We arrived back at the bus in plenty of time - actually a little early, but that was OK by my legs. We chatted with our busmates as the group trickled back in, and then set off for the Ming Tombs.
The Ming Tombs are kind of a freebie - they're close to Badaling, so most tour companies take you there "since we're in the neighborhood". It's a necropolis - a complex housing tombs of most of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty among the hills (map here). The "best part" is the Spirit Way, a mile-long walk along a gently curving path lined with Ming-era statues, and this is the part Fred figured we'd have time for.
For those who felt they'd walked quite enough that day, there was an airport-style "golf cart" you could ride in, but Dad and I decided to hoof it.
I'm really glad we got to do this. We entered the grounds, which were ornamented by huabiao pillars,
just as the light was turning yellow in the late afternoon, and we headed toward the Spirit Way via a huge red gate
which contains the largest stele in China, protruding from the back of a giant tortiose.
(Admittedly the obelisks in Egypt have this thing topped, but it was still pretty impressive!)
On the far side of the stele pavilion, we had to walk a little while to get to the Spirit Way. The path was lined with willow trees that were planted in the 1950s,
and a soft breeze made them rustle in a very soothing manner. It was so restful and serene to walk there. We passed some interesting folks!
We soon came in sight of the statues:
There are four statues of each creature - 24 animals and 12 humans total - arranged in facing pairs. One pair is standing; it is "on duty". The other pair is kneeling or reclining; legend (well, Fred) says that at midnight they are supposed to switch shifts. We saw lions,
Xiezhai (the "Chinese unicorn"),
followed by military officials,
and meritorious officials. We were pretty tired by now, so you can see we got silly at a few points. It's a good thing the elephants were too tall to try to climb or I'd've probably been up there! Fred brought up the rear, keeping track of his little flock like the border collie he is:
We left the Spirit Path via the Dragon and Phoenix Gate:
by stepping over another of those handicap-inaccessible but ghost-foiling tall thresholds.
Even though we had walked gently, Fred told us we actually had just enough time to take a look at the other half of this attraction, so we didn't miss anything after all! It was a mere minute's bus ride to the Changling Tomb.