Sunday, November 11, 2007

Red-leaf watching at Beigong National Park

On Sunday, November 11th we visited Beigong National Park (北宫国家森林公园), which is just Nortwest of Beijing. Sometime in October and November the leaves of certain kinds of trees start turning gold and red; if the temperature is right and changes at the right moment, you'll hopefully have a lot more reds than yellows and, traditionally, Chinese (Beijingers) will flock to some popular spots for red-leaf watching.

When I was a student at Peking University (a long long time ago), I went with a group of classmates for the traditional leaf watching at the most traditional of spots: Fragrant Hills (香山). It was a complete disaster (for me): the place was more crowded and chaotic than a shopping mall on a December 24th afternoon, nature was not being watched so much as snatched (people were not just taking home leaves plucked straight from the trees, they were even pulling apart some of the branches!), and I literally fled the red torment area and found respite in, who would guess, a grove of yellow leaf trees! (of course! red was IN, not yellow, therefore the groves whose trees refused to follow the red furor were quiet and peaceful). That was about ten years ago, and I hadn't tried going red-leaf watching since.

BUT, well, this is our THIRD autumn here, my habib had never gone watching the famous red leaves, and another friend of ours had had a failed outing, so I figured we could give it a try. BUT somewhere NOT popular. I mean, Fragrant Hills has a capacity for 20'000 visitors; during the red-leaf extravaganza some FIFTY THOUSAND may visit during any one day. Not what you'd deem a peaceful communion with nature, you'd surely agree. Anyhow, I did some research, asked around, and Beigong National Park seemed a good option: close, not famous, with trees that should turn red. So my habib, this other friend and me set out on a Sunday morning to enjoy nature gone communist red.

What we got was less red than we expected, but way less busy than we feared. First of all, we were surprised to see that, though there were a few visitors, the park was reasonably peaceful, and that was definitely a welcome escape from the city. Second of all, yes, there were few red trees around, but you had a lake, nature, and a number of red things we didn't expect and which you can see in the pics: some red plants (I'm very ignorant when it comes to plant species, sorry!), the expected red leaf trees, red berries, and red twigs! (I had to get really close to those bushes, I couldn't believe they were naturally red and not painted!) We also realised that, being a national park/forest and all, the place was way "manicured", there was no sense of wild nature, you had stone paths everywhere, artificial ponds and streams (many of them still in the works)... all in all, there was an overwhelming sense of order imposed on nature, which is definitely not my cup of tea: I prefer parks and forests to be in as natural a state as possible (unless were talking about Japanese zen gardens, but that's "a whole nother thing").

Conclusion: Peaceful, quiet red-leaf watching might be best left for a visit to Canada or the U.S.A. (or at least more remote and secluded spots, hopefully unknown to Beijingers), but at least we got a breath of fresh air and a quiet moment surrounded just by nature (plus a few pics with red in them just for you!). By now, very many trees have started "going bald", so the timing was just perfect, too. And of course, time beautifies everything (well, memories, 'cause it does have a nasty tendency to de-beautify some of us, LOL), so looking at these pics in a few years time will probably evoke an even more enjoyable outing. ;-)

Until next time! (there's an exhibition by Xu Bing at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, hopefully I'll be able to take some pictures; Xu Bing's out of this world, believe me)