After four months and many bus and train journeys, we finally arrived in our final destination in China, the capital, Beijing. Beijing is a huge city whose air is worse even than Xi'an's, due primarily to the traffic. Unlike every other Chinese city we've seen, there are millions of cars here, including privately owned ones (usually there are mainly taxis).

Beijing is a common starting point for Chinese travels, so we are seeing a great number of Westerners who are very obviously new to China. This is very amusing for us and reminiscent of our early days when we weren't used to Chinese customs. Speaking of customs, spitting is common everywhere in China but Beijing is the spitting capital. It is impossible to walk on the streets without hearing choruses of hocking and seeing prodigious spitting from all members of the local community.

The first site we saw in Beijing was Tiananmen Square, the focal point of the city. This square is absolutely huge (the largest public square in the world, apparently) and filled with locals flying kites, tour groups taking pictures, military grunts marching around, and entrepreneurs trying to sell water and souvenirs at inflated prices. The square is blocked in the middle by the mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of the People's Republic of China. Unfortunately this is closed at the moment so that Mao can be touched up before next year's Olympic Games. The Games are a theme that dominate China and especially Beijing.

The following day we passed through Tiananmen into the Forbidden City, home to past emporers of China for several centuries. This palace was very impressive, with beautiful eastern architecture, grand courtyards and maze-like corridors. The gardens, however, were a little disappointing and the buildings all looked the same fairly quickly.

The next day we went to the Summer Palace, the emporers' playground. This was more varied and visually interesting than the Forbidden City, and had the outdoor areas the Forbidden City lacked. The palace is built near a huge artificial lake, on top of a large hill created by the earth dug out to create the lake. The most impressive building is a huge Buddhist temple, and another highlight is the boat built entirely out of marble. Obviously this is just a display boat that cannot actually float.

We took an evening to see an acrobatics show, inspired by the impressive juggling we saw at the Chengdu Opera show. The show was good but not incredible, with impressive choreography and synchronised performances. Getting there and back riding an electric pedicab through the busy roads (and sidewalks) of Beijing was an unexpected highlight of the evening!

Being in Beijing, we had to visit the Great Wall of China. After considering several options, we chose to do a tour through our hostel, which advertised the "secret wall". This turned out to be a great choice, as we trekked for a few hours along the wall with not another tourist in sight. On the way to the secret wall, we passed some of the popular touristy areas and they looked quite awful as they were crowded and full of souvenir stalls. Also the wall has been restored so it looks aesthetically pleasing but it is not very authentic. The part of the wall we trekked was very peaceful and unrestored, so in some places is was quite dilapidated and overgrown, which added to the charm. The terrain where the wall was built is absolutely incredible. The wall snakes along the top of mountain ridges with some very steep sections, and it seems to go on forever. It is thousands of kilometers long, and it is incredible to imagine the number of people and amount of effort expended in hauling so many blocks of stone up the mountains.

Wandering around the city, we found some good shopping and interesting alleys. We
found a great place to try the most famous Chinese dish of all, Peking duck. This was delicious although very unhealthy. We rode the subway and queued up at the Indian Embassy to get our visas.

Beijing is an impressive city and a fitting capital for China. However, at this point in our travels we've seen enough of China and we're very excited to move on to Nepal and trek the Annapurnas.

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