The morning following our very busy day in Beijing, we drove about 50 kilometres northwest of the city to a secluded valley that protects the burial places of thirteen emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). There we walked the peaceful Sacred Way leading toward the oldest and largest of the tombs, that of emperor, Zhu Di, builder of Beijing’s Forbidden City. Twelve sets of stone animals (including the anatomically incorrect elephant pictured below) lined the first part of the road followed by enormous stone guards and officials closer to the tomb. Unlike the crowds of the previous day, we were almost alone as the Chinese tend to visit these sites only on designated days such as Tomb Sweeping Day in the early spring.
The tomb itself consists of a main gate, a series of courtyards, and the Hall of Eminent Favours which now houses a historical display of pictures and artifacts related to the reign of Zhu Di. Beyond the hall, through more gates and archways stands the Soul Tower which houses the largest stele in China. Much like a gigantic headstone, a stele is an upright slab of stone bearing inscriptions and serving as a monument. A well treed hill behind the Soul Tower is the actual burial mound. There the bodies of the emperor, the empress who predeceased him by several years and 16 concubines are interred. The concubines were sacrificed at the time of Zhu Di’s death so that they would accompany him into the afterlife. It’s hard for us to get our heads around a practice like that one!
Later in the day, we continued on to Badaling, the most visited and most photographed section of China’s Great Wall which is also known as the world’s longest cemetery due to the number of lives lost during its construction. Many, many bodies are said to be buried within the wall.
After climbing a section of the wall near Dandong earlier in the year, we hadn’t planned on visiting it a second time but many of our students urged us to see the wall near Beijing as well telling us that it was much longer and much older than the portion we’d already visited. Though our climb to the eighth watchtower and highest point in the area in the hot afternoon sun lacked the Wow! factor of our first wall experience, it was definitely worth the visit if only for the fabulous views of the mountains with the wall snaking across it. Our tour package included hour long foot massages back in our hotel room when the day was over; definitely a good way to relax after the climb!