Morning came with no rain and a promise of clearer skies. Beijing’s sky is quite hazy, but the Sun shined brightly, and things were looking drier. After a quick breakfast, we piled onto the bus and hit the road for the Ming Tombs, 31 miles away. Actually, we headed for the Sacred Way, a four-mile long paved path that Chinese emperors supposedly used to descend from and then return to Heaven, which leads to the Ming Tomb complex. Lined with huge statues of animals, warriors, and priests, it is peaceful and contemplative, the air ringing with the buzzing of cicadas. It turned out to be a clear and hot day, so we were all glad that the path is also lined on both sides with willow trees that offer some shade.
Our chartered bus then took us to one of the actual Ming Tombs – 13 of the 15 Ming Emperors are buried in mausoleums scattered across a 46 square mile expanse in the mountains. We climbed to the top of a hill, then descended 27 meters through a passage to the underground burial chamber of one of the Emperors.
After lunch, we finally went to visit a section of the Great Wall. So, it seems, did everyone else in China. We passed several other sections of the Wall that are easily visible from the highway, but hit a HUGE traffic backup at the Badaling section, one of the best-preserved portions of the 4000-mile long structure. When we finally debarked, we were given a choice: take the longer, easier, more popular route or the steeper, less-crowded one. The group split up, and from the less-crowded stretch of the Wall, I got a few shots of the thousands of people cramming the long route up the mountain.
Along the way, we hadn’t really noticed the developing cloud cover…and then it started raining again. Not that it was a hard rain, but we still remembered how icky it felt to get rained on when you’re already hot & sweaty, and we didn’t know if the rain would get any harder. Satisfied that we’d pretty much taken the memento photos we wanted of ourselves on the Wall, some of us bailed and headed for the rendezvous point, which gave us more time to raid the souvenir store.
On the way back, we made a quick detour through downtown Beijing to pass some spectacular buildings, including the “Bird’s Nest” stadium made famous by the Beijing Olympics – an awesome sight up close – and, if you can believe it, another building made to resemble the Olympic torch!
Tomorrow: Goodbye Beijing, Hello Xi’an…