KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
I have vivid memories of the vastness of the Imperial Palace and the Forbidden City from the film "The Last Emperor" so I was a little disappointed when we entered the central courtyard and found many of the main gates draped in netting. We could see sections of the palace that had been restored but I almost wished that I had seen it a year or two earlier when it looked more ancient and imposing. Still, in order for the grandeur of the palace to last for the next few hundred years, restoration is essential and it was just my luck to visit when the work was underway. There is a real push to complete the work before the influx of tourists next year during the Olympic Games.
I had read in the Lonely Planet that the best view of the Forbidden City was from Jingshan Park located at the north end of the city. The park was created from earth excavated for the palace moat. The hill supposedly protects the palace from evil spirits coming from the north. During the spring, the "Yellow Winds" blow in from Mongolia and I have read they have to be experienced to be believed.
We rose early to visit the park and take pictures in the morning light. The best part of the experience was finding the park full of Beijing's senior citizens out for their morning exercises. We were met with smiles from everyone as we climbed several sets of stairs to the uppermost viewing platform. There we gasped at the panoramic view of the rust-coloured tiles of the Forbidden City and the skyscrapers of Beijing in every direction.
Next, we took a taxi to the south gate so that we could move through the palace towards the north, the traditional direction of increasing power. The Forbidden City was off limits to all but the Ming and Qing emperors for a period of 500 years. They rarely left its environs unless they absolutely had to.
As it turned out, the imperial apartments were beautiful and we spent most of our time there viewing the furnishings and antiques. There were photographs of the Dowager Empress, Ci Xi and of the last Emperor Pu Yi, and many of their personal items were on display. His story is told in the Martin Scorsese film "The Last Emperor".