Every year around October, its always the same question on my mind, “Where do I go for the Christmas break?” After a two hour call with my friend,Chand,we had made up our mind. We were going to CHINA!!Soon we started chalking out our plans which especially involved great research on the availability of vegetarian food. By mid November we had the entire itinerary planned out and were well into flight bookings. We had even started the annoying work of applying for a tourist visa which is a big downside to having an Indian passport! Initial hiccups with the visa and normal travel jitters aside, we finally arrived in Beijing on the 13th of December to an amazing airport with cool body temperature sensors! The Chinese do take their health seriously, but to be deported from a country for having a wee bit elevated body temperature is one of the worst nightmares that even the drama queen in me had! Boy! Was I glad when there were no sirens and alarms as I walked through the sensors and no one had asked me to stop! I quietly looked back at an official who was by now wondering why I had stopped to stare at him. I quickly looked ahead, picked my bags up and was on my way.
The city of Beijing was huge, which meant the European in me, who liked exploring a place by walking around, felt like a fish out of water! Winter in China is extremely cold! This necessitated wrapping yourself in layers and thick boots because there was snow everywhere! Our first stop was Tianánmen Square. Standing in this old square one could easily see that it was the power center, every big government building was in the area, the roads were clean and massive and even the zebra crossing alone looked like a 3 lane road!. The sky was gloomy but the presence of so many police/military officials gave it a regal aura. The day was quite packed with us visiting the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and The Museum of Architecture.
Over the next couple of days, we even stumbled upon a replica of the Central Perk Coffee house ( F.R.I.E.N.D.S) that reminded us of the hours wasted watching reruns of our favorite show.
A trip to China without stopping at the Great Wall is a trip simply wasted. Extending from Shanhaiguan to Jiayuguan, The Great Wall was simply huge!! This could be viewed from different places with the most popular one being Badaling. The view in itself was astounding; with its snow covered walls the sight was truly mesmerizing. The climb on the other hand was scary as the steps were slippery with wet snow. The snow could be cleared only to an extent which meant the signs, ‘Climb at your own risk’ were obvious. The rest of the day we visited a pearl factory, where I learnt that one oyster can contain upto 40 pearls (fun fact), and the Beijing Olympic stadium.
In the night we headed downtown to party with my brother’s Chinese friend, Feifei and her colleagues. Karaoke is big in China and unlike in Europe, here we could reserve a Karaoke room where we sang all night and headed back home croaky voiced after breakfast at 4 am in the morning.
The following day we headed to Xian – the home to the Terracotta Warriors ,The Bell and Drum Towers and the Ming City walls. We stayed at the Hantang house in Xian, where we met up with fellow backpackers. It was here that I met Mona, a crazy free spirited Brit with whom we spontaneously decided to travel to Louyang to visit the Shaolin temple and the Longmen Grottoes.
After a crazy all-nighter that consisted of non feasible plans to start a hostel in Middle Earth aka New Zealand, we almost missed our train to Louyang the next day! We soon realized that our plan was not rock solid as we got off at the wrong stop. After a few minutes of being a deer in front of the headlights, we stumbled across someone who spoke English. He informed us that the city center was 13 kms away and looking around, we realized that our only option was a 3 hour walk. After checking into a somewhat decent hotel, we walked another 13kms from the town to see a very disappointing temple. To make up for this, we went to a place where monks practiced Shaolin martial arts. We managed to catch a show they performed in the afternoon that left us mind blown.
Post this, fortunately, we missed the last bus back to Dengfeng thus leading us to a monastery in Song Shan where a Buddhist retreat was about to commence. It involved a week long stay with no communication with the outside world nor talking/making eye contact with the others; in short it was INSANE and so we decided to go for it. Going into the details of this experience would be a blog entry for later, but I could safely confess that though it was one of the craziest experience of my life, I simply learnt nothing from it except for the fact that after a week of being quiet, I have a better sense of hearing!
My trip continued from here to Guilin where I caught up with the rest of my friends at the Ming Palace hostel. Guilin impressed me much, the river cruise and the views of the Yangshuo Mountains just took my breath away. We also did a 20km hike to the mountain village of Xitaouchen which I would recommend to all the backpackers.
The final leg of Mainland China was the commercial capital Shanghai. I realized Shanghai is just a beautiful place to visit during Christmas as there were sales everywhere! We shopped, got massages, visited Remin Square and the Old City, all in our 3 day halt at Shanghai.
A month in China finished even before we realized and it was time to fly back to Germany. In retrospect, I had a wonderful trip owing to the extremely helpful people and the large food portions they served. Even with an entire month I had planned, I could barely touch the east side which definitely left me with a sense of incompleteness. I met a lot of fellow travelers who shares the same passion of wanderlust, some of whom I am still in touch with. My Christmas in China left me longing for more and I came back refreshed to plan my next journey.
Photos and posts by Nandhini