Although this trip was done in a single day, walking on Sacred Way, seeing the mountain, and traversing underground to Dingling tomb were three separate trips.
After spending a week in the city, a group of friends and I ventured out of central Beijing for the very first time. We took the subway line to the northern-most stop, transferred to a bus, and headed for the Ming Dynasty Tombs. I’d never felt more secure riding in a bus: the bigger the means of transportation here, the more power it has on the street. Instead of serving as a warning signal for danger, the horn was used to remind smaller vehicles to move away or risk getting mowed down. Unsurprisingly, we arrived at our destination earlier than expected.
We first entered the Thirteen Ming Tombs Sacred Way, a walkway which originally led to the individual tombs. The “fog” (polluted air) gave off a mystical vibe, and I felt like I was in an ancient, mysterious setting. Although the walkway was just over one mile in length, the road looked infinite. Large stone statues that served as guards to the different tombs stood on opposite sides of the road; while the first half of the walkway consisted of animal guards, the latter half was composed of human guards. The road itself was wide and roomy. Beyond both sides of the road were seemingly endless rows of well-maintained forest.
The local civilians informed us that that the tombs aren’t within walking distance of each other, so we chose to visit the only one that’s been excavated: Dingling tomb. A giant courtyard at the entrance of the site led to an elevated Ming-style building. The building led to either the underground tomb in the center, or to opposite pathways that formed a circular perimeter around the tomb. The backdrop was absolutely breathtaking. Through the “fog,” we could see four mountain ranges, each one ascending above the former to create a gorgeous, colloquial view. We curiously walked around the perimeter and saw a single, isolated building standing on top one of the mountain peaks. Seeing the image of a lone building atop a mountain had a profound impact on me. My imagination ran wild – I thought of monks training within a shrine, a supreme emperor’s tomb, and a secret building inaccessible by regular pathways. As I later found out, it turned out to be a watchtower for approaching fires from the north during the dry winter season.
Traveling several flights of stairs underground, we were then inside the Wanli Emperor’s tomb. In four separate chambers, we witnessed the emperor’s and empress’ thrones and their caskets. Gigantic jade-colored doors separated each room. Many visitors paid homage to the emperors by throwing money onto their caskets and thrones. It felt strange, yet extraordinary, setting foot in a place built in the 16th century. Not only was I standing in such a historic and sacred place, I was witnessing firsthand the ancient engineers’ abilities to construct such high walls and ceilings that have withstood erosion, earthquakes, and natural decay over the centuries. After all this time, the place remained intact and stable-looking.
Although this trip was done in a single day, I felt that walking on Sacred Way, seeing the mountain, and traversing underground to Dingling tomb were three separate trips. Each one had an aura of its own, all strangely majestic in its own accord. Even then, there was no single highlight to this trip – the entire day itself enriched my own appreciation of Chinese history and the beauty of nature.