One of Beijing’s parks…a lovely day out!
Beihai is a public park located in Beijing near the Forbidden City and was first built in the 11th century; it’s a great park to walk through or take a boat ride around the lovely lake and wonderful to visit in any season.
The park has an area of more than 171 acres and the lake covers more than half of the entire park.
Beihai literally means ‘northern sea’ and there are also two corresponding ‘seas’ being central (Zhonghai) and southern (Nanhai). The central and southern seas are collectively referred as Zhongnanhai which has a total area of 1,500 acres of which 700 acres is lake, Zhongnanhai is located along Chang’an Avenue, west of Tian’anmen Square.
Zhongnanhai serves as the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China and the State Council (Central government) of the People’s Republic of China. Chaiman Mao used to live there but these days the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang carry out many of their day-to-day administrative activities inside the compound which includes meetings foreign dignitaries.
China Central Television frequently shows footage of these meetings inside the compound, but limits its coverage largely to views of the interior of buildings which is a shame as I have heard the grounds are beautiful but because it is not open to the public, I have never seen inside. The front gates are policed by both uniform and plain clothes officers twenty-four hours a day.
Some sites in the southern sea area including Chairman Mao’s former residence had once been open to the public during important holidays and weekends between 1977 and 1985. I have read that during those years, many Chinese’ were able to fulfil their long-cherished wish of visiting the garden.
Now back to Beihai…which fortunately since 1925 has been open to the public…it’s a park that is definitely worth the visit and is high on the list of ‘things to do’ in Beijing.
During one of my visits to Beihai, I had found out about an imperial restaurant located on the edge of the lake, which would have had lovely views but all windows are blocked which I think is a bit disappointing.
The restaurant offers the favorite food of the Dowager Empress Cixi and the wait staff are dressed like Manchurian courtesans. I must say if I had to eat that food all the time I would be very very thin as it really was not tasty at all…quite boring actually especially for me being a vegetarian. But my friends did enjoy their meals which consisted of duck and chicken dishes. I think my disappointment was the absence of any eggplant dishes and you know how much I love eggplant!!
Inside the restaurant is pretty opulent with gold everywhere and incredibly spacious along with huge golden chandeliers.
There is also a White Dagoba (Tower) located in the park which was built to honour the visit of the 5th Dalai Lama in 1651. Its body is made of white stone and sun, moon and flame engravings decorate the surface of the tower.
It has had a tough life; destroyed in 1679 by an earthquake, rebuilt the following year then restored again in 1976 as a result of the Tangshan earthquake near Beijing.
To have an overarching view of Beihai and the Dagoba, you have to walk to the top of Jinshan Park which is to the north of the Forbidden City.
(map of Jinshan Park to the north of the Forbidden City)
Take a picnic, or buy some wonderfully tasty and cheap food sold in one of the local restaurants; either way the park is definitely worth a visit.