Every travel knows instinctively that no country has just one story or narrative. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie popular novelist talks about the danger of knowing just one story or narrative about a country. She warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.
In popular culture the multi faceted story of China is often misunderstood or narrowed down into a single narrative. My travels to four different cities in four different provinces of China gave me the understanding of the different cultures, people and food that gives different hues to this large country. We traveled through Beijing, Xian, Chengdu and Shanghai. Here is my attempt to bring you the different colors and tones of this country through photographs.
This New Year we embarked on a trip to China as a family. We covered four cities in four different parts of China in order to get a complete overview of this amazing and sometimes misunderstood country. Our journey started in Beijing the capital city, Xian- the capital during ancient times and the start of the Silk Route, Chengdu-a major city in western China and Shanghai – the bustling metropolis and port city.
Chengdu is a city which is perpetually under a cover of clouds, the city sees the sun only 100 days in a year. Hence Chengdu has a long and romantic relationship with the sun and has the sun as the city’s symbol since ancient times. The name Chengdu means ‘becoming a capital’ and it was once was home to the imperial palace. Currently an impressive square called Tianfu Square which forms the hub of the subway system in Chengdu stands at the same site.
Chengdu is home to many monasteries and temples of Buddhism and Taoism. We wanted to get in touch with nature in China after having traveled in the north of the country where winter had laid the countryside barren. Seeing greenery in the misty city of Chengdu was a welcome sight. We embarked on a trip to Mt Qingcheng which is home to one the famous Tao temples in the land.
The religion of Taoism is based on the ancient principles of Yin and Yang and is one of the 5 recognized religions in China. It was quite prominent till the 17th century after which it slowly fell out of favor. There are many Gods which are worshiped in Taoism and every river and every mountain has a God. The Mt of Qingcheng is famous as the birthplaces of Taoism in 142 AD. It is from this point in the Sichuan province that the religion of Taoism perpetuated to the entire region of China.
Mt Qingcheng is adjacent to the UNESCO protected Dujiangyan irrigation system which was built 2000 years ago and is still in use. It is an impressive and massive project that ancient China mastered and built by creating channels, controls and management systems. Climbing up Qingcheng we discovered only Yin (good) as the tall trees and misty mountains charmed us. The only yang (bad) was probably our sore calf muscles and back from carrying a toddler up a mountain with bodies that have been unaccustomed to exercise for sometime now.
Trying to go up a mountain- even one which has a cable car which covers half the distance for you, in winter and with a toddler was quite a feat. I congratulate myself and my husband for accomplishing that. The cold mountain air though was not harsh, it was soothing instead and the music that surrounded us made us determined to reach the top. The mist covered most of the view from above but nevertheless it was a peaceful journey and completely worth the effort.
Qingcheng mountain is divided into four parts. The first part is a series of steps leading to the cable car station. The second part is the cable car station that has a man made lake where you can opt for a boat ride or go around the lake. The third part is steep series of stairs that lead you to the temple and palaces and the fourth part is another steeper and more adventurous climb to a pagoda. There is a more picturesque part in the back of the mountain and is rarely visited by tourists.
We ate at a restaurant at the base of the mountain before we took on the mountain as it was close to my kids lunch time. The restaurant had spicy Sichuan fare with the numbing Sichuan pepper in most of the dishes. The best dishes we found in Sichuan were Kung Pao chicken, bamboo shoots and mushroom dishes and an eggplant dish with numbing fish sauce. Most of these dishes are served with an accompaniment of rice for the table (fellow Indians, remember schezwan sauce, well it finds its origins in this part of China).
The Tao temple on top of the mountain has retained most of its ancient charm.The priest wore traditional attires and had a single bun hairstyle. The devotees prayed by lighting candles and incense sticks (some of them imported from India). The temple was also home to a famous Chinese contemporary painter and has a small exhibition of some of his paintings and photographs including one with Rabindranath Tagore.
The seclusion and the natural beauty of the mountain draws many souls and romantics to this mountain. This mountain range has 36 peaks, caves, waterfalls and a huge area covered by green forests. It also has a few palaces and pavilions were the ancient emperors, artists and believers came to find peace. The palaces on Qingcheng give the feeling of a palace on the clouds as the mountain cuts through the cloud cover of Chengdu.
*Photos taken on a Nokia Lumia phone. As toddler plus bulky camera equals broken back. Credited to Razor Rasu.
Sounds of the Mountain – See the video with the volume turned up as the music is the caveat of this video. The video also has my kid, our guide and me climbing the mountain (no he did not climb the mountain solo, he was carried most of the way). Video also taken on the phone hence shaky but the music is heavenly, do listen.