I could not refuse the offer from M'ral to visit Chongqing. It was too tempting. M'ral, who has been in China for more than three years already, is fluent in Chinese. In her company, I would be able to access the mysteries of China in comfort. China is also mysterious to outsiders because of Hanyu, the Chinese language. Without her company, even though I would be traveling in China, I might not have understood what was happening in the immediate environment.
My first flight from Shanghai was to Chongqing. Around the time of landing, when I got up, there was a lot of commotion in the flight. I thought some drunk people were harassing the air hostesses. I felt bad about it but could do nothing. Gradually there were more people joining in the commotion. The conversation was getting heated. I failed to understand what was going on. I didn't want to be disturbed. The lady sitting adjacent to me asked me if I was aware of what was happening. I pleaded ignorance. The soft-spoken lady told me in her broken English that we were landing in Xian and not in Chongqing. I still didn't understand the consequences. But after some inquiring, I learnt, due to bad weather in Chongqing, we had landed in Xian, which was 800 kilometers away. That meant I would have to spend a night in Xian. However, it was very important for me to reach Chongqing that night. Our journey to the Three Gorges Dam was to begin at two in the afternoon from Chongqing. Staying a night in Xian meant I was likely to miss the schedule. This is exactly what happened. But M'ral again rescued us from the dire situation.
Chongqing had remained a temporary capital of China during the Japanese invasion. When it was difficult to run the government from Nanjing, Chongqing served as a comparatively safe capital. Chongqing, therefore, struck me as a place to visit in China. Chongqing is also an A graded city of China. It is not easy to say which other cities are A graded and which are not. Chengdu is like Shanghai, Beijing or Chongqing, if I have to compare cursorily the infrastructure and cleanliness. Chengdu was our last destination and we arrived there after making a trip to Three Gorges Dam.
M'ral and I were surprised to see the development in Chengdu. Contrary to what I had thought, Chengdu is a small city, in reality, it is like Shanghai. The only difference is people are more helpful and warm. Shanghainese are also warm and helpful but people from Chengdu leave an impression. And I want to talk about it. With towering buildings, ten-lane roads and clean environment, Chengdu makes one rethink about China's infrastructural development and its promise to a better standard of life for the people.
I can recall a peculiar incident of Chengdu. M'ral and I decided to have sumptuous dinner in the heart of the city. It was Xmas evening. We went to a restaurant and there were three to four people at our service. Everyone was trying to please us. We had decided to have a hotpot. Hotpot is when one boils one's own meal, meat and vegetables, on the table itself and eat it hot. So at the end of the delicious dinner when the 'painful' moment to pay the bill came we were offered fifty percent discount and the boss of the restaurant paid for our taxi too. M'ral had own fifty percent discount in a game played in the restaurant. This is Chengdu. People are warm and they spend out of their pockets for us. This has never happened to me in Shanghai despite the fact that people are friendly and warm there too.
Another thing that is striking in China is people are cultured. Three thousand and five hundred years of civilization definitely gets reflected in the people's manners. A lot has already been talked about the way Chinese eat and the delicacies they have but I also noticed that they are not interested in stealing or cheating and harassing people. Chinese are reserved people. The motto is don't interfere with them while you enjoy your freedom. The popular saying that your right finishes where mine starts suits in the Chinese context.
After M'ral rescued us from the Xian saga, we were on a bus ride to catch our cruise. We stopped by Changshou Guzhen, an ancient town. The buildings were new with old architecture. We had stopped there before lunch. We took a walk around the town. The cleanliness and the layout of the town was impressive. During our promenade, the food stalls were beginning to open up. We tasted one item and the other as it was time to eat.
Our voyage in the cruise started only in the night though we had reached there by the afternoon. Some of us were taken to sightseeing during those hours. We decided to take rest. Sometimes things shown in China by commercial tour guides do not match the expectations. The next morning after early breakfast we were taken for a boat ride deep inside the waters through gorges. The green water and the hills that contained them and a rather typical Chinese style boat made that morning eventful. After an hour or so we returned to cruise. I must confess that the cruise didn't match our expectations. We had paid ¥680 (approximately $100) per person for this cruise to the Three Gorges Dam. Breakfast, lunch and dinner served, but after being disappointed by the room, we didn't expect much on food. The food was served warm and wasn't much disappointing though. Probably we had made up our mind. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful time.
The Three Gorges Dam lives upto it's name and controversy. The flow of Yangtze is stopped and a lot of water is collected kilometers ahead of the site of dam. Quite a few cruises can be seen in the waters. This season isn't a rainy season, so the level of water is still not to the full.
At a cost of ¥1300 (approximately $188.5) excluding the air tickets, (air tickets cost me another ¥2100) a stopover of five days to wander in a part of China while returning home to Kathmandu was worth every moment, energy and yuan spent.