GET OUT OF TOWN

Bei­jing’s sub­urbs of­fer ex­cep­tional ex­cur­sions to dis­cover des­ti­na­tions less cen­tral than the icons— yet they are cap­i­tal sites in ev­ery sense. Erik Nils­son ex­plores a three-day itin­er­ary through the me­trop­o­lis’ hin­ter­lands.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE TRAVEL - Con­tact the writer at erik_nils­son@chi­nadaily.com.cn

TheGreatWall is great. It livesupto it­sname­sake. The For­bid­den City is fore­bod­ing — in a good way. And the Sum­mer Palace draws crowds in all sea­sons— for many rea­sons.

Bei­jing is a me­trop­o­lis, where most iconic sites grav­i­tate to­ward its nu­cleus.

But its down­town of hu­tong ringed by high rises is or­bited by a trea­sure trove of hid­den gems be­yond such crown-jewel icons within the Sixth Ring Road— plus those be­yond, in­clud­ing the Wall.

The cap­i­tal is also among the Chi­nese cities of­fer­ing 72-hour visa-free tran­sit to for­eign visi­tors from dozens of coun­tries.

China Daily hits the road and heads out of town to dis­cover what trav­el­ers can ex­plore around Bei­jing within three days.

DAY 1

• Longqing Gorge (Yan­qing)

First, a gi­ant plas­tic dragon swal­lows you. Then, it spits you out atop LongqingGorge.

The Soar­ing Dragon Es­ca­la­tor earned an in­scrip­tion in the Guin­ness Book of World Records for the long­est se­ries of con­sec­u­tive es­ca­la­tors. But its aes­thet­ics en­dow an ap­peal be­yond met­rics.

Longqing Gorge is nick­named the “Lit­tle Three Gorges” for its karsts. They con­jure some­thing like a minia­tur­ized ver­sion of Southwest China’s glob­ally ac­claimed trio of canyons flanked by jut­ting peaks.

Th­ese fan­tas­ti­cal for­ma­tions here are smaller but sheerer, and are best ex­plored aboard dragon-shaped gon­do­las.

Tem­ples teeter atop the crags, which spo­rad­i­cally gush with wa­ter­falls.

The 100 Flow­ers Cave has been ar­ranged into sub­ter­ranean ex­hibits dis­play­ing scener­ies from var­i­ous re­gions of China with a pro­fu­sion of plas­tic blooms that serve its name­sake. • Guyaju (Yan­qing)

Holes in the wall were prime real es­tate for the uniden­ti­fied set­tlers who whit­tled Guyaju’s cliff face into a honeycomb of cham­bers a mil­len­nium ago. They left no writ­ten record be­yond that which they carved in stone, by chis­el­ing 350 rooms into 117 caves over a 5-kilo­me­ter span. And visi­tors to “China’s big­gest maze” — as it’s col­lo­qui­ally known — agree, it’s quite a legacy.

While arche­ol­o­gists ar­gue the com­pound would have been im­pen­e­tra­ble, Guyaju’s in­hab­i­tants van­ished cen­turies ago for rea­sons as­mys­te­ri­ous as to why they ap­peared at all.

DAY 2

• Kangxi Grass­lands (Yan­qing)

It is sad­dled in horse coun­try. That said, camel rid­ing also fea­tures promi­nently among its of­fer­ings. Th­ese beasts of bur­den graze along­side cows and sheep among the Mon­go­lian yurts that speckle the prairie.

Pic­nics, bar­be­cues and bon­fires of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties to eat, drink and be merry upon vast emer­ald ex­panses.

• Tianmo Desert (Zhangji­akou, He­bei)

Real ru­ins of fake ru­ins poke from Tianmo’s dunes.

They’re film sets de­serted in the desert. The sandy swath of land just out­side Yan­qing dis­trict has served as a shoot­ing lo­ca­tion for 4,000 episodes of more than 300 TV pro­grams and sev­eral box-of­fice block­busters. Not with­out rea­son. Visi­tors can ex­plore the for­lorn film sets in­ten­tion­ally crafted to look windswept when brand-new that have since been ac­tu­ally ground down by the sand­blasts of time. That said, their reap­pear­ances and dis­ap­pear­ances de­pend on shift­ing slopes.

Visi­tors can also hop atop plod­ding camels, zip down slopes on sand skis and kick up rooster tails of dust in dune bug­gies.

DAY 3

• Sil­ver Fox Cave (Fang­shan)

The fer­ry­men who ply tourists along two of Sil­ver Fox Cave’s sub­ter­ranean streams en­hance the cav­erns’ Hades feel. Th­ese wa­ter­ways flow 160 me­ters un­der­ground, like a Chi­nese an­swer to the River Styx.

Also ghostly is its name­sake — the ap­pari­tional Sil­ver Fox sta­lac­tite. It ap­pears as an un­der­world ren­di­tion of the ca­nine from which it takes its name.

The frosty for­ma­tion is one of Earth’s only such struc­tures.

Visi­tors exit by hop­ping aboard a train that clat­ters over un­der­ground tracks. • Stone For­est Canyon (Pinggu)

Per­haps the best ves­sel aboard which to view Stone For­est Canyon is Bei­jing’s “UFO”. The glass sightseeing plat­form that hov­ers over the scenic site takes its nick­name from its re­sem­blance to a fly­ing saucer.

It truly is out of this world — or at least ex­cep­tion­ally high above this slice of un­earthly ter­rain.

And it does feel like you’re fly­ing. (And may in­still a strong fear of fall­ing if you fear heights.)

The ravine in the Huang­songyu Ge­o­log­i­cal Park takes its des­ig­na­tion from the thick­ets of stone spires that re­sem­ble groves of tree trunks. The trunks of ac­tual trees twist hor­i­zon­tally from the ver­ti­cal-rock juts, seem­ing to defy grav­ity.

Th­ese rock dag­gers are ge­ol­ogy’s high rises in the cap­i­tal’s outer tra­jec­tory.

They slice the sky­line to house the al­lure of Bei­jing’s hin­ter­lands, which pro­trudes far from the sky­scrapers near the city’s nu­cleus.

Not to say down­town tow­ers aren’t great. But the mu­nic­i­pal­ity rises above, out­side.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Top: Longqing Gorge in Yan­qing dis­trict is called the “Lit­tle Three Gorges” for its karsts. Above: The his­tory of the honeycomb of cham­bers by uniden­ti­fied set­tlers re­mains an enigma.

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