Notes from the field: a visit to the the Fragrant Hills

I still vividly remember one of the first Chinese lessons I ever took extolling the beauty of the red autumn leaves of the Fragrant Hills (香山) just to the northwest of Beijing. It’s strange what sticks in the mind.

Unfortunately, I arrived far too late to see the leaves when I made my first ever visit this morning to this former imperial resort that dates back as far back as the Jin dynasty (1115-1234). But I was more than compensated for this by a crisp morning stroll around the virtually deserted park. It was only when I left at around 9:30am that it started filling up with visitors.

Fragrant Hills

The Fragrant Hills reached their zenith under the Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong, who had a raft of new pavilions, gardens, and other structures added to the complex. Many of these were either destroyed or severely damaged when British, French, and other western forces went on the rampage in 1860 and then again in 1900, and have been restored during the last few decades. A cable car has also been added to take visitors to the summit of its highest peak.

The Fragrant Hills are quite easy to get to by subway and bus. While I wouldn’t put them in the same class as the Summer Palace (颐和园), they’re definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself at a loose end while you’re in Beijing. I hope it won’t be too long before I return there and finally get to feast my eyes on its fabled red autumn leaves.

Fragrant Hills

Even though I’ve made a number of trips to China this year, I didn’t have many opportunities to venture beyond Beijing and Shanghai. Indeed, the only new place I visited was the delightful ancient water town of Wuzhen (乌镇).

Note to self: I must do better next year.

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