vast collection.
Lake pavilion, Bishu Shanzhuang
However, after Emperor Jiaqing was struck dead by lightning here in 1820, the area was considered inauspicious and fell into disrepair. The last emperor to have taken up residence at the Mountain Resort was Emperor Xianfeng, who fled here during the Second Opium War in 1860. The site was completely neglected after this, but at least managed to avoid the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. In the 1980s restoration began and in 1994 the Mountain Resort was assigned UNESCO World Heritage Status.
Visiting the Sights
See also Travel guide to Ghengde
Ruyi Island, as well as using boats (daily ) to negotiate its southern lakes – there are rowing boats (¥10 per hour, plus ¥100 deposit), paddle boats (¥20 per hour, plus ¥200 deposit) and electric boats (¥30 per hour, plus ¥200 deposit).
On entering the retreat you’ll immediately enter the palaces and, while these are certainly worth a browse, they tend to be the busiest part of the whole park. You may find yourself quickly moving on to the lakes and wilds beyond.
You can visit the main sights on one of the ubiquitous golf buggies (¥40 for the complete circuit), which shuttle visitors through the park from
However the greatest pleasure in Bishu Shanzhuang is walking through its tranquil northwestern corner, a wooded wonderland of quiet trails and minor sights that see few visitors. Here bees, butterflies, deer, dragonflies and squirrels will keep you company, rather than the cacophony of megaphones found back at the palaces. Although not recommended by the park staff, it is possible to walk short stretches of (or all the way around) Bishu Shanzhuang’s six-mile Qing dynasty walls, from where you’ll enjoy fine views. The northwestern section is stunning.
The palaces are impressively subdued and fit in well with the verdant backdrops, but can get overrun with tour groups. Still, these groups tend to come and go quite quickly and, if you bide your time, you’ll find moments of solitude. The nanmu wood palace buildings are attractively set around a series of alternately grassy and paved courtyards linked by covered lattice-lined corridors. Inside the buildings you’ll find some interesting historic displays which are labeled in English and include furniture and ornaments from the Qing and models of the great emperors, resplendent in imperial yellow dress.
As you strike out north of the palaces you’ll soon reach the lake complex of bridges, islands, pavilions and walkways, which makes for a lovely wander. Many of the buildings dispersed throughout the lake are exact copies of monuments from around southern China. The central island was a private retreat for both Kangxi and Qianlong.
To the east you’ll find Ruyi Island which was used by Emperor Kangxi for affairs of state while his palace was still under construction.
Although it’s not possible to go inside the impressive imperial library, Wenjinge, it’s worth a walk just to see it from the outside. The library is enclosed by rockeries and pools in order to make a fire barrier. The central chamber has no windows to protect the books from the damaging rays of the sun. Today it houses a number of important books, including the Four Treasures (a 36,000-volume Tang dynasty encyclopedia!) There’s also plenty of wildlife around here, including Bambi-cute deer and maybe the odd electric blue of a kingfisher darting by.
North of the Lakes
To get away from the crowds, head north to the towering Yongyou Pagoda (closed for restoration at the time of writing) and you’ll see a vast swathe of flat grassland off to the west. There are usually some deer enjoying a graze around here and you’ll also see an improbable fleet of mock yurts (traditional Mongolian tent-houses) where you can stay if you have the urge. North and west of here the park stretches over low hills to the limits of its extent, denoted by the encircling wall. This area comprises quiet retreats, rocky gorges and occasional expansive views, all dotted with pagodas, pavilions and wildlife.
The Northern Temples
(Open daily ; ticket prices between ¥30 and ¥50). As time progressed the Mountain Resort’s northern setting was used as place to entertain leaders of vassal states such as Mongolia and Tibet. In order to appease and impress these visitors a series of nine Lamaist-style temples were built to the north of the parkland at the foothills of the mountains.
In spite of the Mongolian and Tibetan Lamaist influence, the temples also pay allegiance to Chinese temple style and offer an eclectic mix of architecture. Of the nine temples, five remain today, the most striking of which is the grand PutuozongchengTemple, designed to resemble Lhasa’s Potala Palace, while Puning Temple is worth visiting for its wooden statue of Guanyin – the largest in existence.
♥♥ PutuozongchengTemple(daily ; ¥40). The vast block of the PutuozongchengTemple dominates the area north of Bishu Shanzhuang. This is the area’s largest and most impressive temple complex, built between 1767 and 1771 to celebrate Emperor Qianlong’s 60th birthday. Heads of states from all over the vast empire were invited to cele-brate at Chengde. The Putuozongcheng was based on the Potala Palace in Lhasa, and is a striking monument, although closer inspection reveals it to be nothing more than a mock-up of the Tibetan original. It is most spectacular from afar.
♥♥PuningTemple(daily ; ¥50). This temple was built in 1755 to commemorate victory over invading northeast tribes and is the most typically Tibetan temple here. It’s also the only one where you’ll see practicing devotees. Of the temple’s various levels of stupas, towers and halls, the highlight is without a doubt the 75-foot-tall, 43-armed wooden carving of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. To find the statue, walk to the Mahayana Hall at the rear of the compound. You’ll need to pay an extra ¥10 if you want to ascend to the upper viewing tower.