Yonghe Temple, commonly known as the “Lama Temple,” is a temple and monastery of a school of Tibetan Buddhism. Located in Beijing, it is one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world.
The temple was built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty, and it originally was used as a residence for court eunuchs. Later, the temple was converted into the court of the Yongzheng Emperor. After 1722, it became a lamasery (a monastery for Tibetan Buddhist monks).
Brianne visited the Old Summer Palace. The Palace is also known as the Gardens of Perfect Brightness, but was originally named the Imperial Gardens. The Palace is known for its collection of garden and building architectures, and other works of art. It was built in the 18th and early 19th centuries for the emperors of the Qing Dynasty to live and handle government affairs. During the Second Opium War (1860), it was initially destroyed by the British.
Today, Brianne visited Beihai Park, an imperial garden that was built in the 10th century. The Park has three pools total, so Brianne took a ferry around to visit the different areas of the park. In total, the park is around 69 hectares large so it took several hours to see all the different areas.
At the center of the Park is Qionghua Island, which contains many historic sites on it, such as the White Pagoda and Yongan Temple. This island was the highlight of the Park for Brianne. But, other great spots in the Park she enjoyed include the Five-Dragon Pavilions, Nine-Dragon Wall, The Land of Extreme Happiness, and the Iron Screen Wall.
This weekend, we went to Inner Mongolia. We arrived at the region’s capital – Hohhot – and then drove to Xilamuren Grassland, where we stayed overnight in yurts; yurts are similar to round tents. Before, the yurts were used by nomadic peoples who roamed the Inner Mongolian grasslands; the yurts were very convenient because they are portable. Today, the yurts are more symbolic and not used for the nomadic lifestyle as much.
Our first activity in Inner Mongolia was traveling around the grasslands on horseback. We visited a herdsman’s family and ate their traditional foods and visited an aobao. Inner Mongolia is known for its dairy products, so we tried their milk tea, milk candies and bread sticks. An aobao is composed of stone piles and scarves, and is used for worship.
After horseback riding, we watched horse racing and Inner Mongolian style wrestling. There were about eight horses in the race, but it quickly dwindled down to three. The horses only needed to complete two laps in order to win.
Inner Mongolian wrestling is different from other styles of wrestling in that you want to throw your opponent down by only engaging the upper half of your body. You are not allowed to touch your opponent’s legs, or strike, strangle or lock your opponent. Some of our friends even participated!
For our second day, we spent the day in the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is absolutely beautiful; the rolling hills of tan sand seemed endless! For all our of adventures in the desert, we went to the Resonant Sand Gorge, or Xiangshawan.
We first saw a traditional wedding ceremony performance at the Art Desert Gallery there; it was very intricate, and there was a lot of symbolism. There was a lot of preparation before the actual wedding, and the bride-to-be was kept a secret to the village and the audience until the ceremony. There were electronic screens on the sides of the stage to aide the audience in knowing what was happening.
CIEE took us on a trip to two rural provinces in China – Shanxi and Hebei – for the weekend. For our first stop in Northern Shanxi province, we visited Zhangjiakou city and Tianzhen County. There, we saw old Ming Dynasty watch towers and an unrepaired section of the Great Wall, which was made of compressed earth. We also got time to hike in the area, and we found lots of goats!
On Saturday, we met our homestay families. The village was very small, with only around 50 people total. We spent the day with our families, where we got a taste of rural life. Hannah planted potatoes, and Brianne planted beans. At night, we had a “bonfire,” where we ate burned potatoes (which were surprisingly decent), and slept on kangs; a kang is a raised platform next to a stove, where the heat from cooking food warms the kang for sleeping.
Here is a glimpse of Hannah’s homestay experience!
And, here’s Brianne’s!
On Sunday, we left our families and took a six-hour hike into Hebei province. We walked along a sheep trail and finally made it into Yangyuan County, where we spent the evening.
Fun fact: Brianne had an allergic reaction to something that day.
Dr. Patrick Lucas took us to his favorite Buddhist Temple. It was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but is currently in the process of being re-built.
For the Labor Day Holiday, Brianne traveled to Hunan Province, visiting the cities of Fenghuang and Zhangjiajie. Due to traveling, she also had short stops in the cities Jishou and Changsha. She took the train to Zhangjiajie and arrived Friday. For her first meal, she and her friends had to pick out a live animal to eat – among the choices were boar, snake, chicken, mountain pheasant and badger. They collectively chose the mountain pheasant, which all agreed had not enough meat and was gamey.
Brianne spent the next day in Fenghuang, also known as Phoenix Ancient Town. This well-preserved town has not undergone much modernization, and is built on the Tuo Jiang River. The city is filled with the ethnic minorities Miao and Tujiao, so she bought some of their local crafts. Brianne now considers this city one of her favorite places she has been to in China.
That Monday, Brianne went to the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, which is about one hour away from the center of the city. The park is famous for its pillar-like formations (seen below), which resulted from erosion. A section of the pillars was officially re-named the “Avatar Hallelujah Mountains.” Fun fact: a photographer visited this specific section of the mountains, which then inspired James Cameron’s movie Avatar.
The last historic site Brianne visited in Hunan was The Yellow Dragon Cave, which is the longest cave in Asia. The caves are a karst formation, which is formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks and is characterized by sinkholes, caves and underground drainage systems. Touring the cave took over an hour, but it was worth it – especially since Brianne got to ride a boat on the Xiangshui River inside the cave!