to travel 1,000 miles is like reading 1,000 books: confucius

The vast mystery that is China demands attention. A journey to this land opens to visitors a geographical, historical and cultural encyclopedia that offers a breathtaking exploration of various worlds within one world.

China is the world’s third largest country, after Russia and Canada. Its most mountainous terrain rises in the west with Tibet and the mighty Himalayas. At 8,847 meters, Mount Everest is the world’s highest peak. China’s lowest point, the Turpan Depression, 154 meters below sea level, is scooped out in its vast north-west. The great mountainous highlands of west China, together with the forbidding deserts of Gobi and Taklimakan in the north acted as a huge barrier to China’s expansion. The land increasingly flattens out the farther east you travel. The vast majority [90 percent] of the population lives along China’s coast or in the fertile lands that line the Yangtze river, Yellow river, Pearl river and the Mekong river. Most of the cultivable land is irrigated by these river systems. Two-thirds of the land is too mountainous, arid or otherwise unsuitable for agriculture. China’s coastline is an affluent bundle of Special Economic Zones [SEZs] and thriving ports. Continue reading

china 11: hong kong, fragrance harbour

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Hong Kong, situated at the estuary of the Pearl River Delta, was once the home of simple fishing villages. After more than a century of cultural and traditional exchange, Hong Kong is now one of the world’s greatest cities, where east truly meets west. Hong Kong meaning “Fragrance Harbour” derives its name from a practice dating back 500 years ago. Fishermen in the harbour used to burn sandalwood incense sticks at dawn and dusk; the fragrance hanging over the harbour led to its name. Continue reading

china 10: buddha is a mountain and mountain is buddha; and kunming

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The colossal red-stoned statue of Buddha at Leshan

I am back in China from Tibet. Back in Chengdu and on my way to Leshan straight from the airport. It is raining, wet and misty. Leshan, presiding over the confluence of two rivers which sweep past the foot of Lingyun hill, is a huge statement of faith and site of the world’s largest carved stone Buddha. Sculpted from the rock face, the effigy is a staggering 71 meters in height and is even more impressive for having been made over 1,200 years ago during the Tang dynasty. The Buddha’s head is 15 meters high; his ears come in at a lengthy 7.5 meters, and his sizeable feet can hold an audience of 100 people, while he looks down with his three meter wide eyes. Continue reading

china 9: chengdu, capital of sichuan

Sichuan [Four Rivers] province’s most abiding impression could well be its spicy cuisine, famous for its diversity and comprising over 5,000 dishes such as twice-cooked pork, spicy chicken with peanuts [which I loved!], fish-fragranced sliced pork, and long dumplings. Noodles are eaten as a snack. A legendary dish in Chengdu is pock-marked Grandma’s beancurd. It was invented 90 years ago by a Grandma with spots on her face. Not many knew about the dish or ate it. An important poet once visited her and the meal, thereafter, became the most popular one in the city. Continue reading

china 8: karst peaks and minority nationalities—li river and guilin

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For centuries, Chinese poets, painters and artistic people with a deep sense for the aesthetic have used Guilin as a yardstick for natural beauty. The throng of limestone peaks that rise abruptly from the plain—often shrouded in mist—is what makes Guilin’s scenery so special. Amidst the peaks winds the Li river, a tributary of the Pearl river, green and placid, dotted with bamboo rafts and straw-hatted men fishing with cormorants. The karst peaks are the result of sea-bed movements 100 million years ago which settled huge deposits of calcium carbonate, namely limestone, on the earth’s surface. Water and wind eroded these deposits into their current fantastic shapes. Continue reading

china 7: futuristic shanghai, by the sea

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Shanghai, literally meaning “by the sea,” is the epitome of today’s China: modern, dynamic, pristine, futuristic, with a palpable energy driving it forward into the global realm of international trade and finance. Dizzying high-rises in their thousands encircled with swirling flyovers, and an eclectic variety of restaurants, bars and shops make it what every cosmopolitan city today strives to be—sophisticated, suave, and avant garde. The city is, simultaneously, a museum of European antiquities and a showcase of innovative architecture. The biggest metropolis in the country, with a population of 17 million and a 25 percent share of its FDI, Shanghai is befittingly to be the venue for the World Expo in 2010. Continue reading