We take you to the tombs under Beijing. It is an important place for the Chinese, and as a matter of fact, few Western tourists get here. Not surprisingly, however, getting here on your own is a torture.
We’ll start a little differently, however…
Table of contents
Getting to the Tombs of the Ming Dynasty
Otherwise, because the access itself is a non-obvious attraction…. ;) But one step at a time…
Beijing is a really big and crowded city. Every square meter is used, and if you build skyscrapers it is at least twenty-five stories high, and there are more of the taller ones anyway. We have already written about the hutongs, or low-rise buildings, which have been largely razed for new apartment blocks and office buildings. A city under constant construction. No, come back: a state under construction. Riding the train, we saw lots of small cities and towns, just with skyscrapers. At times it looked quite comical as if a blockhouse had been erected in a field (literally!). Only a parking lot and an access road, and a few service stores on the first floor and the end.
Roads, bridges, railroads, subway lines, airports are being built. Like Dubai – we are convinced that if we return here even in 5 years, the city and the whole country will change a lot. When planning our trip, we had to rely on the most up-to-date information, and further verify what our guidebook (from 2015) provided. Especially when it comes to trains and subways in the city. There are nearly 20 subway lines in Beijing alone, and new stations are constantly being built.
When we were planning each day we always checked what the access was like, so as not to get caught up in moving by ground transportation. We knew the metro, it is super developed, easy to navigate and very cheap. We wanted to go to the eponymous Ming Dynasty Tombs, which are located outside Beijing, but we were a bit intimidated by the vision of teleporting on city buses. So when we read that the Chinese were planning to expand the subway in this direction we immediately started looking for details, and it worked! New stations have recently opened on a subway line dubbed the “Changping Line” that goes right under the tombs (and even the subway station is named the same(!), i.e. Ming Tombs). So we have a plan for the next day.
We’ve never taken the subway for so long. Imagine that we drove from downtown Beijing, with one change, and the trip took an hour and a half! Longer than the Lodz-Warsaw train.
Although the line is mostly above ground now, the station where we got off was underground.
And so we are heading to the solution of the puzzle…. Well, we went to the surface looking for the right exit from the underground, so that we were immediately on the right side of the street. As soon as we tilted our heads, a field appeared to our eyes! An overgrown field, some isolated buildings and a concrete wall!
Or is it a construction site? In sight of each of the exits from the subway station, but no street in between, nothing! We stood and couldn’t marvel that they built a station here, pulled the line, even though there is nothing here yet. However, knowing life, in a year there will be another Beijing district here ;)
Not really knowing where to go, we went through the only hole in the fence and found ourselves in a completely different world. From the metropolis, the hustle and bustle, the noise, the tall skyscrapers and the five-lane streets, we stepped out onto a street, a one-lane country street with low buildings, single empty stores and a rally of local cab drivers who immediately caught up with us. We were as confused as ever. Zero signs, maps, and yet we are in one of the most important places near Beijing. We ran off to the side to get a quiet orientation, although this was hard to do, because every now and then someone wanted to drive us somewhere, but we were extremely assertive (we had read beforehand about how easy prey lost tourists are).
Fortunately, we were helped by a young girl who pointed the way to the tombs. The road led between houses to reach a larger road where buses were even already running. We knew we were supposed to turn right and keep walking, to an even bigger road. We walked by the side of the road, because there are no sidewalks, with a stroller, along dilapidated old buildings, in the dust and sand. The first signs appeared at the aforementioned larger road, but they were car signs (better than nothing, the important thing is that we are on the right road).
Eventually we came to a fork and the first tombs (at least that’s what we thought). In fact, we only got as far as the gate, beyond which a path awaited us, about half a kilometer, but it was far better than all the roads we walked today!
Phew… well! Finally we reached the tombs!!! :)
A tour of the Ming Dynasty Tombs (Ming Tombs).
After walking half a kilometer, we came to an entrance with ticket offices and tourist information. We were finally able to get a detailed map and here we only realized how large the area is and that we are basically only able to see one, maximum two tombs. The distances between them are quite large and there is no chance that we will reach them on foot. Here only was the entrance to the tombs, or more precisely to the first structure: the Stela Pavilion along with the Sacred Way, along which the stone statues stand.
In a large area (about 40 square kilometers) are buried 13 of the 16 emperors of the Ming Dynasty, and each tomb, is such a mini-temple. Only 3 tombs are open to the public: Chang Ling, Ding L ing and Zhao Ling (or if you prefer: Changling, Dingling and Zhaoling).
All that remained was to decide where we were going and zła city bus (something we wanted to avoid at all costs). So we stood on the road, with two groups of tourists, and tried to stop some ordinary city bus. We waited for 15 minutes in the paint fumes, because the fence by the road was just being painted. Fortunately, we made it, got the bus, dropped the name of the tomb, the lady nodded, and we got on the bus (you can pay with a pre-paid card, just like in the subway).
Our choice was Ding Ling, because it is the only tomb where you can go underground. We still considered Chang Ling, also recommended, but however, we were more on the way to the first one. We got off the bus in a rather large parking lot, where there were also quite a few coaches. Walking to the entrance we passed stalls where you can buy Chinese souvenirs, food and drink.
Finally, we entered the tomb area, and by tomb here we mean a whole, large area with various buildings. After passing through the courtyards, we came to the main building and here the stairs began – literally, on top of the upstairs ;)
The direction of the tour leads first to the hill, and only then do you enter the tomb and start down the stairs. Downstairs you can see large chambers with altars and sarcophagi. Unfortunately, most of the artifacts were flooded or stolen.
Following the direction of the tour, one then exits at the top from where there is a nice panorama of the surrounding valley. There are also several buildings in the complex, with numerous exhibits on display.
We spent about an hour and a half at the site. We walked slowly, not rushing anywhere, and it was enough time. If we had been here earlier, we probably would have gone to one more tomb, but we knew we still had a long way to go.
By some miracle we managed to zła bus (only the fourth one that entered the parking lot was going to Beijing – at least that’s how we were informed). We drove again for a very long time, from 40 minutes, maybe an hour, and not to the center of Beijing, but only to the place where we could change to the subway. Fortunately, despite the long route, the ride was quite cheap and quiet.
Did you notice that most of this post is a description of getting there and back than the tombs themselves? That’s right. By far the greater attraction and adventure for us was the journey itself than the tombs. Maybe it’s a matter of having only seen one, or maybe we were just tired once we got there, but we weren’t exceptionally enchanted by what we saw on site.
Another issue is that we are not great experts on the history of this dynasty, so our interest was also less. In addition, we left the tombs to ourselves at the very end of our stay in Beijing, so having already seen other, more impressive sites, we subconsciously compared them to the earlier ones.
The tomb itself, it must be said, is impressive in size and depth, but it is better to come here either by bus or cab to save your strength for viewing the tombs and learning about the history. Maybe others are more breathtaking, but we didn’t get to check it out :)