THE MING TOMBS AND NANKOW PASS Journey—A Comfortable Inn—Donkey-riding to the Ming Tombs—The First Pai lau—Monoliths by the " Sacred Way "—Ruined Bridges—The Great Hall— The Tomb—The Traffic—The Gateway to Mongolia.
As they are now comparatively easy to reach by rail from the Peking-Kalgan Railway station, outside the gate, the famous pass and Ming Tombs should not be missed by any visitor to Peking. The drive to the station is rather rough, but the rail journey is good and the country full of interest. It is mostly over a vast plain, and on the horizon one can already see the outline of the mountain ranges dividing China and Mongolia, the natural barrier which was not thought enough by the builders of the Great Wall. Less than two hours brought us (I made this journey with friends) to the station of Nankow, about a mile from the village, and at the entrance of the pass. The pass is the natural gateway from north to south, and through it has passed for centuries the traffic of nations, besides hordes of northern warriors who would in past times use this as their means of descent on the rich country around Peking.
Near the station is a small hotel, clean and comfortable, run by Chinese, with fair cooking of foreign food ; we made this headquarters for our short stay. We at once procured donkeys to take us to the Ming Tombs, and with little delay made a start. A ride of a few miles, fording some small rivers and passing one or two villages, brought us within sight of the first sign of the tombs of the old dynasty. And now I began to see that, even when this journey has to be made by riding all the way from the capital, it was well worth the trouble.
What triumph of architecture is this looming up on the horizon ? Gradually we draw near and can see more clearly. It is a good beginning to the old sacred road to the tombs. A fine arched pailau, white marble and of grand proportions, standing solitary in this rugged country, makes one think of the great past and the dynasty which ruled this mighty empire. I felt I
was indeed approaching a fitting resting-place for the Imperial dead. This glorious piece of building is in itself memorial enough ; but, though so great, it is only the first though the finest of the many wonders of the approach.
Going close up to examine the work, I found a flock of sheep and goats browsing peacefully in care of a shepherd. The shepherd, I suppose, is so accustomed to this grand work of art he takes no notice of it, and would probably think nothing of using a bit of it, could he get it, for other purposes.
What beautiful design is here, what masterly skill, what lovely carving ! It is a masterpiece among the world's choicest possessions.
The pailau forms the entrance to the long straight road across the level piece of country leading to the tombs. It is now little more than a rough track, the old paving-stones being broken and turned up, grass and weed-grown, and decay showing at every step.
A little distance on we saw a red-walled gate-house, with tall and imposing marble pillars on either side, having wing-like projections at the top and carved dragons climbing up and round them. Passing through the gateway, we begin to see the marvellous line of grotesque sculptures which line this holy way. They are wrought in marble and of immense size. How, I wonder, were they brought there ? But I am astonished at nothing the Chinese do ; they are past-masters of craft, and the mere moving of great weights would not seriously trouble them.
In this wonderful procession are representations of men and beasts, and great stone monoliths and figures in old time armour ; other figures seem to wear priestly robes. Of the animals, camels and elephants were most remark able, the latter being very realistic. Beyond these weird watchers of the dead rises a triple set of pailaus, not so grand, but rugged and impressive. The wide valley is now narrowing slightly, and we approach the hills, on the slopes of which are the actual tombs—thirteen in number, I think.