Situated in the east part of western hills, 28 kilometers (17 miles) northwest of the Beijing City, Fragrant Hills Park is a large park of hills and forest covering 160 hectares (395.4 acres). Both its natural sceneries and cultural relics are abundant. Xianglu Peak (Incense Burner Peak), 557 meters (1827.4 feet) high, is its highest peak.
The park was first built in 1186 in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and later extended to a large scale in the Yuan and Ming dynasties. In 1745, Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) ordered the addition of many new halls, pavilions and gardens and gave it a new name, Jingyi Garden (Garden of Tranquility and Pleasure). Unfortunately, in 1860 and 1900 after the Summer Palace and the Yuanming Yuan (the Old Summer Palace) were set on fire, lots of relics in the Fragrant Hills were damaged by foreign troops. Since 1949, with a half-century's restoration and development by Chinese government, Fragrant Hills Park has been recognized as one of the ten most famous parks in Beijing.
The most spectacular natural scenery in the Fragrant Hills Park is the red smoke tree leaves over the mountains. When autumn arrives, fiery red leaves blanket the entire mountain. Every year, thousands of tourists come to the park. The cable cars are a great way to take in the beautiful scenes.
Visitors may take two main routes to explore the park. The first one is to go along the north route, where visitors will see Spectacles Lake (Yanjing Lake), Study of Reading Heart (Jianxin Zhai), Bright Temple (Zhao Miao), etc. Spectacles Lake is a lake divided half by a bridge. Study of Reading Heart was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was noted as the park inside Fragrant Hills Park. Bright Temple is a large Tibetan style lamasery complex built in 1780 as the residence for the sixth Panchen Lama during his visits to Emperor Qianlong. Buildings in the complex have partially been burned down. Among the surviving treasures are a majestic glazed-tiled archway in front of the complex, a Tibetan style terrace and a glazed-tiled pagoda. Bells hung on the eaves of the pagoda chime in breeze.
Another route leads to the south area of the park. Main attractions along the route include Tranqulity Green Lake (Jingcui Lake), Shuangqing Villa, Fragrant Temple, Incense Burner Peak, etc. This route is a little hard for the highest peak, Incense Burner Peak. However it is worthwhile to try. One of the ‘must see’ points of interest is the Shuangqing Villa, which is attractive not for its natural beauty but more for its place in Chinese history - it was once the residence of Chairman Mao Zedong as well as an early sight for the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.