When my youngest son, Guillermo, said he was going to move to the outlying Beijing district of Mentougou from the inner urban district of Haidian, I imagined his new home as an attractive but distant area that would make it harder for us to visit.
A job switch meant he needed to live and work outside of downtown. At first, he considered trying to keep his apartment closer in and commute, perhaps spending a few nights a week in his new district. But with the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, it soon became clear that wasn’t practical, and his lease was up, so he went apartment hunting.
It turned out that his westward move was a blessing in several ways. Besides getting a break on his expenses, he found a nice place in a development of apartment towers built above a mall in the Hetan (riverside) area.
He is mere steps from restaurants, shops and other amenities. While Beijing increased its emergency response level from level three to level two after a new outbreak of the novel coronavirus, temporarily closing many of the neighborhood businesses, most of them have reopened as the outbreak has been brought under greater control.
I went to visit a few weeks back and found that the subway trip from my home in Chaoyang district to Jin’anqiao station on Line 6 took only an hour, including a line switch. The total trip took about 90 minutes. That would be a long commute to work, but it wasn’t bad for a visit.
Mentougou is really beautiful, with towns and urban areas nestled up against mountains and crossed by rivers and streams. It’s greener than some other parts of the capital, and roadside stands offering fruit such as persimmons and pears are common.
The Yongding River, Beijing’s largest, flows through the district and there are natural areas to explore, such as the Baihua National Natural Reserve, which is home to rare plants and animals, including the golden eagle.
There are a number of folk customs villages and traditional homes. There are many famous temples and temple fairs. The Dayun Temple was said to have been built under the imperial order of Wu Zetian, empress of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), to extol her achievements, according to travelchinaguide.com.
There are monuments and exhibition halls for those interested in revolutionary history or the history of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).
Guillermo and a friend of his recently visited Tanzhe Temple, one of Beijing’s oldest, with a history stretching back 1,700 years to the Jin Dynasty (265-420). On the temple’s grounds at the foot of West Mountain are many ancient gingko, cypress and pine trees, some so old that branches have to be supported with metal supports.
The Guanyin pavilion is located at the temple’s highest point, and has a wonderful view, according to an article posted last year by cgtn.com.
Among the best things about Mentougou: a pace of life that’s a little less hectic than downtown Beijing and also the friendliness of its people. In these times of pandemic, this western district offers a nearby getaway within the borders of Beijing.