Smoke bush lights up the capital in seasonal scarlet

Updated: October 20 2010(GMT+08:00)

There are few moments of natural scenery in Beijing more beautiful than when waves of scarlet light up the pale blue skies.


Autumn is the season of maturity across the world and the wild outskirts of Beijing are no exception. And for day-trekkers who want to experience this annual gift without encountering huge crowds, Hongyeling is the place to go.

Situated in Yanqing county, northwest of the capital, the scenic area is a perfect alternative to the Fragrant Hills, already famous for its red leaves and subsequently filled with tourists at this time of year.

Known as the Red Leaves Mountain range in Chinese, the scenic resort is unique because it is the only place in Beijing, or even in China, that has the Great Wall in the background when appreciating the familiar red leaves of the smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria).

After climbing a series of uneven, crumbling steps up the mountainside, a speckle of heads can just be seen in the distance on a more popular part of the wall.

Instead, red leaf fans will be close to a section of the architectural masterpiece that runs between Badaling and Juyongguan. Not yet open to the public, it is roughly the same age as the other parts, dating back to Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) some 600 years ago.

As it runs parallel with the path, this stretch is inflamed with scarlet and has become known as the "red cliff".

Visitors can stroll along the path under a gentle breeze and a warm autumn sun. Offsetting this, a chill radiates from the wall that few people get to feel and there is the sense that the whole experience is a guarded secret.

Moving away from the wall, visitors then follow a sign leading to Yongyantai. Here they can see the Great Wall, encircling the trees and swathed in crimson, gold and green.

The leaves at Hongyeling turn red 10 days earlier than at the Fragrant Hills. And with more than 70 percent of the leaves turning red right now, this is the best time of the year for sightseeing.

The area also offers a fantastic pair of walks, both with an altitude difference of less than 120 meters. The first hike requires two hours and offers a sense of adventure, with the alternative being a 45-minute trek that includes all the must-see scenic spots.

Despite its beauty and relatively easy access, Hongyeling sees little tourist traffic.

"The park is not as famous as Fragrant Hills," said Lai Huiwu, head of Hongyeling.

"Those people who haven't ever come could never imagine its beauty," he said. "But I'm confident that once they do arrive, they will know where to appreciate the red leaves of Beijing from then on."

While chasing seasonal scenery is a headache for most tourists, Hongyeling offers spacious scenery that is anything but gray.

News Source: China daily
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