I will never forget three days I spent in Chongqing, China. I joined my husband on a visit there because he was part of a group of Northwestern University professors who were meeting with professors from Chongqing University. As one of four accompanying spouses, I had the opportunity to visit special places in Chongqing. We saw the city, old and new, an impressive museum, a natural wonder, a village designed to look and feel like 1942 in China, and a World Heritage Site where thousands of figures depicting several religious beliefs were carved into a mountain side. Sabrina, who is set to complete her Ph. D. in Mechanical Engineering soon, guided our group. “Shopping”, who teaches English to Junior High School students, also joined our group.
On our first day we saw a city that is very old and very new. Situated where two rivers meet, the Yangtze and the and the Jialing , Chongqing is also nestled in the mountains. The city has a recorded history that stretches back more than 3,000 years during which time rulers and names changed with the current name given in 1189. The first inland port opened to foreign commerce in 1891. In 1940, Chongqing served as the wartime provisional capital for the Nationalist government, becoming China's political, economic, financial, transportation, cultural and diplomatic center. (Because it was in the mountains, not easily accessible and frequently socked in with fog, it was hard for the Japanese to find the city). In 1945, Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek conducted peace talks in Chongqing under U.S. mediation, but the talks failed and the civil war resumed. In 1996, with the central government’s approval, Chongqing became the forth municipality of China, along with Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin. A municipality is very much like Washington, D. C. , an independent city. Since that time Chongqing’s growth has been phenomenal.
On our first day we saw the stark contrast between the old city and one of a miriad of shopping malls that are very modern and filled with a wide variety of goods. We stepped out of our car into Ciqikou Old Town, an historic Chinese old town with traditional style buildings in a suburb of Chongqing City. It was built in 998 during the Song Dynasty. At the start of the Qing Dynasty, the town, famous for its porcelain making and transportation as a port was given the name Ciqikou, which means ‘porcelain port’ in Chinese. Affluent and simple local traditions and conventions have persisted for 1,800 years, for which it is renowned as the symbol and epitome of Chongqing City, and is thus called Little Chongqing.
Along the streets vendors demonstrated ancient techniques of making candy, donuts, noodles, jewelry and more. There is a museum with artifacts and photos of ancient times. I was struck by photos of men pulling boats through parts of the river that weren’t navigable to places that were, beautiful handicrafts and a photos of the way women were once treated.
In stark contrast we visited a beautiful modern shopping mall where there were many depictions of the Chongqing’s history. There were shops of all kinds and many restaurants. It was pleasant to walk through and there was a great view of both rivers and a new bridge not quite completed.
Next stop was the The China Three Gorges Museum, also known as Chongqing Museum. This museum is beautiful outside and in and has displays that are impressive, fascinating and accessible. It was a bonus to have an English-speaking guide who was pleasant and informative. However, the displays also had information in English.
An important purpose of this building is to house the relics from the sites destroyed by the construction of the 3 Gorges Dam, and we were fascinated with displays of saved artifacts from sites all over the huge submerged area. The shape of the building itself is like that of a large dam. There is a blue sunscreen in front that may represent the water of the Yangtze River or the lake itself held by the dam.
Completed in 2005, it was intended to be a place to deposit artifacts saved from important historical sites submerged by the artificial lake behind the 3 Gorges Dam. Hundreds of archeological sites were submerged, and many objects were discovered and moved to the museum by various teams of scientists and archeologists. (236 Renmin Road, Yuzhong District. It is on the west side of People’s Square across from the Great Hall of the People. Open 9 to 5 every day except Monday.)
At dinner that night, we shared our stories of a great day and were told the next day would be even better.
This day found our group of six plus our very skilled driver traveling for about two hours into the countryside, traveling on toll ways much of the time to an unexpected location, a movie set turned village.
In 2013 March, Chongqing rebuilt a film television city, which covers an area of about 70 acres, and rehabilitated old Chongqing buildings and 66 houses. There are apparently many attractions of various kinds to draw tourists, but our group enjoyed exploring a very unusual camera museum, walking the streets and observing the movie theater that shows the movie “Back to 1942” (in IMAX on weekends) for which this set was originally built, and enjoying a wonderful lunch. We ate at the Old Chongqing Restaurant, Republic Street of Chongqing Movie City,
The restaurant specializes in dishes that were popular in 1942, including a shrimp and fish pancake, meatballs, fried meat, and sweet and sour fish. Our group enjoyed the food very much, but I requested only vegetables. They were delicious – fresh and local and included greens that I had never tasted before.
There was a lot of building taking place in the area that we noticed as we traveled, and apparently the train will soon be bringing many tourists to this area.
After lunch we drove further into the countryside and along a mountain pass and arrived at Zhang Guanshui Cave Scenic Area where we visited the Zhangguan Water Cave, a natural limestone water cave. It is located northeast of Chongqing, along the 319 National Highway, 52 Km from the downtown and 8 Km from the Luoqi exit of YU-Chang Highway. There were gorgeous rooms, especially beautiful because of the reflection. We saw live fern and other plants growing in this cave that was very unusual. Bats flying around were small and also unusual. The water running through was quite deep in places. Our walk was exciting as the elevation changed and there were very narrow places. We were, however, rewarded with sights that made us catch our breath, they were so beautiful. We rowed ourselves back to cave entrance, about a mile. As the brochure says, there is a feeling of “Harmony of Man with Nature”.
One member of our group had some limited mobility and could not experience the cave but rather sat and chatted with Sabrina in the teahouse. The rest of us were glad she decided not to enter the cave, as there was no turning back. When we went from one section to the next the guide turned the lights off behind us. We shared stories on the ride back to town and dinner. Again that night we told our stories and were greeted with the idea that although that day had been great, the next day would be better. But one more treat remained that evening, a ride up a mountain in the city to see the lights. The city was dressed up and beautiful.
We packed up early and were on our way for a long day that would end up with our boarding the boat for the Yangtze Cruise. A three-hour drive delivered us to The Dazu Rock Carvings, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Dazu Rock Carvings (Chinese: 大足石刻; pinyin: Dàzú Shíkè) are a series of Chinese religious sculptures and carvings that date from the 7th century A.D. They are influenced by and depict Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist beliefs. This World Heritage Site is made up of 75 protected sites containing some 50,000 statues, with over 100,000 Chinese characters forming inscriptions and epigraphs. Located in Chongqing Municipality within the steep hillsides throughout Dazu County (about 60 kilometers west of the city of Chongqing, China), the highlights of the rock grotto are found on Mount Baoding and Mount Beishan. The time span is also noteworthy covering a period when widespread warfare caused work to cease again at the end of the 13th century, beginning again and lasting until the late 15th century, during the Ming Dynasty and again at a much reduced scale, until the late Qing Dynasty (end of the 19th century).” (They are remarkable for their aesthetic quality, their rich diversity of subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on everyday life in China during this period. They provide outstanding evidence of the harmonious synthesis of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.)
Amazed by the extraordinary variety and the huge numbers of the statues, their beauty and their excellent condition, we were tired from walking up and down the mountains and were happy to board the bus. Our next stop was Zhonggho Chongqing Dazu where there were lotuses as far as the eye could see, a beautiful setting for a restaurant and where the food was delicious. Most dishes included some form of lotus. There was also a research center involving the use of lotus and the only bow to accessibility that we observed in China. We purchased some of the lotus tea, which we are enjoying at home.
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After another three hour drive, we were delivered us to the same shopping center where we had lunch the first day but our group was larger, and we ate in a different resaurant. We had “hot pot” for dinner, a specialty of Chonqing. We could not leave without experiencing this delicious dish.
After dinner we boarded our ship, the Yangtze 2 and prepared for the Yangtze Cruise.
Photos: B. Keer