The Fragrant Hills Park (Xiangshan Park) is located 20 kilometers northwest of Beijing and not far from the Summer Palace. The name of the park derives not from the fresh air or aroma in the area, but in the shape of the hills themselves. The best time to the hill is autumn when the red leaves decorating the trees on the hillside add an extra special glow to the area.
In 1186 of the Jin Dynasty, the Xiangshan Temple was built here and for a period served as the emperor's traveling lodge. In 1745, Emperor Qianlong had a number of large halls, pagodas, memorial archways and leisure pavilions built and changed the name of the area to the Garden of Peacefulness (Jingyiyuan). This complex served as a summer palace and became one of the three favorite hills of Emperor Qianlong, beside Jade Spring Mountain (Yuquanshan) and Longevity Hill (Wanshoushan) in the Summer Palace.
Qianlong’s elaboration of the park consisted of 28 separate vistas, each with a poetic name: Jade China Cliff, Toad Peak, Jade Milk Spring, Bell Separated from the Clouds, etc. Unfortunately, almost every trace of this carefully orchestrated symphony of landscape architecture, including the blueprints, was burned or destroyed by the Anglo-French forces and the eight-Power Allied Forces in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
From the peak, the winding Yongding River like a white silk belt fluttering among the western valleys, the Marco Polo Bridge on the river, Shijing Mountain, the Summer Palace and Jade Spring Mountain can all be seen from here, and on a clear day one can even make out the skyline of Beijing.
There is plenty to see in the park. Some well-noted spots include: Zhaomiao (Bright Temple), which was built in 1780 as a residence for the Sixth Panchen Lama. Right behind the Temple is a seven-storey, glazed-tile octagonal pagoda. Bronze bells hanging from the eaves tinkle in breeze. Next to it is the Studio of Viewing Heart and Spectacles Lake. A small bridge over the lake divides the lake into two parts, resembling a pair of glasses, hence the name. To the south part, you may see Baisongting (The Lacebark Pine Pavilion), the Jade Flower Villa, the Ruins of Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills), Xianglufeng (Incense Burner Peak), Shuangqing Villa--a temporary residence of central leaders before they moved to Zhongnanhai, and Diamond Throne Pagoda (Jinggang Baozuo Ta), an ever resting place of Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Chinese Republic.
Fragrant Hills are density covered by old trees. Thus, spring arrives late in the area and summer days are always pleasantly cool. The main peak of Xiangshan Park, Worried Ghost Peak had an elevation of 557 meters. Clouds and mist often engulf its precipitously angled cliffs, which give the two large stone excrescences of the peak a resemblance to incense burners. Nearly 260,000 trees were planted in the park; over 5,800 were years-growing trees, taking account 1/4 of the total number of old trees in Beijing. The green coverage is approximated to 98%. The Fragrant Hills boasts of its beautiful landscape and tourists through out the four seasons. The most beautiful sight here is the maple leaves. They grow on the smoke trees and turn red after frosts in late autumn. Then all the hills are attired in these maple leaves which seem to reach the rosy clouds in the sky. There are also groves of apricots, pears, peaches and lilacs adding their fragrance, and the more solemn evergreens, whose contribution to the local beauty are unrestricted by seasonal changes. The park was selected one of the 16 most beautiful sceneries in New Beijing.