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An Ancient Trail to Beijing from West

20 January 2008


Outside of a long porch,
beside an ancient path,
Verdant meadows
Stretch to meet the skies.

When dusk sets in,
Slender willow branches
Sway and bend,
In the force of the wind.

The breeze wafts forward
The tuneful sound
Of a solo flute,
Now soft now loud .

And the melody circulates
In this primordial wilderness,
Where hills beyond hills,
Are rendered with sunset glows.

The above is the first part of a much treasured poem by eminent Chinese Buddhist monk Great Oneness (弘一), which was late adopted as the theme song of a Chinese film about a Beijing native who lives a life thousands miles away from the capital. The verse is used in the movie to illustrate an ancient path that leads all the way to Beijing - a scene keeps returning to haunt the central character in the story whenever she falls homesick.

The Gate Valley (门头沟), where the humble village named Three Family's Store (三家店) famously situated, is traditionally a coal mine area, thus the trail in question came into being, which allowed the critical fuel to be transported to the heart of the nation through the Fucheng Gate (阜成门), a city gate in the west part of Beijing especially designated for the honourable coal carriages.

Around the Gate Valley, there is the Eternal Ease River (永定河), regarded as the Mother River of the Chinese capital; along the river at the both sides, there are numerous picturesque hills popular among bush walkers from the city; and among the hills, there is Three Family's Store Reservoir (三家店水库) which looks more like a beautiful lake than an engineering project.

The visual appeal of the reservoir can be described as poetic, particularly in late afternoon, by then the water shines in the reflective light of setting sun, while wild ducks leisurely swim near the shore. When a gust of wind passes through, a ruffling sound can be heard among the overgrown reeds in the wetland, as white herons flew off their resting ground towards the heaven.

Not too far way from the reservoir, there sits the ancient village Three Family's Store; and near the village there is a large grape yard owned by a former coal mine owner. The businessman who transformed himself form black to green is thinking about how to put forth an advertisement, not to appeal to miner wannabes from poor villages, but grape pickers among the urban residents as part of his ambitious tourist program.

In recent years, the local governments have spent 169 million yuans to fix the environmental problems caused by coal mining, and of over 250 mines, 214 were shut down, while 400 hectare of land have been redeveloped into orchards.

The history of the Three Family's Store is said can be dating back to the 10th century. This ancient village used to serve as a port and the termination point of the so-called Ancient Trail to Beijing from West (京西古道). In its heyday, that extended until early in the last century, the streets lined with about two hundred shops, eateries and inns. The camel troops carrying coals marched through with the sound of bells intoning along the way, and incense bearers from Beijing to the Celestial Altar Hill (天台山) and the Amazing Apex Hill (妙峰山) took a rest from their long journey for lunch or tea breaks there.

Today, the evidence of its past glory can still be observed through the ancient street about one kilometres in length, with temples scattered all around. The residents living in the quadrangle residences kept their age-old habits unchanged, throwing their front gates wide open during the day. By the door, little yellow flowers blossom freely, while dogs enjoy sunbaking nearby. When a stranger walks past the gates, the lazy bones can’t even be bothered to turn around their head to give him a quick glance, letting along to venture a bark.

The village is quiet like a silent scene in your dream.

Among the scenic hills that surrounded the sleeping settlement, the Amazing Apex is especially praised for possessing four amazing elements: ancient Daoist and Buddhist monasteries (古刹), peculiar shaped pine trees (奇松), uncannily formed stones (怪石) and curiously structured caves (溶洞). The apex that amazingly rises nearly 1,300 metres above sea level overlooks the undulating mountains and the valleys in between and the waterways snaked through, with its appearance partially shrouded by thick clouds, and trails to the peak shadowed by the dense pine groves. Among its large variety of woody plants (about 600 different species), rose is the dominant theme. When summer comes, the thorny flowers in myriad colours blossom all over the slopes, turning the hill into a giant garden.

Since the Ming Dynasty, during the lunar 1st - 15th April each year, the biggest Temple Fair around Beijing was hosted there that celebrated the birthday of Buddha Sakyamuni.

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The Narrowest Hutong in Beijing

Windows and doors open to a laneway that can hardly accommodate two people to walk through side by side

(Source of original photo:


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