A lively band of wanderers is escaping the city smog each weekend by heading for the mountains with the multinational Beijing Hikers club.
Those looking for a chance to stretch their legs while taking in captivating scenery have seen the club's numbers swell since its inception in 2001.
Organizer Sun Huijie plans trails on the city outskirts in locations that remain largely unknown to most visitors, and many locals.
|Beijing Hikers take to the forest on Beijing's hilly outskirts.|
Sun schedules outings every Sunday, regardless of the weather, and often on Saturdays as well. The club also hosts occasional overnight hikes, which may involve camping near a remote section of the Great Wall.
New walkers, both foreign and Chinese, are welcome to join the group, which meets at 8am at Starbucks Lido, and is then bussed to a starting point for the hike. The day hikes take between one and five hours, and are graded by difficulty.
With walking regarded as one of the easiest and most effective ways to get fit, the hikes are not just good for your health but also provide a unique slice of Chinese history. Behind each trail is a quirky tale.
This Sunday, the intrepid bunch ventures out for a 10km hike through Mentougou District.
Hikers will set off on the "woodpecker trail" and make their way to the ruins of a temple to explore the Jingang Shita miniature pagoda.
Sun said this hike was one of the few that venture to the western hills north of the Miaofeng Mountain range. The steep trail leading to the temple is classed as one of Beijing's oldest, dating from more than one thousand years ago.
"The miniature pagoda sits on top of a rock, it is part of the Putuoyuan temple complex, one of the famous eight gardens of the Jin Dynasty," Sun said.
"The empress' favorite chef - who was also a eunuch - had visited the temple and loved it so much he carved a stele in its honor, and it is still there now. After he died, his apprentice built the pagoda for him."
A cave with three arches remains where the temple stood, while inside is a chamber where a Buddha once sat.
"The first time we hiked this trail we heard the woodpecker, but not the second time. You may not hear the woodpecker, but the ancient trail and the temples and ruins are still there," Sun said.
For fitness enthusiasts who subscribe to Sunday as a day of rest, there is another hike this Saturday in Changping District.
This outing sees the walkers try their luck at some gold digging on the "mines and pines" trail.
The walk weaves its way around Yinshan Mountain, taking in the ten mines from which the nearby Iron Mountains and Silver Pagodas (Tiebi Yinshan Talin) took their names. Rare red marble mined from this region sells for 3,000 yuan, and is taken to Shandong Province where it is carved into ornaments for export. This resource-rich area also supplies steel ore and iron lead ore.
Should Saturday be overcast, Sun said hikers were in for an unexpected photo opportunity: "the dancing pine trees".
"The pines in this area are not big, but they are like ballet dancers posing for us. Looking up from in the shade of the pines you can see the rising mountain peaks - on a misty day this makes a perfect picture."
Beijing Hikers was founded by Sun's sister, Huilin Pinnegar, and her German husband, Gary. Sun took over the reigns when the pair moved to Australia in 2003.
Contact Sun on 139-1002-5516 for more information, or visit www.beijinghikers.com.
*Make sure you are fit enough to walk long distance. Go through a physical checkup if needed.
*Participate in an easy walk for starters. Walk with somebody with similar pace.
*Usually people need 10 minutes' rest after 50 minutes walking. But it depends on your condition.
Get the right gadgets:
*An alpenstock helps you get balance at uneven places, and relieve your knees and bone joints from impact and avoid damage.
*An old, comfort pair of sport shoes. The sole should not be too thin. Never wear new leather shoes on a hiking.
*Fast-drying underwear and clothes, best made of cotton, and of light color in summer. Wear long-sleeves in summer, otherwise you need to apply sun protection cream.
*A cap or hat, and sunglasses.
*Medicines such as those for cold, for sunstroke, and for wound.
*Hiking consumes a lot of energy. Frequent replenishing of small amount of food and water is necessary. One needs to carry at least three liters of water on a day's hike. Put a little salt in your water in summer.
(China Daily June 2, 2007)