Tag Archives: Drum Tower

Drum (Gǔlóu) and Bell Tower (Zhōnglóu)

From Sichahai, via the wonderful Yan Dai Byway (Skewed Tabacco Pouch Street, we entered the Gulou Dong Dajie. Here lies one of the symbols of the old city, Drum Tower. An imposing pagoda like structure rose against a blue sky at the end of the busy road.  Inside the compound, several rickshaw drivers offered Hutong tours. At the other end, is the formidable gray-looking Bell Tower. Hutongs surround this ancient towers. The locals gathered in this convenient large cobbled stoned compound.  Some just chatted away with little ones running around.

Both these towers are symbols of the old city. They were built around 1272 during the Yuan dynasty and the capital (Beijing) was named Dadu. They were historically used for telling time during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. They set the tempo and beat of daily life in Beijing. A small collection of colorful rickshaws gathered at the entrance. They gently persuaded us to take their hutong tours. They were not pushy or aggressive. We just turned down their offers.  We wanted to walk through the hutongs at a leisurely pace.

We headed first to the Bell Tower. It is a decent climb up to the top. Albeit the pollution laden air, the views were wonderful. On one end, the towering CBD and nearby, compactly arranged gray roof-tops of the hutongs. This is old Beijing, still preserved in pockets in the heart of modern Beijing. The huge bell, at 57 tonnes, had a rather sad story. The maker tried several times but failed. Eventually, his daughter jumped into the furnace and the finished bell resonated perfectly. We wandered around a park adjacent to the Bell Tower. Adults and kids played badminton and some elderly people played mahjong. We surveyed the area while exercising on some exercise implements.

The walk up the steep staircase to the top of Drum Tower was tiring. However, the view from the top was similar to the Bell Tower. Originally, thee were 24 drums but only one had survived. We timed our visit here with the  scheduled drum performance. It was interesting and entertaining. It was getting late as we left these ancient towers. We were ready to hit the hutongs, near the northern lake areas.

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Shíchàhǎi

Shíchàhǎi is a scenic area just north west of the Forbidden City. It is a historic lakes area which include Behai and Houhai Lakes. This area is also the starting point of the Grand Canal, which began construction from 500 BC.

Today, this scenic lakes area, established over 800 years ago, are surrounded by bars, restaurants, snack bars, temples and many retail shops. It is also dotted with well-known personality’s mansions. All side roads away from these lakes also brought us to another icon of Beijing, the hutongs.  It is great to wander along these sometimes narrow and busy roads. Alternatively, the quieter roads gives glimpses of old Beijing. This area is popular with both local and foreign tourists. Even in winter, it was crowded especially on the Yinding Bridge. It gives a good overview of the lakes scenery.

In winter, like today, the lakes are frozen in most areas. One of the fun things to do is to skate with chair-like contraption or cycle on the frozen ice. Unfortunately for us, we not allowed on the ice as it was risky as the surface had thawed. The ice might not be able to sustain the additional weight. Some luck ones we already on it. I remembered this image form a National Geographic article from my schooling days.

Rickshaw drivers are abound to provide tours and scams too. Hutong tours with these guys are common. Smoke from barbecues, wafted through the cold air close to the Yinding Bridge. Another side road, Yandai byway, took us through crowded old hutong stacked with eateries, handicraft shops and tea shops. This lead towards the Drum and Bell Towers. A great place to wander and sample parts of old Beijing.