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China Travel Tourism

First the nation’s capital in the early years of the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368–1644), and now capital of Jiangsu Province, this bustling city of six million attract a lot of travelers. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit, as Nanjing in the summer is well known as one of China’s three furnaces.

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Nanjing’s Ming legacy can be found in only a few buildings and ruins today. In the center of town, the drum tower Gu Lou was built in 1382 and contained a series of drums used to mark the night watches, welcome guests. Close by is a pavilion, Dazhong Ting, which houses a 23,000-kilogram bronze bell from 1388. Toward the eastern part of town are the ruins of the first Ming dynasty imperial palace, Ming Gu Gong. All that remains of the once massive palace are the Wu Men (Meridian Gate) that once marked the front gate of the palace wall, five small marble bridges, and 12 large plinths that were once the foundation of another large gate. Sections of the Ming city wall are still visible.

Zhonghua Men Chengbao

Located in the southern part of town, this is the biggest and best-preserved of the city wall’s original 13 gates. Built by the Hongwu emperor between 1366 and 1386, the wall, at 33km, was the longest city wall in the world, made of uniform bricks cemented with a mortar of lime, sorghum, and glutinous rice. Zhonghua Gate, first built in 1386, actually consists of four rows of gates, the first one 53m long. Each gate entrance had a vertically sliding stone door lifted with a mechanical winch. Twenty-seven arched vaults inside the first gate could house up to 3,000 soldiers. Climb to the top for some good views of the city.

Fuzi Miao (Confucian Temple)

This is where you’ll get a good idea of the modern interests of Nanjing’s youth. Once a place of study and quiet contemplation. To the right (east) was once the Jiangnan Gongyuan, an academy first built in 1169, which later became the largest imperial civil examination halls during the Ming and Qing dynasties, with over 20,000 cells for examinees. Today, a handful of rooms have been restored into a museum, the Jiangnan Gongyuan Lishi Chenlieguan. Tourists can reenact part of the examination process by donning period robes and Ming dynasty hats and sequestering themselves in the cells, which have white walls, bare concrete floors, and two boards stretched across the cells as a seat and a table.

Zhongshan Ling

This magnificent mausoleum for Dr. Sun Yat-sen, widely revered as the founder of modern China, has become a mecca for Chinese tourists seeking to pay their respects.

Ming Xiao Ling (Ming Filial Tomb)

More peaceful than Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum is the tomb of the founder of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang (1328–98), also known as the Hongwu emperor. The tomb served as a model for subsequent Ming and Qing emperors’ tombs in Beijing. The site has recently been polished up with funds from UNESCO after being deemed a World Heritage Site, but the explanations of the tombs are in Chinese only with strange diagrams. Zhu Yuanzhang was the only Ming emperor to be buried in Nanjing. The Sacrificial Palace, one of the tomb’s main buildings built in 1383, houses memorial tablets. The Ming Tower, a rectangular citadel, served as the command point of the tomb. Nearby, Shixiang Lu is a pleasant walkway half a kilometer long lined with stone carvings of 12 pairs of animals. The second half of the passageway, flanked by pairs of soldiers and mandarins, leads to Four Square Pavilion, which consists of a tall stone tablet enclosed by four walls. Built in 1413, the pavilion’s tablet contains 2,000 characters inscribed with the life story of the emperor Zhu Yuangzhang, written by his son Zhu Di.

 

Nanjing Bowuguan (Nanjing Museum)

Situated in an impressively sleek and clean building, the Nanjing Museum is worth at least an hour or two of your time. Standouts include the Lacquerware Hall with an exquisitely carved Qing dynasty throne; the Jadeware Hall featuring an Eastern Han dynasty jade burial suit sewn together with silver from A.D. 200; and the Fabric Embroidery Hall, where visitors can view a demonstration of cloud-pattern brocade weaving on an old-fashioned loom. The basement level houses a nice folk-art section and earthenware from the Tang dynasty. The museum shop sells a wide selection of art and crafts.

Located at the junction of the Yangzi River and the Grand Canal, Yangzhou was known during the Sui and Tang dynasties as the economic and cultural center of southern China, home to scholars, painters, poets, literati, and merchants. It was also the playground of the rich and famous. The Qing Qianlong emperor visited six times. Today Yangzhou is a charming town with broad, tree-lined boulevards and a network of canals and lakes. Known for its handicrafts, cuisine, and landmarks, Yangzhou certainly has enough to keep you occupied for a couple of days, but it can also be a day trip from Nanjing.

Shou Xi Hu (Slender West Lake)

Located in the northwest part of town, Yangzhou’s premier attraction got its name during the Qing dynasty, when Hangzhou poet Wang Kang, on passing through the area, noted that it resembled a slender version of Hangzhou’s West Lake (Xi Hu). The most popular photo spot is the impressive Wu Ting Qiao (Five Pavilion Bridge), built in 1757 by a salt merchant who, in anticipation of the Qianlong emperor’s arrival, modeled the bridge after one in the imperial resort (Bishu Shanzhuang) in Chengde, Hebei. Many Qing dynasty salt merchants competed with each other to build gardens in order to impress the emperor. Bai Ta (White Dagoba), a white Tibetan-style stupa, was built by another ingratiating salt merchant more than 200 years ago.

Ge Yuan

This garden was built over 160 years ago as part of a salt merchant’s residence. It features a ponderous rockery section quite cleverly designed according to the four seasons. “Summer,” for example, features rocks designed to resemble clouds in the sky after a storm; magnolia trees provide welcome shade. There’s also a variety of exotic bamboo here, including purple, turtle, and yellow bamboo.

He Yuan

Smaller than Ge Yuan, this garden offers some peace and quiet. Located in the southeast part of town, it is more residence than garden but still has its share of rockeries, pavilions, and ponds. Trees, plants, and an elevated walkway are used rather ingeniously to make the garden appear much larger than it really is, a tactic employed in many classical southern Chinese gardens.

Han Mu Bowuguan (Han Dynasty Tomb Museum)

This fascinating Western Han tomb of the king of Guangling Kingdom, Liu Xu, the fifth son of the Han Wu Di emperor (140–86 B.C.), is worth visiting. Sixty years in the making, Liu Xu’s tomb is a grand five levels deep. The second airtight layer is made up of 840 nanmu (cedar) bricks linked to each other lengthwise by tiny hooks on the inside surfaces. These bricks could only be disassembled, and the wall breached, by locating the first brick. On the third level was the warehouse, while the living quarters occupied the fourth level; the fifth and bottom level contained a coffin on wheels. In the northwest part of the tomb, there is even a bathroom, making this the first Han tomb to contain such!

If you climb one mountain in China, let it be Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain). Located in southern Anhui Province, and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1990, Huang Shan, with its 72 peaks, is China’s most famous mountain for scenic beauty. Having no religious significance, the mountain is known instead for its sea of clouds, strangely shaped rocks, unusual pine trees, and bubbling hot springs— four features that have mesmerized and inspired countless painters and poets for over 1,500 years. Huang Shan is enshrouded in mist and fog 256 days a year, while snow covers the mountain peaks 158 days a year. Trails are usually packed with hikers from May to October, so April is often cited as the best time to visit.

There are two main trails up the mountain. The 7.5km-long Eastern Steps are compact and steep and are generally considered less strenuous than the 15km-long Western Steps, which are longer and steeper but which have some of Huang Shan’s most spectacular vistas. For the fit, it’s entirely possible to climb the mountain in the morning and descend in the afternoon in about 10 hours. But an overnight stay at the summit would allow a more leisurely appreciation of the sights and views along the way.

For those preferring the path of least resistance, there are three cable cars going up the mountain: the Eastern Trail’s Yungu Si cable car has a waiting line for the 6-minute ascent that can take up to 1 to 2 hours. The Western Trail’s Yuping cable car runs from Ciguang Ge (Mercy Light Temple) to Yuping Lou, which is just over halfway up the western slope; the third, with a length of 3,709m and less frequently used because it spits you west of the summit, is Taiping cable car (same times as above). When climbing the mountain, always carry layers of clothing: sweaters and raincoats as well as T-shirts. Hats and umbrellas are useful, too, as temperatures, even in summer, are subject to sudden changes due to the altitude and winds. You might also consider packing your own food and drink, as these become considerably more expensive the higher you climb.

Eastern steps At 7.5km long, these paved, cut-stone stairways are considerably easier to negotiate than the Western Steps, though this is definitely not a walk in the park. Western steps Most hikers begin their climb on the 15km Western Steps at Ciguang Ge, where you can burn incense and offer prayers for safe trails, not a bad idea considering that the serpentine Western Steps, hewn out of the sheer rock face, can be precipitously steep and narrow at places.

The real midpoint of the trail is Yuping Feng (Jade Screen Peak), with the Yuping Lou Binguan nestled like a jewel among the pointed vertical peaks. About 20 minutes by foot to the west is the upper terminus for the Yuping suodao (cable car). Before you reach Jade Screen Peak, however, a narrow path hewn between two large rocks named Yi Xian Tian (literally “A Thread of Sky” because only a sliver of sky is visible through this passage) leads to the distinctive Yingke Song (Welcoming Guests Pine), which extends a long tree branch as if in greeting.

South of Jade Screen Peak, an incredibly steep and stairway snakes its way to the magnificent Tiandu Feng, the third-highest peak at 1,810m. Young lovers often bring padlocks inscribed with their names to affix to the railings at the peak in proof and hope of being “locked” together in eternal love. The views from this “heavenly capital” are simply extraordinary.

Past the Jade Screen Hotel is Huang Shan’s highest summit, Lianhua Feng, so named because it resembles a lotus shoot among fronds. From here it’s another 20 to 30 minutes or so to the second-highest peak, Guangming Ding, where there’s a weather station and a hotel.

On the summit The highlight at the summit is the Beihai Sunrise, the only reason for overnighting on the summit. The Qingliang Tai (Refreshing Terrace), less than 10 minutes from the Beihai Binguan, is the best place to view the sunrise. Alternatively, the Paiyun Ting (Cloud Dispelling Pavilion) between the Feilai Shi and the Xihai Fandian is the place to catch the equally pretty sunsets. Another popular photo op is the Shixin Feng (Beginning to Believe Peak) between the Beihai Binguan and the Yungu cable car terminus.