何明禮《重慶府》“Chongqing Prefecture” by He Mingli

城郭生成造化

如麻舟楫兩崖

江流自古書巴字,

山色今朝畫巨

煙火參差家百萬,

波濤下上浪三

鑼巖月峽誰傳出,

要使前賢畏後[1]

The city takes shape as carved by nature,

A tangle of boats and oars along both steep banks.

The river flow inscribes the character ba down through the ages;[2]

The mountain scenery paints Juran until this day.[3]

Smoke and fire dot millions of households;

Surf and billows roll three thousand waves.

Some spread word from the Gong Cliffs and the Moon Gorge:[4]

Past worthies would stand in awe of rising worthies.


* From Xiang Chu 向楚 ed. Baxian zhi 巴縣志; see Yuzhou Lidai Shiwen Xuan bianweihui 渝州歷代詩文選編委會 ed., Yuzhou lidai shiwen xuan 渝州歷代詩文選 (Chongqing: Chongqing chubanshe, 2015), 43.


[1] Red characters rhyme. Little is known about the poet He Mingli 何明禮 (fl. 18th century) except that he was a native of Sichuan who resided in Chongqing. [2] The winding Yangtze River to the east of the Wu Gorge resembles the ancient script form of ba 巴, so that gorge is traditionally called Baxia 巴峽 (Ba Gorge). [3] Juran 巨然 (fl. tenth century) was an artist-monk known for his landscape painting. [4] Gong refers to Tongluoxia 銅鑼峽 (“Bronze Gong Gorge”) that constitutes the Ba Gorge together with the Shidongxia 石洞峽 (“Stone Cave Gorge) and the Mingyuexia 明月峽 (Bright Moon Gorge).

 

My next stop after Jiuzhaigou 九寨溝 was Chongqing, one of the “Three Furnaces” along the Yangtze River (the other two being Wuhan and Nanjing). Before my trip, a friend from Chongqing said she admired my courage in travelling there in the summer. However, I was totally disappointed by the weather in Chongqing, which was not more unbearable than that in Liuzhou. It was more humid, but not really more uncomfortable.


Constructed on an expanse of jagged land, the city has slopes and steps everywhere, so strolling around here was a bit more physical than elsewhere. In the hope of viewing the Yangtze River against the city skyline, I decided to try the famous “bus in the air”, Yangtze River Ropeway. A one-way ticket only costs 20 RMB, and they have a nice tagline: 從此岸到彼岸,重慶“飛”去不可 (From this side to the other side of the river, Chongqing is a must-fly place). The queue was crazily long, but they have a good queuing system that allows you to explore the city while waiting for your turn. A text message will be sent to your phone when it’s about the time to walk to the entrance of the ropeway, so you won’t need to waste two hours in the line.


(Steps leading to the oldest apartment buildings with views of the river but without a lift...)


Despite all these pros, I’m afraid I must recommend against trying this ropeway unless you have the privilege of having an entire coach to yourself or just with your camera crew, like how the ropeway has been shot in many films. The reality for a common tourist like myself is that it’s just a crowd suffocating in a hot bus above the river...


Although we find no “boats and oars” along the river nowadays, cruising remains one of the most popular ways of sightseeing. I didn’t try cruising along the river but enjoyed the night view by walking along the Qiansimen Bridge 千廝門大橋 instead. A variety of dynamic light shows offered a modern interpretation of “smoke and fire dot millions of households”.


There were guards at the end of the bridge to make sure that the pavement is a one-way path, so everyone needs to get onto the bridge from the same entry and walk the bridge’s 720-metre length... and then back to exit at the same end. After fully appreciating the night view (another highlight of Chongqing as a tourist destination) on the eastern side of the bridge, I was finally rewarded with the view of the famous Hongyadong 洪崖洞, an attraction that is reminiscent of the bathhouse in the 2001 animation film Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi 千と千尋の神隠し (Spirited Away).



My urban exploration was followed by an exciting day trip to the outskirts of the municipality, which brought me to the natural wonders of the Tiankeng 天坑 (literally “heaven[-made] pit”) and Difeng 地縫 (“earth’s rift”) in the Wulong 武隆 District. Here one can look down to the depth of 280 metres into a sinkhole from the viewing platform with a glass floor. Unfortunately, after over six years’ service, the glass is covered with small scratches and has become a bit opaque, which significantly reduces the thrilling effect.


At the old site of Tianfu Yizhan 天福驛站 (Heaven Blessing Courier Station) that can be traced back to 619, a nice courtyard house has been reconstructed based on ancient courier station models for the 2006 film Mancheng jindai huangjinjia 滿城盡帶黃金甲 (Curse of the Golden Flower). The house is now a renowned attraction along with the sinkholes and three natural bridges nearby.



But for me, Difeng is even more breath-taking. Although I’m used to Karst landscape in Guangxi, here we find it with much broader features. The main scenic spot has a fitting name: Jiaolong hanku 蛟龍寒窟 (Frigid Grotto of a Dragon). Looking around on the viewing platform between cliffs, I got a bit worried that the noises of visitors might wake up the dragon hidden in the darkness below my feet.



Whatever I tried, the magnificence of this place was seriously flattened and reduced in 2D images or videos. It’s a shame, but this also constitutes the meaning of travelling, for the experience of nature’s most incredible work must be earned by an arduous journey...

 

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