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Chambers at Large in the Summer Palace, Beijing

According to a post on Twitter (therefore it has to be true), the Summer Palace is one of the top ten places to visit in the world. Covering almost 3 square kilometres it a beautiful garden, featuring Kunming Lake, a marble boat shaped pier, beautiful ornate covered walkways, temples and bridges, all of which are manmade. It is truly a testament to the Chinese people who built it and is deservedly a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Kunming Lake with temples on Longevity Hill to the right

The lake today is dotted with waxy green lily pads and home to hundreds of boats, ready to take eager tourists on a tour. The earth dug out to create this splendid feature was used to make the two hundred foot high Longevity Hill, on which are several buildings, including a temple containing the Buddha of Compassion. It’s 300 steps up to the Buddha and I forwent the pleasure, knowing my knees would never make it, but 72-year-old Jack put me to shame, almost running up the steps. His wife proudly telling me that in his youth he thought nothing of doing journeys of twenty miles or more and even today, he walks all the time. “All the time,” she repeated. Holy heck, I’m just about managing five miles a day and that’s under duress. Am walking, walking, walking from now on! I really will have to be much fitter to do this travelling lark!

Marble pier in the shape of a steamboat.

The temperature hit 35 degrees centigrade, but there was a gentle breeze from the lake and I took a stroll around the lakeshore arriving at one of the most unusual piers I have ever seen. It is beautiful steamboat made from white marble, which glistens opulently in the sunshine. It gives shelter from the sun, as do the wooden walkways, which run alongside the lakeshore. On the roof and eaves of these covered walkways are painted magnificent scenes of China and depictions of stories.

Fabulous artwork on the roofs of the wooden walkways

My guide was explaining one particular tale of a monk who went to India, accompanied by a fish, a monkey and a pig, when she was interrupted by the news that one our party had not returned from his trip up Longevity Hill. His wife was very concerned and somewhat angry as the time for us to leave had been and gone. To allay the lady’s fears I tried phoning but could get no signal. I tried sending a text message, but to no avail. Even our guide couldn’t get through. It was as if the Summer Palace had decided to stand still in time, oblivious to the onslaught of twenty-first century telecommunication.

Magnificent walkways run along the lake shore, offering shelter from the sun.

The absentee appeared ten minutes later, apologising quietly, saying he’d lost track of time, the view being “so very beautiful and so peaceful”. He appeared oblivious to his wife berating him for keeping the group waiting and I had the inkling he’d found his Nirvana.

Statue of magnificent creatures within the palace

Minding the steps, and there were small hidden ones everywhere, the group and I set off back to the bus passing statues of imaginary creatures and a man writing on the pavement. The uneven steps are possibly to keep everyone fit and alert – physically and mentally. Hell, I’m having to watch everywhere I walk. Having stumbled out of the loos on my first day, I learned my lesson early and have been extra vigilant.

Even the boats are in the shape of magnificent creatures.

There is no doubt the Summer Palace is beautiful and not to give too much away, in my humble opinion, exceeds the Forbidden City. I would not put it on my top ten places to visit, but it’s certainly in my top twenty. The artwork is truly beautiful, but I never did find out about the monk’s trip to India with the fish, the pig and the monkey. I will google it now.

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