Thursday, December 22, 2011

China visit

One of the high points of any visit is to take some been there done that photos and this trip was no better. My feelings of going to China was pretty much mixed and it took a lot of self motivation for me to keep my spirits up when I boarded the 3 AM flight from Bangalore. The reason for the visit was the 25th Anniversary celebrations of NRC (Nokia Research Center). Taking this opportunity, me and my colleagues did some sightseeing of Beijing as well. 
Before embarking on the trip there was lot of apprehensions among us such as the kind of food that will be available for vegetarians, whether it would be possible to survive the cold etc. The first part I took care by buying a decent amount of MTR and cup noodle packs that would not have allowed me to starve even if I had been in Antarctica. The later part was taken care by the company which signed a first time travel allowance of Rs 10000 for buying jackets and shoes.
Coincidentally I met two of my old friends in the Airport who were boarding the same flight, one was my college mate and the other was a former colleague, this sort of upped my anticipation that this is not going to be any ordinary trip. ;).
After a super long jog in the Hong Kong airport due to our delayed flight from Bangalore, we finally managed to catch the connecting flight to Beijing. The air hostess who took us on the run from one terminal to the other was pretty plumpy but boy she knew how to cover distances ;), we were almost pretty much panting our lungs out when we reached the other terminal.
The Beijing Airport was simply stunning, with a massive orange doomed roof, it was easily one of the biggest airports in the world. After an uneventful immigration, we managed to board a taxi, the taxi driver took his time in examining the hotel address written in Chinese. Our doubts as to whether he was taking us to the right place or not was laid to rest when we saw our hotel name (Jinghua hotel). Pretty much all the taxi drivers seem to be literate.
Our sightseeing tour of Beijing began with a metro ride to Forbidden city (Tienanmen East station). The fixed charge of 2 RMB (16 Indian rupees) for a one way ride was pretty cheap, the distance covered is immaterial ,all it matters is that you should have a 2RMB ticket at the exit.
The Forbidden city starts of with a tightly guarded gate, there are many military personnel near the entrance and some kind of an army parade was also going on inside the forbidden city. The forbidden city is the heart of Beijing and this is the place from where most of the Chinese emperors ruled. With its multiple doors and multiple layers of walls, the first thing that came to my mind was that the emperors seemed to be a pretty  paranoid race. Different levels of hierarchy was setup in the society and the access to the various parts of forbidden city was governed based on this. Every door or entrance had a multiple columns of small blocks that indicated the kind of people who could enter through those doors. With multiple rooms, running to a couple of thousands the emperor had a huge set of wife's and concubines, but there was only one empress. With red being the primary color, the forbidden city is awash with red. Some marble carvings of dragons are interesting and also seem intricate but nothing seems to be outstanding expect for the sheer size and scale of the structure. A small hillock at the back of the forbidden city gives an excellent view of the city. The only issue is that when I went, the whole place was covered in haze and thus robbed me of an excellent view. The detail to symmetry that the chinese treasure so much is very evident from this vantage point.
Inside the Forbidden City
A mythical lion

Emperors throne

A dragon tortoise
After the visit to forbidden city we headed to the summer palace. It was only after reaching the place that I learnt that no summer palace actually exists as it was burnt down during the opium wars. Summer palace is essentially a large park with a lake flanking on one side and some temple kind of structure which is sitting on a hillock. The view from the temple (dedicated to a female buddha) is also worth the effort of trekking up to that spot.
The other attraction was a long walk way which the Emperor apparently used for his evening strolls. The guide informed us that the stone slabs used for building the walk way are capable of acting as heat regulators so that the Emperor was not bothered too much about the temperature. Finally at the fag end, some three of us got separated from the rest of the group and we had to walk back a long way to reach the original metro station. Apparently there was another station which was very close to the exit on the other side.
 Taking a hot water shower after some long walks throughout the day was quite relaxing. The hotel room was pretty luxurious to say the least.
Summer palace park

Marble boat at the Summer Palace park
The next day we had booked a mini bus through the hotel reception for taking us to the Ming tombs and the Great wall. A pleasant tour guide who spoke pretty good English started with the history of the Ming tombs. The Ming tombs are situated some 52 kms from Beijing and are mostly un-excavated. Only one of the tombs have been excavated till now and the lone museum standing at the place has some artifacts that was preserved from that excavation. The excavated tomb experience had been a disaster for China as they didn't have the technology to preserve most of the artifacts, further now there is a law in place which prohibits any kind of excavations.
The other interesting thing was the concept of the world of living and that of the dead, an open frame of a door placed in plain ground symbolizes the crossing between the world of the dead and the living, A living person who enters into the land of dead should return to the world of living by brushing all the evil spirits off his body and then jumping over the doors threshold by chanting some words( which I incidentally forgot). But overall there was nothing much to see. The main tomb called the Changling tomb is unexcavated and the guide  told that it would remain so because of the general belief that Feng shui of Beijing will get affected if it is touched.
Me at the wall
Great Wall
 After a vegetarian lunch provided by the tour guides ( which was pretty decent considering that we were in China) we went to visit the Great Wall. There are many sections of the wall which are open to tourists and we were taken to Badaling which is said to be the most popular. The wall is built on mountain ridges and we have to simply marvel at this engineering feet. Cable car facility takes people almost to the highest vantage position of the wall. A short trek would make us reach a wall which in the ancient times was considered to be the symbol of becoming a man, so a person had to trek to this place and go back to have the honor of being called a true man by his fellow men. After finishing this all important task of touching the wall and taking some photographs we headed back to the hotel.
On the way we also saw the Olympic stadium, the Birds nest and it was really beautiful and imposing. The day long trip cost us 400 RMB with an extra charge of 80RMB for the cable car. Lunch was included in the ticket. There are many fly by night operators who offer the day visit to Ming tomb and Great wall for around 150 RMB but it is best avoided as the facilities provided in terms of travel and food are really bad. I'm quoting this based on an experience that one of my colleagues had on a previous trip to Beijing.
The remaining 3 days were spent in visits to the NRC Beijing center and a visit to a nearby resort for a workshop. But overall the trip was fun with nothing significant to worry about except for the food.
The Ganges restaurant which is a complete Indian restaurant was our savior, they have around three branches in Beijing and we visited two of those. The food was one of the best that I have tested even with respect Indian standards.
Team at the Ganges restaurant
All in all an official vacation :).


reshma M said...
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reshma M said...
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reshma M said...
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