From the Great Wall to the Bird’s Nest
36 Car & Travel May 2008
You will need a complete day to tour the wonders
and hear the stories of Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Photo by Terence Baker
Car & Travel May 2008 37
b y Te r e n c e B a k e r
Not since Marco Polo returned to Venice government determined to showcase display nine (a lucky number) bolts, and
with wondrous tales of the Kubla Khan China through these Games, there would almost 1,000 buildings are on show. You’ll
and his palace of Xanadu has China, the seem to be no barrier to moving factories need all day here, and you’ll be there with
world’s most populous country, enjoyed and closing roads in the weeks when the many provincial Chinese, who are travel-
such center-stage scrutiny as it does today, world’s attention is focused here; the main ing within their country for the first time.
as Beijing, its capital, prepares to host the stadium for the games, nicknamed the Go next to Jingshan Park, with its great
2008 Summer Olympic Games. On sale Bird’s Nest for its intricate design of steel view of the Forbidden City, then to the
everywhere in this city of 15 million are strips, already is a wonder to behold. Temple of Heaven, which for dynasties-
the Games’ mascots: Beibei, Huanhuan, What also is of no doubt is the past was a sacred spot with a “direct
Jingjing, Nini and Yingying. fascination the world has for this unique portal” to heaven, and lastly to the Sum-
The first thing I saw on arrival, however, city. Start at the architectural gem that is mer Palace, where you’ll hear tales of the
was pollution. Cars are everywhere in this the Forbidden City, which sits in front of scheming empress-dowager Cixi. One
vast country of new wealth, but seem- gigantic Tiananmen Square. The portrait spot I enjoyed was the Pudu Temple, close
ingly none are subject to environmental of Chairman Mao (I witnessed its yearly to the Forbidden City but mostly ignored
standards. Due to the smog, only once, removal and replacement; apparently, by “official” tours. To the north of Beijing
following a storm, did I see the beauti- one Chinese artist does nothing ever, are the Ming Tombs, where emperors took
ful hills to the north, on which perches apart from painting Mao’s likeness) stares their last journeys.
China’s biggest draw, its Great Wall. Pol- down from the Gate of Heavenly Peace The tombs should be visited before
lution will be a thing of the past, I was as you cross one palace courtyard after China’s star, the Great Wall, or they might
told, and I have no doubt that the Games another, along a path where once only prove disappointing. The wall never is.
themselves will pass seamlessly. With a the emperor could set foot. Huge doors It is spellbinding. Most tourists head to
“ A wonderful, surprise find was
the Chestnut Garden of Ming
Dynasty, where all the emperor’s
38 Car & Travel May 2008