Trekking into the clouds at Haidian in Beijing

Updated: October 12 2010(GMT+08:00)

For a quiet and taxing hike through the hills, Laura Morgan got to grips with Fenghuangling

With autumn cooling things off in the capital, now is the perfect time to get out of the metropolis and go hiking without breaking too much of a sweat.

Situated in Haidian district, the scenic area of Fenghuangling is an interesting alternative to a journey into the Fragrant Hills.

Known as the Phoenix Mountain range in Chinese, the scenic resort consists of bare, rugged mountain peaks, with lush foliage protruding from the crevices and mysterious rock formations and caves, complete with tales explaining their celestial tinged origins. Temples and pavilions are also dotted throughout all trails and provide pleasant spots for quiet reflection and a chance to savor the views of the area.

Fenghuangling, despite some recent restoration on the footpaths, generally has a rather rustic and unpretentious charm about it.

Parts of the trails have uneven, crumbling steps, with vegetation growing through the cracks and paths that almost disappear into the thicket; geckos scamper about in front of you and dive into bushes, large and exotic butterflies flutter by and cicadas remain invisible but still provide their familiar chorus of song for hikers.

Despite its beauty and fairly easy access, Fenghuangling sees fairly little tourist traffic, which means it is generally peaceful and you don t have to share the narrow footpaths with too many people.

The hiking paths cover a total area of 15 square kilometers and are divided into three trails: the south route, the central route and the north route. The paths all link up and zigzag their way around the scenic resort.

Making it to the peak should be your main priority. Gazing down at the cascading mountain range and out across the miles of open land toward Beijing, you are greeted by a cool, gentle breeze and captivating tranquility - a novelty for Beijing s city slickers.

The north route is a steep, circular path that takes you straight up the mountain, snaking past pavilions and through caves along the way. There s no cable car and the route is surprisingly challenging - it requires four to five hours to ascend and descend.

Sections of the path take detours that involve shimming through caves and crevices and scrambling up rock faces with only shallow steps and a metal chain to aid you (Ladder to Heaven); both provide plenty of "don t look down moments", along with incredible photo opportunities.

Once you reach the peak - signified by the Flying Pagoda on the gravity-defying boulder - the descent is pleasant and shaded.

The trail takes you down the mountain gradually, past the charming Esoteric Spot Pagoda and weaves its way under the shady canopies.

Farther down the trail, you have the option to return back to main road or join onto the central route and continue exploring the rest of the mountain.

At the base of the central route lies Longquan Temple. Originally built in AD 951, the Buddhist temple is still active and holds a Buddhist festival in October, when hundreds of visitors visit the temple to learn about Buddhist culture and sample free vegetarian food.

Despite being somewhat restored to perfection, the temple still gives of an air of authenticity and the smell of incense lingers in the air.

From Longquan Temple, you can connect to the south route. The south route does not climb up the peak, but instead takes you on a simpler stroll through the trees, to caves and past spectacular ruins.

You ll find the Diamond Pagoda - whose photograph adorns the entry ticket - by following this trail, which links back up with the main road and takes you back to the entrance.

Fenghuangling is located far enough from Beijing to make you feel like you are escaping the city, but is still close enough to make sure you re home in time for tea.

News Source: Chinadaily
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