Things change fast in China: my ten year old travel guide tells me how to reach the Ming Tombs by bus from the city, while I discover there now is a Ming Tombs station on the extensive subway system. Since it is still quite far from the tombs, I decide to get off before, and take a bus from a suburb, which takes me directly to the Dingling mausoleum complex. After buying my combo ticket, I walk to the entrance of this tenth tomb. The general layout, I will learn today, is a wide entrance gate in a wall encircling the complex, then a Gate of Eminent Favour, a Hall of Eternal Favour, and a Soul Tower, behind which is a burial mound; all aligned along a central axis. The entrance gate is the lowest point: after that, every next hall is a slightly higher level. The stairs are adorned with sculpted dragons. The Hall of Eminent Favour is the most exquisite. behind it, the Ling Xing Men is a decorated gateway to the Soul Tower.
What makes Dingling stand out, is its underground palace. I descend the stairs that take me deep below the Soul Tower. The palace consists of several chambers. The hallways are decorated by stone carvings, where marble doors once locked the chambers off. In the rear chamber, I find copies of the coffins of Emperor Zhu Yijun and his two empresses, flanked by a collection of red cases in which burial articles were found when the palace was excavated. Next, I climb the stairs out of the palace, back to the heat, and up the stairs to the Soul Tower which, being the highest point, offers great views of the mausoleum complex that was built in 1620. The burial mound behind the tower is covered by trees. A small museum has some of the 3000 objects on display that were found in the underground palace. After walking back to the entrance, I find a stone turtle carrying a stele; it is fascinating to see how people flock around its head to touch and caress it. Turtles are the symbol of longevity.
A twenty minute walk brings me to the entrance of Zhaoling, one of the other two tombs open to the public. Convinced that I can enter with my combo ticket, an unpleasant interchange starts when the staff tells me to buy a new ticket. I end up just walking in. The good thing about Zhaoling is that it is by far the least visited of the tombs. Built in 1570 for Emperor Zhu Zaihou and his three empresses, it lies at the foot of Da Yu mountain which rises behind it. After crossing the stone bridge, walking through the complex and climbing the Soul Tower, I walk around the burial mound. To my surprise, I find a side door open, and leave the complex without any troubles with the staff. Since I do not see any bus, I decide to walk to Changling, which turns out to be more than half an hour away. A parking lot full of tour buses and cars tells me that this is the most visited of the thirteen tombs (of which only three are open). Indeed, it is the most beautiful, and also the oldest of the Ming Tombs, built in 1424. Apart from the conventional buildings, I find small Paper and Silk burners. The Hall of Eternal Flavours is especially impressive with its huge cedar wood columns. Despite the crowds, still a must-see. In fact, almost all visitors are in groups, so between small waves of tour bus passengers coming in, I find the place for myself. A bus ride takes me to the Sacred Way - several kilometres south of Changling mausoleum. It was believed that emperors came to earth along the Sacred Way, and used it to return to heaven again. After passing through the Dragon Phoenix Gate, I walk the tree-lined, slightly curved wide path, lined with stone sculptures of officials or guardians, and elephants, camels, horses, lion, xiezhi, and qilin. The Stele Pavilion, surrounded by finely carved columns, houses a giant stone turtle with a stele on top of it. After walking through the Great Red Gate, I decide to walk through a village to the subway station, buying tasty cherries from farmer ladies on the way. After the solemn atmosphere of the Ming Tombs, I am back in the bustle of modern-day China.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Ming tombs (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Ming tombs.
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