Fragrant Hills

Nicholas Quirke was Parking again and revelling in the colours of autumn on 21 October 2020 during a hike into Xiangshan Park, better known as Fragrant Hills Park. After a couple of relatively inactive days, though he had walked to Caishikau for tea on 19 October and watched the season finale episode of Lovecraft Country which, had proved to be an engrossing, crazy and emotional series, he was anxious that he did not let the days slide into a stupor and had therefore made plans to see what was certainly the last great park he hadn’t visited in Beijing. A former Imperial garden built in 1186 during the Jin Dynasty and favoured retreat for Emperors throughout the ensuing Dynasties. Despite being named Garden of Tranquility and Pleasure many of the relics in the park were damaged by foreign troops. In 1860 when British troops burnt the old Summer Palace to the ground and in 1900 by the Eight Nation Alliance.  Though since 1949, the Chinese government has been engaged in restoration, creating one of the major tourist attractions in Beijing, especially in autumn arrives when the natural scenery in the park turns spectacular, with fiery red smoke tree leaves covering the mountain side. Until now he had avoided seeing the park as he hoped he would see it in all its glory. Mid- October was meant to be its zenith and he decided that he would make the trip. It was a wonder to him that he seen Winter, Spring and Summer in the city and he was now able to enjoy the metropolis in fall. All four seasons had been lived through and the sense of privilege was strongly felt as he made the hour long journey by subway and train to the foothills of the West Mountains to see the park. An old Chinese gentleman he had stood next to on part of the subway journey was also on the train and found Nicholas a seat. They struck up a conversation through translate but they were not going in the same direction and thus parted ways. Which was probably a good thing as it was still quite a walk from the station top the gate, from where he began his hike to the Incense Burner peak, the highest in the park. He passed first through the reconstructed Fragrant Temple and then found a path that was relatively deserted, with only a couple of other visitors on that hike from peak to peak. He was excited to discover a stone screen erected by Emperor Qianlong in 1745 which still had the outlines of portraits he had drawn on them. It was a long and arduous climb and walk and though the hillsides were not as red as he had imagined; autumn seemed to be dragging its heels a little in 2020, there was still enough dazzling colour against a clear blue sky to make the effort worth in. As he neared the park there was a plethora of visitors. The Cable car was inactive which meant that everyone had slogged their way via a more direct route. At the Incense Burner peak he treated himself to Glazed Hawthorn on a stick, a little like a toffee apple and which he had eaten once in Gubei Water Town. It was then the downward walk which in many ways was more painful on the calf’s, though at the bottom he was treated to a viewing of Mao’s residence which was reassuring in its simplicity. The walk had taken most of the day and by the time he reached home there was another shimmering sunset to end the day. Sleep as always was preceded by another movie and ‘The Secrets We Keep’ proved to be an excellent, thoughtful and tense thriller.

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