Fragrant Hills Park in the Fall2016-05-31 14:09:00Share:
Every year in late autumn, when the leaves of the sumac and maple trees change colour, thousands upon thousands of nature lovers head for the area to enjoy the "fragrance" of these hills, swarming there in cars and buses, on motorcycles and bicycles.
"On a busy day like Saturday or Sunday, we get 100,000 visitors," said Zhang Wenhe, 56, who has worked in the Fragrant Hills Park for 30 years.
"They come here mainly to climb the hill and to enjoy the colourful leaves. And they also find this a nice place to spend a little pocket money," he said.
The rows of booths lining the narrow street from the parking lot to the gate of the park, barely meet the demand. Peddlers seem to hawk their goods at every turn.
"Bingtanghulu. Come and eat," shouts one old peddler selling sticks of candied berries.
Another across the road noisily advertises her roasted sweet potatoes. Other stalls offer goods that range from Hongkong perfume, "Apple" jeans and Fuji films, panda toys and clumsy imitations of Tang Dynasty pottery.
Loaded with picnic food, visitors flock through the gate of the park, which includes the Fragrant Hill and some ancient villas, pagodas and lakes.
But these days, the brilliant foliage is the main attraction. No one is very sure where the sumac trees originated. Legend says a south wind carried the seeds of the red-leaf trees to Beijing. The seeds survived, and as years passed they grew into a lovely forest.
A more reliable story says that the sumacs were transplanted to the area by Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) in the Qing Dynasty. In November, the frosted leaves of these trees, along with the persimmons and maples, spread over the Fragrant Hill like a thick red blanket. For two centuries, it has been a resort for Beijing residents.
"I first came here nearly 40 years ago," a retired cadre recalled. "In those days not many people were interested in coming to see the leaves. Only a few visitors climbed to the top of the hill, gathered some twigs of red leaves and then left."
Gathering leaves is now forbidden in the park, but many people still do it when the park's patrolmen cannot see them.
"I will use them as bookmarks," said one primary school pupil, as he stooped to collect leaves.
Visitors have different ways of spending their time at the park.
Some young people are not so interested in climbing. Instead they find the Fragrant Hill Eatery the best place to go.
Xu Hong, 20, is a self-employed Beijing resident who sells art reproductions and earns a monthly income of 2,000 yuan. Treating a friend to a special meal for 18 yuan, Xu topped it with several bottles of beer.
"Today is my friend's birthday," said Xu. "We came here to celebrate the occasion. I can't let him pay, because he earns much less than I."
For people who want to spend less, there are many other activities. A ride on the cable car to the hilltop is one favorite. A waitress at the Jingxi Hotel of Beijing came with friends to take a round-trip ride on the cable car, and waited patiently in the long line for tickets.
Many of the riders on a recent weekend had never seen a cable car before and marveled at it. "How can the cable car just hang there without falling?" one retired worker wondered.
The summit of Guijianchou (Devil-Frightened Peak) is 557 metres above sea level, the highest point in the Beijing area.
Farmers living nearby rent horses and native costumes to visitors, charging 50 fen for a ride. Some visitors don't seem to mind the high charges if they can dress up like an ancient general for a few minutes.
Others pose stiffly for photos, their eyes staring blankly. They believe that one should not look too casual in a photo, in case it is passed on to the next generation.
With its trees and beautiful scenery, the Fragrant Hill is an ideal place for young couples to enjoy each other. They sit on the slopes, savour the food they bought down the hill, leaving a trail of fruit peels, empty cans, bottles and paper behind them.
"We come only for relaxation, and to breathe fresh air," said a young man who brought his girl friend to the park on their day off.
Tourists like to board a carriage modelled after those of long ago, paying half a yuan, to ride to the nearby Sleeping Buddha Temple.
In their wake, the cleaning squad goes to work, clearing away the tons of garbage that litters the park, to prepare for the next day's wave of visitors.
The red leaves last from about mid-October to mid-November, when a winter stillness seems to settle over the area until the awakening of spring.
The Imperial Garden
5 Bests of the Summer Palace
5 Recommended Chinese Delicacies in Autumn Season
The Beauty of China’s Spring Teas
5 Beijing-Style Breakfast You Must Try
"Haidian" is a Must for Travelers in Beijing
7 Ways to Wrap A Dumpling
Bars and Nightclubs in Haidian District
A Hot Pot Restaurant Full of Happy Elements