Actual Serenity

In complete contrast to the Botanical Gardens expedition, on Reid’s birthday we went off to visit the Silver Mountain Pagoda Forest. Again aiming low with our departure time, we only missed it by 1/2 an hour and after stopping somewhere to pick up a picnic, it was again time to head north.

Zara stayed behind to play with Yu Mei on this expedition, but Zac came along, snoozing in good style as we battled our way north.

Fairly early I worked out the instructions we were following to the Forest had been written before the Olympics, and very little of the roads and intersections described in the book had survived the Games. However, with the dumb faith of people who haven’t got any real alternative, we headed north anyway until the road ran out. We then turned right.

A little after that, we passed an old faded wooden sign with something in Chinese written on it, and based on my description of what the Chinese word we were looking for, Reid deduced it was the way we should go (I  said the second character in the word looked like a pitchfork, and the last character was the same character that is in my Chinese name. Reid needs very little information to read Chinese).

The road twisted into the hills past some amazing train viaducts upon which travelled the longest train I’d ever seen, and eventually we arrived at the Pagoda Forest – to find, amazingly, only about 10 other people there. The silence was deafening. It was beautiful. We headed into the park a little way to eat the picnic, then, with Zac strapped to the front of Reid, we ventured further.

The Silver Mountains used to be nest-bed of high-minded Buddhist thought and teaching, and the Pagodas themselves are the last remnants of a Buddhist temple that was built in the 15th Century. The pagodas now house the remains of various learned Monks and appear reminiscent of Ankor Wat in Cambodia. Eerie and majestic, are surrounded in the forest by other sites where the local monks lived their lives – caves they sheltered in, platforms for preaching, other temples for chanting.

For the fool-hardy, there is a path to the summit of the mountain through the forest and Reid and I figured we could maybe attempt a little part of it, hampered as we were with Zac strapped to Reid’s front at first, then to mine. One completely vertical hour later we were at the summit of the mountain, red faced and shaking. Zac slept the entire way, but slowly turned pink in the heat.

The summit is a tiny platform in the clouds with a single Communist Party flag fluttering in the breeze – perhaps a reminder that, after all the religious locations we’ve passed through on the way up, the People’s Party is the way forward now.

Red-faced at the top

With shaking legs, we descended.

The Silver Mountain Pagoda Forest is easily the most beautiful place I’ve been to so far in Beijing. Despite the local council lavishing millions of yuan to restore it every year, it does not look like a religious theme park or a reconstruction of something – they’ve let the ruins be ruins, they’ve put in great walkways and paths and, unbelievably, the crowds have stayed away. It’s a bugger to find, but worth the effort.

I’ll add some more photos later