Beijing Attractions: Longtan Park
Longtan Park, or Dragon Pool Park rarely features on lists of the "must-see" elements of Beijing, but a meander round the well-tended shores of the lake is a relaxing antidote to the hustle and jostle of some of the more crowded attractions.
Whilst Longtan is certainly not the biggest nor the most glamorous of Beijing's parks, a visit offers a chance to enjoy some open space, greenery and water.
Longtan Park is a great place to take a leisurely stroll, bring a picnic, or to feed the inquisitive resident ducks (as opposed to eating them). It makes a refreshing break from what can occasionally become the tiring pursuit of ticking off the impressive list of major sights that Beijing has to offer.
Opened in 1952, the park covers nearly half a square kilometre of land, of which just less than one third is covered by the Dragon Pool Lake which occupies the central space. Benches dot the grassy shores of the lake, the perimeter of which is criss-crossed by a series of footbridges. The remainder of the park has been landscaped with trees and flowers, as well as providing pleasant recreational spaces that are sheltered from the wind.
At the time of our visit, we watched people bouncing energetically after stray ping pong balls, tennis balls and shuttlecocks, as well as some impressively flexible elderly people practising tai-chi and shadow boxing. At the less athletic end of the scale were those playing croquet or elegantly spinning tops. In addition to these none-too-raucous pockets of sporting activity, we caught the strains of a mandolin, played by a man who was perched under a nearby pavilion among the trees. More sedentary still were those simply browsing through newspapers or dozing in the sun. Happily out of earshot, a middle-aged couple danced gracefully in silence in the fading light across the lake.
Longtan Park is home to a number of minor features, most of which bear a recurring dragon motif. It is said that there are as many as 100 carved dragons scattered around the park, including the Dragon Gate, Green Dragon Bridge, and the Flying Dragon Pavilion, to name but a few. There are a series of simple maps dotted around the lake, indicating the locations of the various things to see.
Of all of them, possibly the least impressive has the most history the Yuandushi Temple. The temple was built in commemoration of Commander Yuan Chonghuan, a military hero famed for his heroic efforts to defend the Great Wall in the 1600s. His dedication was legendary, and Chonghuan is said to have written orders for his troops in his own blood. Unfortunately for him, envious contemporaries plotted against him and he was later executed for treason. The current monument to Chongyuan was built in 1917 and later renovated. It remains however, small, dark and uninviting.
The pavilions dotted around the park are altogether more modern, and their brightly decorated Chinese style architecture lends a pleasant feel. To the West of the park lies Longyin Pavilion, an imposing structure which sits out over the lake. As part of what appears to be a pre-Olympics spruce-up, renovations and building work are currently taking place on the sizeable Centre Island Cultural Amusement square. On completion, this promises to be another enjoyable aspect of the park.
In the warmer months, it is possible to hire a rowing boat or to catch a ride around the lake in one of the brightly decorated dragon boats. To the west is a small children's fun park, complete with a carousel and exciting-looking dodgem-hovercraft gunships! For those in search of a more grown-up adrenaline rush, the top of the roller coaster in the Beijing Amusement Park pokes out above the treetops just across the road.
Each year in early February the park, like others, plays host to a Spring Festival temple fair. Spring Festival has been celebrated in Beijing since as far back as 1000CE. At this time the focus of the festival was on presenting offerings to the gods or to ancestors. These days, it is more of a family day out. This large-scale event offers snack stalls, a range of interactive activities such as arm wrestling and chess playing, as well as amusements for children. Given that the park is dotted with blossom trees, the fair inevitably enjoys a pretty setting.
Whether in need of a gentle leg stretch, a little time out or simply a place to regroup and take a deep breath before plunging back into the mainstream of Beijing tourist attractions, the serenity, space and sights of Longtan Park could be just what the visitor needs.
Entrance to the park (Tel: 6714 4336) costs 2 Yuan per person. Gates open at 0600 and close at 2030 every day. The park is situated on Longtan Lu and Zuoanmennei Dajie, roughly 1 kilometer to the East of the Temple of Heaven. It can easily be reached by taxi or by bus numbers 6, 60, 807, and 116.
Text + images by Alison Aitken
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