The Summer Palace is one of the top historic sights to visit in Beijing. It wouldn’t take much – to guess why – Emperors chose it to unwind in its tranquil gardens. After three days of back-to-back walking (including the Great Wall Hike), we decided to slow down the pace and experience a bit of tranquillity ourselves.
The key to enjoying the Summer Palace, would be, to get there before the crowds. On a weekend, and after 10 am, crowds of people (mostly domestic tourists) swarm the palace grounds. We ditched the audio guide and chose to observe – without really understanding. First on our route – the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity. Although stunning, it isn’t very different from the giant halls in the ‘Forbidden City’ or those in the ‘Lama Temple’.
Pathways lead up ‘Longevity Hill’ or diverge near the lake side. The hillside is a rather steep walk and my injured knee slowed us down. Although, we missed the blossoms in Shanghai, we were lucky to chance upon bright pink blooms on our path. A magpie skipped around and settled on a bushy branch.
En-route, we came across locals practising martial arts and traditional Chinese music. It was wonderful to just sit back and listen. They seemed to be unaffected by the attention they attracted. At the apex of the hill, lies a observation point and another another hall. We stopped midway and chose to soak-in the silence. With no tourists here – it was a treat.
As we approached the lakeside, it started to get noisy. Tour groups, families with bawling kids, and tourists thronged the pavilions facing the lake. The lake itself was teeming with paddle boats. In the afternoon sun – we chose to give it a miss. A local food joint served ready to eat meals and makes an excellent spot to break your walk. However, finding a quiet spot might prove to be a challenge.
As you walk away from the pavilions, passing the marble boat and reach the walkways that run parallel to the canals; the number of tourists decrease. I had to stop on multiple occasions and rest. There were many like us – equally tired on a hot summer’s day.
It’s possible to take a canal ride and cross to the Suzhou themed gardens. But, we chose to walk instead.
The Suzhou themed gardens were tranquil, scenic, and perfect to shield those afternoon rays of sun. The walk to the canal was worth it. Although, heading back to Xiyuan Station (eastern entrance) would mean walking the entire path again. Fortunately, the north palace gate exit leads to the Beigongmen Station subway. Fortunately, we didn’t have to head back to the the main gate. On our way out, we saw the tourist ticker displayed the number 45,000.