To Fragrant Hills we go

Sometime during the end of October, my flatmates and I plus my classmate and another Chinoy friend decided to take a spur of the moment afternoon trip to Fragrant Hills (香山) which is not that far from our university. Taking the 331 bus, we made our way from our bus stop to the end of the bus route. After all the troubling transportation problems we encountered with our buses headed to the Fragrant Hills stop, we finally got to the Fragrant Hills stop, and made our way up to the entrance of Fragrant Hills.

There are many entrances that lead to Fragrant Hills, as with many locations in China, tourist areas and buildings have “direction” gates (ex. North Gate, South Gate, etc.). The path me and my companions took, was it South or East…I can’t really recall, anyways it was quite a long path. It’s basically like a road leading and uphill and along the way there are various stores likes food stalls or souvenirs stores that really cater to tourists. So be prepared for drinks and food that might be a bit more expensive than if you bought them outside, examples would be water and sodas. Other local snacks cost about the same, or are a bit more expensive.

Once you get to the top leading from the area which I just described, there’s like a gate that basically announces that you’ve arrived at Fragrant Hills. Here you’ll have to buy a ticket to get in. Students get discounts so don’t forget to bring your id book if you’re a student studying in China. Tickets are reasonably priced. If I remember correctly, student ticket costs 5rmb and the normal tickets costs about 10-15rmb. Inside, there are various places you can enjoy while you’re there. Some places require you to pay extra fees, like we encountered this temple that had its own separate entrance fee. We did not bother going in there. The picture below is the pathway leading towards the temple. I quite like the environment here because there is like an entranceway and trees on either side of the path, it reminds me very much of something from Alice in Wonderland. It’s quite ethereal with the colors of Autumn coming out (but not really coming out) of the leaves and trees.

Another pathway leads to the main garden of Fragrant Hills (for that side of the Fragrant Hills Park). Here there’s a really wide park with 2 small ponds and infrastructures, and a good view of the mountain. Here you have two choices with regard to getting up the hill (more like mountain though), either taking the cable car or climbing up the path. The cable car cost 50rmb, no student discounts when we tried asking. For those visiting Fragrant Hills in late Autumn-early Spring, gloves and proper outfits are required when climbing up or taking the cable car. As me and my companions discovered on our cable car trip going up, being stationary on a cable seat while steadily climbing to a higher altitude does not make one comfortable. Gloves are quite the necessity, so are thick clothes. As I also discovered on my way down, I should have worn proper shoes. My boots (not even uggs) were not at all comfortable on the trek down, as I’ll mention later on.

Arriving at the top, the view of the mountain and the city and the surrounding area is the thing one most definitely notices. Especially at night, the view of Beijing from afar is quite the spectacular perspective. The top of the mountain gives way to views of the park as well as the mountain ranges surrounding the park and the city. Food concessionaires are available at the top of the mountain, like one stall was selling chicken aside from the usual hotdog snacks I’ve seen around Beijing. Prices are a bit more expensive as compared to those being sold at the bottom of the mountain though. Of course a few souvenir stalls can be found here as well, can never get tired of seeing this at practically every corner of every tourist destination in Beijing, unless they nag you silly by following you till you ignore them completely. Trees lined with well-wishes written on red tags decorated part of the top of the mountain as well.

Going down, there are quite the number of choices. Taking the cable car again, if you’re willing to shell out 50rmb again, finding a rent car (not quite sure if it’s the HeiChe aka Black Car that waits for passengers) or taking one of the many paths going down. I went down the mountain with my flatmate, it was the worst experience ever, especially as it was nearing sunset. Bad part of the experience, lack of light, improper footwear and really slanted slopes and walkways that can trip you. It took me and my companion about an hour and a half to two hours to get down the mountain, including quite a number of rest stops to take a breather. The bad part of getting down is that not the entire path going down has lights to accompany you. At times, we used our cellphones to make our way down, especially since the path is not always flat and smooth, parts of the pathway have that humpish design to supposedly add friction between the path and your feet. Those hurt. But those flat and smooth paths were quite hell-ish too since they were sometimes slanted too high and….well you get the picture. The path going down was slow and painful. Stairs were also part of the exercise. Somewhere mid-mountain, the path is much clearer though all the more confusing as the maps and pathways can lead to just about anywhere, depending on which exit you want to leave through. Maps were not too helpful as me and a few locals discovered on our way down. Eventually though, we finally got down the mountain. Apparently two of my friends who had descended the mountain much later than us, got to our meeting place much earlier. I don’t know which path they took or if they took breaks at all but it was definitely a pain in the arse. For those thinking of coming here, flashlights would definitely help a lot.

Because we took too long climbing down the mountain, and we arrived at Fragrant Hills a bit too late in the afternoon, we weren’t able to go around the various places within the park as we would have wanted to. From the top of the mountain, we were able to see that the park was much larger and had more attractions that it would seem from below. Since we didn’t know what things were available, we weren’t able to go around as much as we would have originally liked. A friend of mine went there as well, and I saw his pictures and found a lot of places that I didn’t get to see when I went on my trip, so there are really a lot of things to do when you’re there.

I guess if I had the opportunity to go back I would, and I’d go much earlier and hopefully pray that no bus transportation problems arise so there would be no delays. Also, proper footwear, must remember to go when the weather is not as cold so I can just go in my breathable sneakers. Fragrant Hills is definitely a place to go to, and it’s frequented by many locals and foreigners alike. The surrounding residential areas that sell food and souvenirs treat visitors very well so one would always want to come back (if one has the time). Also as it’s right at the end of a bus route, it makes it an easy place to remember to go to.

I would consider going back in a few months to see what things and places I missed out on.

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