Running up that hill

West of Beijing’s flat expanse rise some prominent hills. The Summer Palace is close to their base, and you can see them in some of my pictures from there.
(from April 2007)
Given the city’s long history and the significant portion of it when it was an imperial capital, it’s not surprising that emperors took an interest in these hills. Beijing’s climate is notoriously unpleasant at many times of the year, which encourages those with the means to get out of town. Add to that the fact that it’s really pretty up there, and you can bet the rulers appropriated big chunks of it for their personal use.

The park today called Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills) is one of those chunks. According to the brochure, it dates back to the Jin Dynasty in 1186. It has served as a royal resort for summer hunting and other activities for other subsequent dynasties based here. The famous emperor Qianlong ordered much expansion and building in 1745. And like many ancient things here, it’s had a variety of different names through the ages.

As with the Old Summer Palace, much damage was done to Xiangshan by English and French armies in 1860 and by the allies of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. It was opened as a public park in the 50s, and much of the destruction has been restored.

It’s quite a distance from the center of town. Taking the subway to the closest point still leaves you a bus ride of an hour or so.
The second bus is the one to Xiangshan, and almost all of the people were waiting for it. Note that although it appears warm, the sky is a uniform color that is not blue.
This is the park entrance, with the titular hills behind it. The highest one, on the right, is where I’m headed. Beijing’s elevation is 143 feet, and the top is at 1827.
This is half of Yanjing Hu (Spectacle Lake – spectacle as in eyeglasses) with a little artificial waterfall. From near here, there is a cable car to take you to the summit, but that’s for wimps, and I’m not a wimp.
If I remember right, this is the front of an old monastery (this part of the brochure is only in Chinese, and not any characters I know). I think it was built by the emperor for when the Lama visited from Tibet. I like the tree growing out of the wall.
This is Liulita (Glazed Tile Pagoda, pronounced oddly like “Lolita”), which managed to survive the destruction while most everything else went down.
From there on, it gets kind of steep. This is one tiny fraction of what seemed like an endless stairway. By this point I was starting to wonder if the cable car might have been a better choice. But imagine the feeling of accomplishment that lies ahead!
Yes, that’s the top way up there. Would it take longer to go back down and catch a ride?
There is even some wildlife to be seen.
Very near the summit now, seriously out of breath and thankful for the extra bottle of water I bought from a lady a few hundred meters below. Notice how people react to a sign that says Dangerous! No coming close! And no, that is not the Great Wall in the background, just an old park boundary fence.
This is the top. Finally made it. My legs were on fire, but I can now count myself among those elite few who have done the climb. All ten million or so of us.
You’ll have to take my word for it that Beijing is down there. The air at this height is actually pretty good, and we were in bright sunlight. The “haze” was so diffuse that you couldn’t see it in a layer from this height.

After a lengthy breather, it was time to head back down, which involves a somewhat different set of leg muscles. Equal opportunity aches, you could say.
It’s quite a pleasant spot for a picnic or just relaxing. The park is most famous for its fall colors, with a number of different species of trees contributing. I’ve heard it can be extremely crowded at that time of year. But it’s pretty nice in early summer as well.

As you can tell, when I went up this hill, I was not running, but I couldn’t resist a Kate Bush reference for the title. But I am not a wimp.

For some shots of Xiangshan on a clearer day, check out this page. Just my luck, the day after I went was clear and blue, at least in the morning – thunderstorm at night.


  1. um...that's not a garter snake as you described to me...yikes!!! I think my screams would be heard across Beijing.

  2. I think the snake looks bigger in the picture than it really was. Its head wasn't much bigger than my thumb, though it's body is bigger than you might expect from the size of the head. Kind of like a certain cat I know.

  3. Sorry, I am gonna have to agree with the people (Chinese people and office staff) on this one. You're crazy...it's a big snake.