Category Archives: Attractions

Hangzhou, City Along the Qiantang River

At a ‘mere’ 2,200 years old, Hangzhou is among the younger cities in the vast, ancient land of China. Founded by the Qin dynasty, it has long been a favored location of those exploring China’s treasures. Here, Marco Polo found silk to take back to Europe. He also found delightful temples and breathtaking natural scenery.

Hangzhou is located along the Qiantang River only just over 180km from Shanghai. It is connected to Beijing over 1,667km away by the magnificent man-made Grand Canal. There is also the West Lake which curves gently around many of the city’s best sights.

One of the most popular of those is the Ling Yin temple, once the largest Buddhist temple in China. Built during the Jin dynasty that ended in 400 AD, it once housed over 3,000 monks. There are outstanding rock carvings of the Laughing Buddha and caves nearby, along with a stellar view of the mountains.

China’s capital for 100 years in the early 12th to early 13th centuries, it holds a silk museum with treasures that would have been familiar to Marco Polo. But there are modern facilities, too, including audio tours and a bus that takes you right to it.

Here you can see exactly how the fine silks of China are made, what dyes are used and how the weaves are created. There are often live demonstrations to go along with the many artifacts on display.

The Six Harmonies Pagoda is a must for anyone visiting Hangzhou. Located on Yuelun Hill overlooking the river, this 5th century marvel is the epitome of architecture in the city. Its wood and brick are both ancient and unusual, arranged in an octagon almost 200 feet/60m high.

Surrounding the pagoda are numerous gardens with painted animal figures placed carefully about. In the interior is a challenging spiral staircase, a curious zigzag corridor and several small chambers to explore apart from the spacious main area. The seven-story interior is festooned with paintings of birds, flowers and other local elements. In the upper sections visitors can get a spectacular view of the nearby Qiantang River Bridge.

Hangzhou also has some outstanding restaurants to delight and refresh the busy tourist.

The Haveli at 77 Nanshan Rd offers Indian food in an elegant setting. Diners can enjoy a great tandoori chicken while watching the live belly dancers perform. One of the few restaurants with a non-smoking policy, you’ll be able to really taste the dal fry spicy lentil soup.

Another excellent choice is the Hupanju Teahouse at 23 Hubing Rd. Its casual ambiance and waterside location makes for the perfect lunchtime setting. Sited alongside the northeast edge of West Lake, it offers everything from a buffet to some of the best tea in China.

Whether it is natural beauty, ancient architecture or fine dining you seek, you could do no better than to spend a day in Hangzhou before heading on to Shanghai or Beijing.

The Bund

The Bund is a row of buildings in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China. It is located at the bank of the Huangpu river, facing Pudong, in the eastern part of Huangpu district.

The Bund has dozens of historical European colonial buildings lining against the Huangpu river that once housed numerous banks from Britain, France, USA, Russia, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands and Belgium. At the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th century, the Bund was a major financial hub of East Asia.

Some of the most important landmark buildings in The Bund are the Peace Hotel, Pudong Development Bank and the Customs Building. At the northern end of The Bund lies the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Shanghai, which is a memorial for the revolutionary history of Shanghai dating back to the Opium Wars.

The Bund is arguably one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai.

Daqin Pagoda

Daqin Pagoda (???) in Zhouzhi, Shaanxi Province, China is the remnant of the earliest surviving Christian church in China. The church and the monastery were built by the Nestorians in 640. Daqin is the name for the Roman Empire in the Chinese language of the time.

History
Persecution of Christians in China led to the abandonment of Daqin in about 845. Much later, in 1300, a Buddhist temple was installed into the pagoda. An earthquake severely damaged the pagoda in 1556 and it was finally abandoned. Due to the earthquake, many of the underground chambers of the complex are no longer reachable. Daqin was “rediscovered” in 1998 and its roots in early Chinese Christianity were recognized.

The pagoda today
Inside the pagoda, artistic works in both western and Asiatic style can still be found, among them Jonah at the walls of Nineveh, a nativity scene and Syriac graffiti. Many of these artworks are made from mud and plaster, which suffered during prior centuries from exposure to the elements. Seismic activity and flooding endanger the stability of the pagoda. In 1999, the pagoda’s exterior was restored, but overall stability was not improved.

Hainan, Hawaii of China

Picture white, sandy beaches, a bright blue sky and a gentle breeze. Coconuts drop at your feet from trees as the sand warms your feet while strolling along. No, you’re not in Hawaii. You’re in Hainan, the smallest province in China.

But, by Chinese standards, small has a slightly different meaning. Hainan covers over 35,000 square km and is home to over 7 million Chinese. At the southern end of the country, its natural beauty has long attracted visitors and fellow countrymen alike.

There are dozens of places to go and things to do in Hainan. Or, you can do nothing at all.

You can lounge on one of the many beautiful beaches in Sanya such as Tianya Haijia or Dadonghai. Take a walk around and enjoy some of the great seafood. You might visit one of the many shops. Shell carvings in many coastal towns around the world are just tourist trinkets. In Sanya, they’re fine art.

Yalong Bay, east of Sanya, is one of the most popular beaches in the area. Covered with students during the height of the season, you can people watch or enjoy one of the longest stretches of beach sand in the world.

North of Sanya, you can visit the highlands. Cooler than some of the other areas during the summer, it provides ample opportunity for hiking. The local scenery is especially lush here.

Take a ferry trip to the capital of Haikou and see the Hairui Tomb, built for a famed officer of the Ming Dynasty. Or visit the popular Wugong Temple not far away.

Be sure to allow time to see Monkey Island. Here there are thousands of Macaque monkeys chattering away as you thread along the area. Only a ten minute ferry ride from Xincun, it’s best seen in March or April, during mating season. You can enjoy yourself by purchasing a bag of peanuts and see whether they’re easy to distract or not.

Xincun itself is a delightful little fishing village where you can enjoy a quiet stroll or interact with the friendly locals. Take some time to wander around and soak in the natural beauty of the land and its inhabitants.

You can visit the Li or Miao Villages, only two among the many that are home to the one million individuals who comprise the ethnic minority in Hainan. You’ll be served some of the finest food available anywhere outside Hong Kong or Shanghai.

Come find out what so many already know: that anyone visiting China should have Hainan on the itinerary.

Hong Kong Jockey Club

The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) is a non-profit organisation providing horse racing, sporting and betting entertainments in Hong Kong. It holds a government-granted monopoly in providing parimutuel betting on horse raising, “Mark Six” lotteries, and fixed odds betting on overseas football events. The organization is also a major charity and community benefactor in Hong Kong. The HKJC also provides dining, social and recreation facilities to approximately 20,000 members.

Founded in 1884 as an amateur racing body, its status changed to professional in 1971.

The HKJC conducts nearly 700 horse races per year at its two race tracks at Sha Tin and Happy Valley. During the 2001/02 racing season, the HKJC licensed approximately 1,144 horse owners, 24 trainers and 35 jockeys and had 1,435 horses in training.

In 2002-2003, the betting turnover was HKD 71 billion (approximately USD 9 billion). After paying dividends of 58 billion and betting duty of 9.5 billion, it betting commission revenue was HKD 3.9 billion (approximately USD 0.5 billion). It contributes 11.7% of Hong Kong’s tax revenue. Surpluses from its operation are allocated to the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust which serves as the administrator for the club’s charitable donations. The trust serves four principal areas of civic and social need: sports, recreation and culture, education and training, community services and medical and health.

The HKJC’s revenue has substantially declined since the People’s Republic of China resumed its exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997 from the United Kingdom, possibly due to economic recession in the region.

The HKJC was instrumental in persuading the Hong Kong government to pass the Gambling (Amendment) Bill 2002 to combat unauthorized cross-border gambling and the related promotional activities in Hong Kong, making it a criminal offence for any person in Hong Kong to bet with an unauthorized bookmaker, even when the bets are received outside Hong Kong. The offence applies to all visitors as well as to residents of Hong Kong.

It was also instrumental in persuading other members of the Asian Racing Federation to sign the Good Neighbour Policy on September 1, 2003.

Bank of China Tower

The Bank of China Tower (short: BOC Tower) houses the headquarters for the Bank of China in Hong Kong.

It was designed by architect I. M. Pei. The building is 315 meters high with two masts reaching 369 meters (1209 feet) high. The 70 storey building was built in 1989 and is located between Admiralty, Hong Kong and Central, Hong Kong.

The building has been criticised by practitioners of feng shui for its sharp edges.

The Forbidden City

Like China itself, the Imperial Palace in Beijing has come a long way in 600 years. Once the home of Emperors of one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, it now houses a Starbucks. Fortunately, alongside the encroaching commercial enterprises, the terrible grandeur of those bygone empires has been preserved within its massive walls.

The more than 800 buildings comprising the complex were first constructed in the early 15th century as a home, center of government and fortress for the Ming, and later Qing, emperors. For 500 years, until the establishment of the short-lived Chinese Republic in 1912, the grounds were the center of Chinese power.

The popular description for the Imperial Palace, Forbidden City, derives from the royal rule forbidding entrance to any but the royal retinue. Violation of the rule brought a sentence of death. That era is long gone, happily, and the palace is now one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.

And there is enough to see here at Zijin Cheng in Beijing to occupy all of a short vacation.

Covering 720,000 square meters (178 acres), and surrounded by ten meter (33ft) high walls, there are seventeen palaces. Surrounding the grounds are several Royal gardens. The colorful gardens are a perfect complement to the palaces themselves, as the Royal yellow dominates their rooftops.

Entrance is either through the north wall or the south wall. At the southern end is the Meridian Gate at the infamous Tiananmen Square. The northern entrance is via the Gate of the Divine Might, which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between the two is nearly a kilometer.

Within that space is the Outer Court encompassing three halls, once used for coronations and Imperial weddings. Given China’s turbulent history the names are deeply ironic. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, which leads to the Imperial library, is just one example.

The Inner Court, on the northern and eastern end, holds another three halls that were used for daily administration of the country. Within the court is the Palace of Heavenly Purity, near the residence of the Emperor and his family and servants. Also at the northern end is one of the main Imperial gardens, home to many trees that are centuries old.

Within the walls are housed rare treasures collected over the centuries. Among these are a collection of unusual timepieces held in the Hall of Clocks. The Chinese were among the world’s leading artisans and clockmakers, owing to their (for the time) advanced level of science and mathematics.

The Palace Museum, one of the more popular attractions, holds over a million artifacts, both rare and unusual. Everything from Royal robes to unique porcelain are displayed. Earthenware from the Stone Age, bronzes and jade artifacts from the Shang and Zhou dynasties, and pottery tomb figurines from the Han are part of the collection. Ancient and more modern paintings adorn the walls, along with scrolls and samples of calligraphy from down the centuries.

The Forbidden City in Beijing is only one of the many attractions of this ancient and dynamic city. But no visit to the capital of China would be complete without a day spent here.

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China ( in pinyin: Chang Cheng, literal meaning: “Long City (Fortress)”) is an ancient Chinese fortification, built to protect the Empire of China since the 3rd century BC against the raids of ‘barbarians’ from Mongolia and Manchuria. The main purpose of the Wall was not to prevent people from crossing but rather to prevent them from bringing their horses.

History

The Wall was built during the reign of The First Emperor, the main leader of the short-lived Qin dynasty. The Wall was not built out of the blue, but created by the joining of several local walls built by the Warring States. It has been renovated and extended by several later dynasties, getting most of its current shape during the Ming Dynasty. The Wall stretches over a formidable 6,400 km, from the boundary with Korea on the Yalu River (Yalu Jiang) to the Gobi desert.

There have been four major discrete constructions and renovations:

208 BC (the Qin Dynasty)

1st century BC (the Han Dynasty)

1138 – 1198 (the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period)

1368 (the Ming Dynasty)

The Ming Dynasty Great Wall starts on the eastern end at Shanhai Pass ( shan1 hai3 guan1), Qinghuangdao, in Hebei Province next to Bohai Gulf. Spanning nine provinces and 100 counties, it ends on the western end at Jiayu Pass (??? jia1 yu4 guan1) located in northwest Gansu Province. Jiayu Pass was intended to greet travelers along the Silk Road. Even though The Great Wall ends at Jiayu Pass, there are watchtowers (??? feng1 huo3 tai2) extending beyond Jiayu Pass along the Silk Road. These towers communicated by smoke to signal invasion.

The Manchus crossed the Wall by convincing a crucial general Wu Sangui to open the gates of Shahai Pass and allow the Manchus to cross. After they conquered China, the Wall was of no strategic value as the people who the Wall was intended to keep out were ruling the country.

The government ordered people to work on the wall, and workers were under constant danger of being attacked by brigades. Because many people died while building the wall, it is often called the “longest cemetery on Earth”.

Structure

Significant passes include:

Shanhai Pass

Juyong Pass

Niangzi Pass

The Wall is in disrepair, serving as a playground for some villages and a source of stones to rebuild houses and roads. Sections of the Wall are also prone to graffiti. Parts have been bulldozed because the Wall is in the way of construction projects. The China Great Wall Society works to preserve the Wall. Through June 2003, the Chinese government still had no laws written to protect the Wall.

Recognition

The Wall is sometimes included in lists of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World,” but was of course not one of the classical Seven Wonders of the World recognized by the ancient Greeks.

The Wall was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

In 1938, Richard Halliburton’s Second Book of Marvels stated that the Great Wall is the only man-made object that can be seen from the moon. This statement has persisted, assuming urban legend status and sometimes entering textbooks. If taken to mean that the Great Wall can be seen with the unaided eye from the distance of the moon, it is untrue.

However, from low earth orbit, about a thousand times nearer than the moon, it may be visible under favorable conditions. The Great Wall is only a few meters wide and is comparable to many other structures, such as highways and airport runways. Astronauts give varying reports. This variation is not surprising; amateur astronomers know that features on the moon that are dramatically visible at times can be undetectable on others, due to changes in lighting direction.

One shuttle astronaut reported that “we can see things as small as airport runways [but] the Great Wall is almost invisible from only 180 miles up.” Astronaut William Pogue thought he had seen it from Skylab but discovered he was actually viewing the Grand Canal near Peking. He did succeed in spotting the Great Wall with binoculars but stated that “it wasn’t visible to the unaided eye.” Recently, Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei reported being unable to see it at all. An Apollo astronaut reported that no human structures at all were visible at a distance of a few thousand miles.

Veteran U.S. astronaut Gene Cernan has stated: “At Earth orbit of 160km to 320km high, the Great Wall of China is indeed visible to the naked eye.”

Regardless of how visible the Great Wall is when viewed by the unaided eye from low earth orbit, the notion that the Great Wall has a unique and superlative visibility, exceeding that of other great public works, is a myth.

The Terracotta Army

British Museum in London will display the original excavates of the Terracotta Army from China at its premises in an exhibition between September 2007 and April 2008. The worthwhile exhibition of Chinese master creations will get a feel of foreign lands outside their native mainland China for the first time since its inception more than 2000 years ago.

The Terracotta Army refers to the Terracotta Warriors and Horses. These famed figures of historical significance were discovered in 1974 near Xi’an, Shaanxi province by local farmers drilling water well to the East of Mount Lishan. Archeological investigations further revealed the site to be serving as the imperial burial ground to the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty and his army to help the celebrated Emperor rule afterlife. Qin Shi Huangdi is the First Emperor and an acclaimed name in unifying the Chinese Empire for the first time in the history of China. He lived around 220 BC and is also regarded one of country’s most ruthless rulers. The material used to create and construct the terracotta figures was taken up from Lishan. The distinctive collection of 8099 life size and very realistic figures of warriors and horses were excavated underground and are located near the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor. The site is officially classified and currently inscribed in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site and is popularly called the Eighth Wonder of the world.

Background

The construction of this massive monument and world heritage site completed in 38 long years began in 246 BC took up the services of 7 lakh workers and master craftsmen. The first Qin Emperor was interred inside the tomb complex upon his demise in 210BC amidst the embellishments of huge treasure, beautified ceiling adorned with gems and pearls giving a look of the cosmos adorned with heavenly bodies. The flowing mercury represented the life supporting water bodies. The excavation and scientific research studies has revealed the presence of substantial quantity of mercury in the soil of Lishan, pointing towards the authenticity of the description of the site as mentioned in the exemplary works of great historian Sima Qian. The imperial cemetery also termed as necropolis was built with the intension to continue with the Empire and the eternal rule of the Qin Shi Huangdi preceding his death, the terracotta structures in wooden enclosure represented the entire set up in terms of infrastructural luxuries, palace, warriors, army and other services required by the emperor while executing his orders from the heaven afterlife. The compound with imposing gateway entrance is complete with several offices, halls and other structures. The terracotta army signifies the security system to protect the imperial palace and their Emperor. Interestingly even the remains of the craftsmen working in the tomb have also been excavated from the necropolis, presumably to prevent pilferage of any imperial information to outside amongst the masses.

The Terracotta army is a phenomenal archeological discovery and an icon of the China’s past recognizable world wide. It is visited and appreciated by nearly two million people who visit the site annually of which one fifth are the foreigners.

The tomb of the First Emperor lies in the vicinity of an unsealed earthen pyramid 76meters tall and in the circumference of 350 sq meters. The area around the tomb was proposed to be sealed with a special tent to prevent its corrosion from exposure to outside air. This building of this special type of tents is the monopoly of one company in the world and unfortunately even their largest structure is incapable of sheltering the site as per the requirement. The tomb is a testimony to the power and the creative mindset that the Emperor possessed while ordering such a monumental undertaking. His cherished desire to display his unparalleled military achievement and retain the reigns of power even after his departure from the earth is well exhibited in this master work.

Terracotta statues

The terracotta statues are life like and life sized and their physical attributes armed with weapons are tailor made in consonance with the ranks and positions of the said figure. However the weapons were stolen immediately after construction and the color has faded with time. The figures were constructed in the manner of assembly line system in the government workshops as well as by the local craftsmen. Each part was manufactured in mass production and re-assembled and subjected to fire treatment subsequently and then placed in pits of different types of moulds prepared in advance in precise military formation in accordance to ranks and duties.

There have been reports of the pottery warriors being infected by fungal moulds due to raised temperature and humidity as a result of breaths of tourists. The South China Morning Post has reported the figures have been oxidized grey and distorted due to exposure by air. Another journal Daily Planet Goes to China, reported that the pollution and soot from nearby coal burning units is capable of decaying the terracotta material.

The noted Historian Sima Qian has mentioned the evidence of destruction by fire of the wooden enclosure that housed the Terracotta Army. The fire burning the army snuggled for three months. The tomb was raided by General Xiang Yu in less than five years of the death of the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi with the intension of looting the riches of the tomb and setting the royal cemetery ablaze. Despite this remains of the structures of the Terracotta army in various stages of preservation retain their original grandeur and splendor of their regal past.

A replica of this historical monument is erected in the Forbidden Gardens, a privately funded museum in Katy Texas sponsored by a Chinese businessman to show case to the world the grandeur of his country’s distant past.

Rosy Vohra works forOld books India