Tag Archives: Drum Tower

Xian 3

It is difficult to imagine that all roads from and to the East and West passed through the Bell Tower, which has four entrances. Today, in mega developed, and I must say clean metropolis, the Bell Tower I the centre of f huge roundabout. Hundreds of road vehicles are moving every second during the day buses, cars, pedal bicycles, motorised bikes and motorcycles. Then there are the pedestrians.

One of Xians iconic ancient structures is the impressive Bell Tower, built in 1384 by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. Its use was multi-functional as defence as well as used for regulating daily life. It marked the geographical centre or central axis of the ancient capital with roads departing North, South, East and West corresponding to the gates since the Tang Dynasties. The wooden tower, which is the largest in China, is 36 meters high. It stands on a brick base 35.5 meters high. Today, in modern Xian, the Bell Tower is contained within a round-about with vehicles spewing smoke and noise. However, viewing from my hotel room in the evening, with lights on, it certainly is an impressive structure. With its elevated brick platform, there was an air of invincibility.

On the streets near the Drum Tower, I met this family, two kids and an adult. They approached me and wanted to practice English with me. This is a familiar experience for me throughout my travels in China. I on the other hand belt out whatever Mandarin I know, and they are impressed. This is my great tool to mix and mingle with the locals. It establishes some rapport and has led me to several pleasant local experiences invitation to meals, into homes, offered transportation and so on. Having some working knowledge of Mandarin is certainly valuable (sometimes it gets me out of trouble).

Another prominent and iconic ancient architecture is the Drum Tower. It was initially built in 1380 during the reign of Emperor Hongwu of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The drums were used to signal time (in the evening) and alarm in an emergency. As its counterpart, the Bell Tower, it is also elevated on a brick base to 34m high. The tower itself is 111m high and is completely made from wood (no iron nail used anywhere in the Tower). The exterior is colourfully painted with a beautiful green glazed tiled roof. Drums are beaten at specific time as a musical performance. Perhaps a nostalgic journey to a past era. From my hotel room, in the evening, it is brightly lit and all the drums on the south side is clearly visible. It is quite spectacular. The Drum Tower is located adjacent to the Muslim Quarter and West Street.

Walking away from the city and touristy centers, you may get to experience a real and laid-back Xian. We wandered aimlessly and encountered some food stalls, markets and street vendors. The locals went about their business. At the butchery, whole pigs hung on hooks. On one street, five birds in cages hung on street wires as people passed by. Kids played on the side streets with no care in the world. Steam floated in the air from a road side bun shop. One of my favorite shop, women selling an assortment of pickled fruits and vegetables. I love walking in the market. They give an indication of the robustness of the local economies. Furthermore, the dynamics of family. Plus, I get to see local produce and sample a few along the way. Although a big metropolis, Xian feels a little laid back and the pace of life pleasant.

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.


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.