Stepping on the Great Wall and Lama Temple. Beijing China
I have a dream to someday visit all of the Wonders of the World. This time, it’s the Great Wall of China. Built between the 5th century B.C. and the 16th century, the Great Wall is a 4000-mile, stone and earth fortification built to protect the Chinese empire from invading Mongols. This makes it the world’s longest man-made structure.
While there are many sections of the Wall that can be accessed, I am at Mutianyu, known as one of the best-preserved and least crowded. It is 65km to the north of Beijing. Once there, the ticket entrance is a short walk from the vehicle park and I’m given the choice of walking up to the top, or hitching a ride on a cable car.
Of course, I get on the cable car!
Once off the cable car, it is an incredible feeling to be finally on this amazing wonder. Also popular because of the natural scenery, this section of the Wall covers a total length of 3.4 miles and is made of slabs of granite measuring 7 meters x 8 meters in height and 4 meters x 5 meters in width.
The Wall’s parapets are interspersed with 23 watchtowers on both sides, which give some clear and picturesque views of the surrounding lands.
It is impressive to say the least. Slates of granite have almost been polished clean with the thousands of footfall on a daily basis. Tourists, just like me, stop to stare, marvel, agonize (over the thousands of human deaths during construction and said to be buried under the Wall), take photos, and generally enjoy the thrill of being on this massive monument. This is a dream come true for many of us.
The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall was first built during the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-557). Then during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Tan Lun and Qi Jiguang, two famous patriotic generals, rebuilt it in order to strengthen its defensive potential when they guarded the strategic pass. It served as the northern protective screen, guarding the capital and imperial mausoleums for generations.
This section is also one of the longest fully restored portions of the Wall.
After spending almost four hours traversing this wall, it is time to get back down and this time I scrambled onto a toboggan/slider for an exhilarating ten-minute ride to the bottom.
Close to my hotel (walking distance) is the Lama Temple or Yonghe Temple/Lamasery. Again, I face long lines of tourists waiting to buy tickets (25 Chinese Yuan per adult) but soon find myself in tree-lined arbor leading to the entrance of the temple.
Considered to be the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet, the Lama Temple was converted to a lamasery in 1744 after serving as the former residence of Emperor Yong Zheng.
Despite the temple being a popular tourist site, it is also an active place of worship.
This is the first time I see pilgrims prostrating themselves at full length in submission within its halls and in front of the deity.
From the outside, the temple is a mass of colour, enshrouded by clouds of incense, comprising fabulous frescoes, magnificent decorative arches, tapestries, stunning carpentry, abundance of Tibetan prayer wheels, tantric statues and an imposing pair of Chinese lions that stand guard.
Resplendent within the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (Fǎlún Diàn) is a substantial bronze statue of a benign and smiling Tsong Khapa (1357–1419), founder of the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat sect, robed in yellow and illuminated by a skylight.
In the Wànfú Pavilion (Wànfú Gé), stands a magnificent 18m-high statue of the Maitreya Buddha in his Tibetan form, clothed in yellow satin and reputedly sculpted from a single block of sandalwood. Each of the Bodhisattva’s toes is the size of a pillow. It is a gift of the seventh Dalai Lama to the Emperor Qiaonlong.
Behind the statue is the Vault of Avalokiteshvara, from where a diminutive and blue-faced statue of Guanyin peeks out. The Wànfú Pavilion is linked by an overhead walkway to the Yánsuí Pavilion (Yánsuí Gé), which encloses a huge lotus flower that revolves to reveal an effigy of the Longevity Buddha.
The temple is a maze of sanctums comprising lots more bronze Tibetan Buddhist statues, exotic, tantric pieces (such as Samvara) and figurines of the fierce-looking Mahakala, vast collection of Tibetan Buddhist ornaments, mandalas and an impressive selection of ceremonial robes in silk and satin. In most of the sanctums, photography is forbidden.
According to historical records, the palace was built in 1694 by Emperor Kangxi of the Qing as a residence for his son Prince Yin Zhen. When this one succeeded to the throne in 1723 the new emperor moved to the Forbidden City, took the name of Yong Zheng and renamed his old residence the Palace of Harmony. He also replaced the green ceramic tiles with yellow, the imperial color. In 1744, his successor, Emperor Qianlong converted the palace into the lamasery and offered it to the Tibetan monks.
In 1949 the Lama Temple was declared a national monument because of its historical significance. The temple survived the Cultural Revolution. In 1979, major restoration work was undertaken and monks from Inner Mongolia were invited to reside there to examine the Tibetan and secret liturgies of the Gelukpa order. The literal translation of Gelupkpa is paragon of virtue, and named after the reformed order of the largest Lamaist school in Tibet and Mongolia. It was founded in the fourteenth century by Tsongkhapa, a monk who intended to restore the ascetic ethics advocated by the historical Buddha. The ceremony cap of Gelukpa dignitaries earned the nickname Yellow Hat in the West. It was at this school that the great Rinpoche like the Dalai Lama was taught and raised.
It is time to leave Beijing and embark on a long rain ride that will take me across China to the mysterious land of Tibet.