This past weekend, I decided to take advantage of the amazingly low AQI and enjoy the fluffy clouds from Mountainyoga, a yoga retreat center in the Fragrant Hills. I checked in for the overnight retreat, which included Vinyasa yoga instruction, a workshop in drumming, and a Kirtan (mantra chanting) session.
Spartanly furnished, a little ramshackle, and with basic facilities, although barely outside the 5th Ring Road, the center feels far-removed from urban Beijing. The rattle of leaves in the trees is broken by the occasional dog’s bark or cockerel’s crow, and the surrounding village is the definition of sleepy.
The employees are friendly, helpful, and eager to pass on their genuine passion for yoga. For instance, having cooked and cleaned for the day, the center’s ayi was the first one on her feet clapping and swaying during the call and response Kirtan singing.
Staying at Mountainyoga feels like dropping into an existing, welcoming, spiritual community, rather than being a paying guest. That communal, participatory feeling is reinforced by the self-service culture: meals are buffet-style, each person makes up their own bed, washes their own cutlery and dishes, and Sunday’s Karma Yoga workshop is all about practicing mindful housekeeping! There’s nothing luxurious (or pretentious) about this place, but it has charm and genuine warmth.
Split over many levels, with a lot of metal stairs, the center is really only suitable for families with older kids (age 10 and over), or for parents looking for a local bolt-hole to escape downtown Beijing overnight.
The two day retreat is RMB 400 per person (sharing a four bed en suite dorm). Two bed en suites (at RMB 500) and private en suites (RMB 600) are also available.
As well as two-day retreats (you can find a typical retreat schedule here), Mountainyoga also offers an RMB 100 Saturday Kirtan package which includes a yoga class, homemade vegetarian dinner, and Kirtan session.
The type of yoga on offer changes every weekend, depending on what guest-teacher is visiting the center. With only four to five participants per class last weekend, there was plenty of opportunity for adjustments from the teacher. Check in advance whether instruction will be in Mandarin, English, or bilingual.
Non-yoga workshops also vary: as well as drumming, they include Chinese calligraphy or the Chinese tea-ceremony.
Meals are healthy but plain and simply prepared: rice, congee, vegetables dishes, and eggs. All meals are included in the retreat price. Filtered drinking water is available, and there’s also a small grocers nearby in the village which has juices, soda, bottled water and typical processed munchies like such as chips and candies. If you prefer healthier snacks, best to pack your own fruit and nuts. Also bring your own tea or coffee, as although there’s a kettle, no hot beverages are available.
Four bed dorms have a basic en suite, and balcony. Beds are hard; a thin mattress over wooden boards. Bedding is a homespun blanket and grain-filled pillow with clean but well-worn cotton sheets and pillowcase. However if you complete both yoga classes (up to 2 hours long), both workshops, and hike in the hills, you will probably sleep soundly despite the lack of creature comforts.
Practically surrounded by temples, hiking trails begin further up the hill and west of the retreat center, and lead off to the north and south along the ridges of the Fragrant Hills. Although there are plenty of off-putting and official looking check-points on the roads, these only serve to limit cars rather than ramblers; you can walk right through. The views back east over the city are great on a clear day. Be sure to bring plenty of water with you. There are some hawkers along the way, but they charge at least RMB 6 for a large bottle of water.
The website lists a comprehensive variety of public transport options to reach the center. On Saturday morning, I rode subway Line 4 to Xiyuan Exit A and jumped on Bus 331 to Xiangshan/Fragrant Hills.
Getting to the center from Dongzhimen took approximately two hours, with at least 20 minutes of that spent wandering around the next village over looking in vain for the center. All of the other first-time guests had issues locating the place, so take heed and give yourself some extra time to find the center. Unfortunately the Mountainyoga website’s hand drawn maps of the local area are a little unclear, and their Google maps don’t load with a place marker. The route mapped above is the easiest way to access the center on foot from the Xiangshan/Fragrant Hills bus terminus.
The taxi back on Sunday cost approximately RMB 70, and took about 30 minutes.
The view of Beijing’s lights (and the stars if you’re lucky) from the roof at night.
In a Nutshell:
Where: Mountainyoga, Xiangshan, Beijing
What: Yoga and hiking
Who: Ages 10 and above
How much: From RMB 400 per person, plus transportation and spending money.
What to bring: Comfortable clothes for yoga and hiking, warmer layers for the evening, personal toiletries and towel, flip-flops or slippers, mosquito repellant:
Optional extra items to bring: A torch, a musical instrument, your own yoga mat, your own cutlery or dishes, snacks, tea or coffee, sleeping bag, and soft pillow.
Photos: Aisling O’Brien and courtesy of Mountainyoga