The emperor’s coffin would have been borne past a stele pavilion, a typical imperial structure with the floating clouds motif repeated on its supporting columns. The procession of mourners would then have filed along the Spirit Way
, a funereal guard of honor of six pairs of animals and six pairs of human figures carved from large blocks of stone. The latter, all standing, are statues of scholars, administrators and warriors. The animals-lions, xiechi (a mythical beast), camels, elephants, unicorns, horses-are either standing or crouching. The Spirit Way
(Shen Dao) ends at the Dragon and Phoenix Gate.
In its entirety, this part of the Ming Tombs
dates from die 15th century. Beside the road there is now a mass of shrubs and fruit trees. Once across an arched bridge, visitors can then visit the different tombs, scattered round the valley.
A word to the wise: when visiting the Ming Tombs, travelers should manage their expectations. China’s emperors lived in spectacular fashion, evident at the Imperial Museum, but they were buried rather simply. Anyone expecting an experience akin to Egypt’s Valley of the Kings will be grossly disappointed. A stop at the Ming Tombs is best scheduled at the end of a day trip to the Badaling Great Wall, without making a special trip from Beijing