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Chongqing, Gateway to China's Wild West
2005-08-17 11:35:46
With steep hills, raging rivers and spicy food, there's something for everyone in Chongqing.

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Chongqing has long been a gateway to China's Wild west.  With its steep hills, raging rivers and spicy food, you could say that there's something for everyone in Chongqing. 

Overlooking the confluence of the Yangtze and the Jialing Rivers, Chongqing is known throughout China as the "mountain city". Many of the city's hills are so precipitous that bicycles are scarce and motorcycles a far more common sight. Largely determined by its mountainous topography, Chongqing's  districts are spread over a series of hilltops and separated by major rivers. As your taxi or bus zips across the overpasses linking the areas, check out the precariously stacked apartment buildings clinging to the hillsides. It's possible for one of these buildings to have both the first floor and the fifth floor at ground level. 

Known for its spicy food and hot-tempered people, Chongqing, with its mountains and fog and bubbling hotpots has secured a place in the Chinese imagination.

While the entire Chongqing municipality contains over 30 million people and like Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, reports directly to the Central Government, and is no longer a part of Sichuan Province, the actual city itself has a population of only 5.8 million.

Due to its strategic location on the Yangtze River, for over 4,000 years, every dynasty has had a provincial capital there. This climaxed during the Second World War when Chongqing, was made the war-time capital of the Republic of China. Its population exploded, filling the city with refugees and government officials. During the war, the city endured severe air raids by the Japanese and what followed was an intense period of poverty.

Since then, it has rebounded with fervor. Chongqing became southwest China's key industrial center and a focal point for China's "Go West" program to bring investment to China's under-developed west.  Its rapid modernization can be felt most clearly around the Liberation Monument, Chongqing's commerical and entertainment center. The actual monument, originally made of wood and dedicated to Sun Yat-sen, was rebuilt in 1945 to celebrate the end of the war with Japan. The monument is within walking distance of most of Chongqing's major hotels and shops.

If you want a taste of old Chongqing, the best place to begin is Chaotian Gate, the only remaining city gate and Chongqing's chief wharf on the Jialing River. Traffic is intense with freight and passenger ships docking day and night.  From Chaotian Gate, there are great views of the green waters of the Jialing meeting the murky brown currents of the Yangtze. Within walking distance are the two cable cars crossing the Jialing and Yangtze and providing stunning views of Chongqing's surroundings.

Though Chongqing's modern historical sites are plentiful, ancient ones are sparse. A short walk from the main commercial center is the Arhat Temple. Occupying the same site for over a thousand years, the temple has since undergone reconstruction. Inside are some 500 sculptured arhats,  being that have reached Nirvana, and a large golden Buddha. If you want to know your future, in the temple there's a specific route to follow based on your date of birth to find an arhat whose life course yours will closely follow.

If the urban congestion has gotten you down, try a stroll through the People's Park. Featuring a palatial conference and concert hall modeled after the Temple of Heaven, the park is large enough for an afternoon stroll and its trees and gardens are a welcome change of pace from Chongqing's urban development.  

Ciqi Kou was Chongqing's old harbor and was once the home of many of Chongqing's rich merchants. Ming and Qing dynasty architecture abound throughout the town. Tea houses, dragon dances and temple fairs all makes this a great place to really soak up the atmosphere of old Chongqing.

More than a thousand years ago, Buddhist and Taoist sects fiercely competed for ascendancy and imperial endorsement. As power changed hands and religious orders came in and out of favor, the victors would create new monuments to their gods and destroy the old ones. One result was that significantly stronger materials were employed to build religious monuments, being hard to destroy, and the monuments got bigger.  The monumental Dazu art testified to this trend.

Discover more scenic spots in China at our new Destination Guide

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