At the moment it is the Qing Ming Festival holiday, which falls on the same weekend as the Easter holiday in Britain and America. During this time, Chinese families will go to pay respect to their ancestors’ graves as well as the tombs of important historical figures. Usually, the festival is a time to appreciate the fresh air and green mountains of Spring, so many people will go for a hike.

I went to go camping with some friends in the Phoenix Ridge scenic area, west of Beijing. At first, we climbed hundreds of steps up the Phoenix Ridge that had been designed to take us on a long, twisting walk around the scenic spot. It was extremely busy,  thousands joined us on the exhausting climb up the mountain. It seems they had all chosen Phoenix Ridge for their Qing Ming Festival family hike. Almost everyone stared at our huge bags, and we had a running soundtrack of ‘ 这么大’(why so big?),’去露营吧’(they’re going camping?) ‘会不会露营吗’ (can you even camp here?). The temple where we ate lunch was beautifully decorated with Tibetan flags, and many people stopped to have a picnic on the climb up.

Eventually, we reached the place where the steps disappeared and it became a real hike, a ruined temple (A.D 650) with several crumbling graves. Most graves were decorated with flowers, fruit and colourful gifts. From there, we climbed up a steep hill punctuated with dry stone walls and aged bricks. Through trees, we saw a large, white unbroken tombstone  protruding from the fallen leaves. The woods around it were scattered with pages and pages of joss paper, or spirit money, bamboo paper punctuated with holes. Traditionally, this can be used by ancestors to buy livestock, money, food or luxuries during the afterlife.

At the peak, a thin path stretched along the Phoenix Ridge on both sides, and a vast foggy valley stretched before us. We couldn’t quite see the bottom, and only barely detected the high mountains on the opposite side. The top of the mountain was populated with clumps of pale, fragrant cherry blossom. There were no people here. We set up camp. As it got dark, lights blinked in the foggy valley and we realised there was a large village down there. I could hear fireworks, and from the peak I saw several orange lanterns float across the houses below, celebrating the end of the Qing Ming Festival.

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