What mega cities of Beijing and Shanghai are to eastern seaboard of China, Chengdu and Chongqing are their counterparts to the west and southwest of China. The sheer size of these cities is mind boggling.
Chengdu city limits has a population over 7 million, while its metropolitan area exceeds 14 million. Similarly, urban population of Chongqing ,with its nearly 9 million, ranks third in China behind Beijing’s 12 million and Shanghai’s 13 million. While those numbers may not tip the scale in your mind, consider the sizes of the metropolitan areas and you’ll discover that Chongqing is by far the number one behemoth in China, with amazing 30 plus million compared to 20 million for Beijing and 23 million for Shanghai.
It could be you may feel overwhelmed by the monstrosity of these urban centers, they are nevertheless convenient gateways to your tour of China. With direct flights from Europe Chengdu is a perfect starting point for touring not only Sichuan but also Yunnan, tours along Silk Road as well as being an ideal jumping off point for heading into Tibet.
Chongqing, on another hand, is the launching point of the Yangtze River cruises. Should you want to venture to Guizhou, Guilin and Guangxi overland, then Chongqing is also your ideal starting point.
Despite the colossal sizes of these two cities, they have much to offer in the hearts of their urban monstrosities.
Chengdu has become dubbed as the homeland of the pandas and the Panda Breeding Research Center is the most visited site for seeing these lovely bears, though you can also see them in a similar setting in Chongqing.
But there is more to Chengdu then the panda and the modernity is not the sole character of the city. You can sample the ancient-style architecture in the Jinli historical district of Chengdu and by visiting the nearby Wuhou Shrine. For an authentic insight into traditional architecture make sure you venture also to the Wenshu Monastery.
Aside the slice of China decorative style, Jinli district offers also cultural continuity of China in other spheres, namely food and drink, and Chengdu’s teahouses and Sichuan fiery cuisine are indeed well rooted in this part of the city. Selection of teas is astounding and although sampling a glass of a green or jasmine tea may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s well worth enticing yourself with taking up the habit upon returning home as it is undeniably good for your health.
When in Chongqing you will be astonished and marvel at the futuristic elevated guideway transportation system that will whisk you efficiently around the city. As in Chengdu you can get a taste of the old Chongqing by visiting the Ciqikou Old Town near the once important Jialing River trading port, dating back to the era of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Though Ciqikou appears a little touristy at first sight, it does teem with authentic old buildings and temples.
A takeoff on the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Chongqing sports much the same counterpart in the heart of the city. It is a massive structure blending traditional and modern styles of architecture and houses fascinating exhibits covering the cultural history of the region, the Yangtze River above all.
The heart of the city overlooks the confluence of the Jialing River and the Yangtze River, and is a must-see from a bird’s eye view for the incredible skyline of the city. For best viewpoints go to Loquat Hill or the Yikeshu viewing platform.
Not to miss in Chongqing is the Flying Tigers Museum housed in the former residence of General Stilwell. Recounting the history of American Volunteer Group that fought the Japanese during WW II, in this major battleground region of southwest China, the Flying Tigers flew supplies from India over the Himalayas along an epic route dubbed the Hum Hump Flight.
Last but not least when in Chongqing you must sample the local cuisine. Although the Sichuan fare underlies the taste in general, the Chongqing Hot Pot stands unique, promising to set your mouth on fire. If you like spicy food, this may be the day you’ll remember the most!
For large image slideshow of Chengdu and Chongqing: Gateways to Western and Southwestern China go to Flickr.
The key stop on the Yangtze River cruises is at Mt. Minshan to marvel at the legendary Fengdu Ghost City. The name instantly evokes scary images and indeed the legend has it that the temples and statues atop the mountain have been meant to inspire just that, a glimpse into passage the dead must navigate en route to netherworld. Sculptures of ferocious demons, evil creatures and eerie realm of ghosts line the way to the testing bride of Nothing-To-Be-Done before facing the judgment at the Ghost-Torturing-Pass. May be few hundred years ago the folk trembled at awe visiting this surreal slice of ancient Chinese depiction of Hell and set most to be good so as not to have to suffer the wrath of Yama, the King of Hell. In the old days the frightened folk no doubt crawled to the top of the mountain but today one can ascend hopping on a chairlift. While the artistic merit of this iconography certainly borders kitsch, and most visitors find the bizarre sculptures and monuments entertaining, the most amusing are in fact the commemorative plaques for the Palace of Heaven and the Homeward-looking Tower! Carved in steel, these two tablets are indeed priceless. How in this day and age, with so many Chinese having mastered the English language, could the Fengdu management let these two pearls slip, or was it done intentionally in order to lift our spirits when surrounded with so many terrifying images? Whatever the answer, the shore excursion to Fengdu Ghost City makes for an enjoyable break from your Yangtze river cruise.
No matter how much time one spends in India or how many times one returns, India never ceases to amaze. Witnessing events such Khumb Mella is the most astonishing experience but visiting any major pilgrimage destination always promises one will be captivated by the spectacle. Visiting Haridwar bathing ghats where Ganges descends from the Himalaya, whether it may be your first time or tenth time, is truly one of those unforgettable slices of India that completely fascinates, even if the happening at the ghat is just another day occurrence. Pilgrims from all over India come to worship, bath in the holy Ganga and make offering to the river. Whether asking for forgiveness, for a blessing, fulfilling one’s life long dream to come worship on the shores of Ganga, or just simply making the trip to do what all good Hindus should at least once in a lifetime, the performances of the pilgrims, some with utmost serious faces, some with humor, dipping in the ice-cold waters of the Ganges, in prayer or in repose, mesmerize. A day spent at the Haridwar ghat is always an awe-inspiring as well as entertaining experience, for on one hand you can’t but admire the compelling spiritual determination of the pilgrims and on the other the ease with which they mingle in utmost peace and genuine openness among each other.
Add visit to Haridwar to your north India tour itinerary.
Dazzling colors and photogenic people await in the
back country of Rajasthan on a Passenger Train Phulad to Khamblighat slideshow at Flickr.