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Indulging one’s inner Marco Polo

Time:Nov 13, 2015


In April, I learned through WeChat that China Daily and Shanxi province were inviting foreigners to visit on three different trips. The third seemed the most suitable for me and I was selected to join the group as a photographer. I was excited, as I had never had the opportunity to visit this part of China.
On Sept 21, I flew to Taiyuan, where I was met by China Daily staff, taken to the hotel and received a briefing about the trip. We then had dinner, where we learned about the local noodles and watched them being made.
The next morning, we started our journey at the Old Town of Pingyao, founded in the 14th century and renowned for its well-preserved city walls, which we learned were constructed in the third year of the Hongwu Emperor, in 1370.
Being a photographer, it was a very interesting location for me but a rainy day made me a little disappointed. Even though the weather was not ideal, it was a worthwhile experience to walk on the city wall and I managed to take some good photos.

We walked from the south gate to the west gate and had a city top view. After the city wall tour, we took electric cars to an international photography exhibition. It was a wonderful exhibition and the location was unique.

Portraits of Africans from a local photographer were especially impressive. I loved the colors and details in those photos. After an hour at the exhibition, we once again took electric cars and went to visit Pingyao’s ancient government office.

This old government office included a prison that had old torture equipment, as well as gardens and the government office. Our visit became more interesting when we met two military veterans who served during World War II.

Photos from the war were exhibited in the garden where these veterans told their stories from the war.

I was surprised to learn that one of the veterans had joined the army when he was just 12 years old.

It was now almost 6 pm and everyone was ready for dinner but I wanted to go to the city wall again because the weather had cleared and it looked as if there would be a beautiful sunset.

I went to the south gate and waited for the sun to go down. I was ready to shoot and I got some stunning shots of the gorgeous view.

 

  The Hukou Waterfall.[Photo by Khalid Sharif/For chinadaily.com.cn]

The next day, we boarded our bus to continue our journey. This time our destination was the Hukou Waterfall, the largest waterfall on China's Yellow River.

When we got close to the falls, I saw a breathtaking view of the river and the roaring of the water frightened me.

Hukou is where water from the middle reaches of the Yellow River flows through Jinshan Grand Canyon. Just below the waterfall is a shining stone called guishi (turtle stone).

What makes the stone mysterious is that it moves up and down according to the water level. No matter how large the water volume, it is still at least partly visible.



After spending about an hour at the waterfall, we moved to our next destination in the city of Linfen.

Local government officials escorted us to a relics site, where we saw the world’s oldest-known observatory that dates back more than 4,000 years in Xiangfen county. The site, which covers an area of 3 million square meters, is believed to be a settlement for five legendary rulers from 2,600 BC to 2,000 BC.

Archaeologists inferred that 13 stone pillars, each at least four meters high, stood on the original site, forming 12 gaps between them. Local staff explained to us how the people of the time observed the sunrise through the gaps to distinguish the different seasons of the year.

After this visit, we had dinner and a boat trip through Fen River Park. The night views along the lighted river were beautiful. On our fourth day, we started our journey to Yuncheng where we visited the Guandi Temple in Xiezhou, 20 km west of the city. There are many Guandi temples both in China and overseas, but the temple in Xiezhou is the finest and most famous.



The impressive buildings display beautiful architecture and many ancient statues. The temple was first built by imperial decree in AD 589, during the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618). The magnificent wooden structures were added to during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and rebuilt in 1807.
It is the largest temple of its kind in the world. We had one hour to explore the temple, but I did not feel that was long enough. I wanted to look at every corner and capture it with my camera. I took a lot of photos of this precious architectural work.
After visiting the temple, we went to view the Big Iron Oxen. These iron oxen were cast during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) and used to fasten the Pujin Bridge.
The sculptures look in pretty good shape, and we watched a documentary about the oxen on a panoramic screen in a museum beneath the site.
We also viewed some photos from when the oxen were discovered and excavated. It was in the 1990s when the oxen were discovered and we were told there were eight in all, four anchoring the bridge at either side of the river. The remaining four are still buried.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped for a quick look at the Yingying Pagoda. I wanted to go to the top but everyone else seemed tired and not interested in a race to the top of the temple.


Friday was our last day and we once again boarded the bus bound for the village of Yanjing in Wanrong county to visit the Li Family Courtyard.
It was built during the reign of the Daoguang Emperor during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) as the private residence of wealthy businessman Li Ziyong.
The courtyard is famous for its mix of Chinese, Japanese and European styles, including a Chinese quadrangle, Japanese sliding doors and some Gothic architecture.
It is a simply spectacular place and really worth visiting. Once again, time constraints did not allow us to tour the site completely, but we tried to explore it as much as possible in our short time.
Overall, it was an impressive and educational trip that taught me a lot about Chinese history. This made me feel that China is a land where anyone can indulge their inner Marco Polo. I hope to join another such trip in the future.
The author is a businessman from Pakistan working in Jiangsu province.





 

 


  

 

 



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