There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Imperial Retreat

By Bidisha Bagchi
St Joseph, Michigan, USA
Bidisha Bagchi

SHAANXI has been at the forefront of Chinese history since time immemorial, as has the River Wei, a tributary of the Huang Ho, better known as the Yellow River. The river meanders through fertile central Shaanxi paralleling the biggest mountain range in the province, the Qingling Mountains.

Li Shan or Mount Li is on the northern side of the Qingling Mountains, near Lintong Town in Xi'an City. At almost 1300 m above sea level, its highest peak is Jiulongding or Black Horse Mountain, so named because it resembles a galloping horse and looks quite dramatic from a distance. The mountain was a retreat during the Tang Dynasty when Emperors enjoyed the hot springs at its foothills and the surrounding landscape views.

One morning, we set off for Mount Li, admiring from a distance the pine and cypress trees that looked as if they were closely hugging each other on the slopes. We alighted at the street from where a narrow yet gentle slope led us to the base of the cable car.

The journey on the ropeway was 10 minutes as the gondolas glided over the Huaqing hot springs and later over the lush green forests and hiking trails. The car stopped at a beautiful terrace, done in typical Tang Dynasty architecture. The panorama from the terrace, with the mountain as its centre point, was fascinating. Admiring nature’s casual stroke of the paint brush, we decided to go further.

At one end of the terrace, a narrow path led up to the mountain and on the way to the top were the Banhu Stone and the Forced Remonstration Pavilion, constructed to commemorate the Xi'an Incident. There, a large part of a rock is engraved with figures and writings describing the event that happened in 1936 when the nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek was captured by one of his own generals in order to force him to postpone the war on the Chinese until the invading Japanese had been driven out of the country.

On our way back we once again halted at the Huaqing Hot Springs. Since this was our second visit to this place, this time we decided to concentrate on everything else other than the hot springs. Here, we even got a glimpse of the room where the Generalissimo was actually captured. It was a very nicely set up room. Interestingly, photography isn’t allowed inside the premises but picture postcards are openly sold outside. So we did our bit of shopping to remember the incident.

Apart from the usual ‘hot springs’ of various shapes and sizes used by the royals as well as subordinates, the premises has a few lovely structures and statues too. Notable among all is the statue of Yang-Guifei, one of the four most beautiful women of ancient China and the concubine of Emperor Xuanzhong. The beautifully carved white marble statue is placed by a pool and is the top photo stop for all visitors.

Huan Garden within the premises was the former garden of the Huaqing Palace and the Flying Glow Hall, popularly called the Feixia Ge, was another artistic structure to look out for. In popular legend, the Flying Glow Hall was once the place from where Yang Guifei would enjoy the view and dry her long wet hair… What a luxury, given the modern alternative is a noisy if electric speedy hairdryer!

The most artistic display in the Huan Garden was undoubtedly a long white marble mural describing a royal feast in which the concubine Yang was sent for by the Emperor. The figures are intricately carved and painted and the elaborate spread shown in the carving spoke eloquently of the royal repasts of that time.

On our way back to the city, we halted at the Shaanxi History Museum, one of the best in China. It is divided into three distinct sections and built in the classical Tang style. Thousands of objects are displayed chronologically, many of which have never been put on display earlier.

The ground floor displays artifacts relating to China’s pre historic as well as early dynastic days. Impressive displays include objects from Shang, Western Zhou and Qin dynasties ranging from bronze artifacts, burial objects and even four of the original Terracotta Warrior statues brought in from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. Items and relics from Han, Western Wei and Northern Zhou dynasties adorn the second section while the third section is full of intricately crafted statues, pale green glazed misi pottery and fascinating murals from the Tang dynasty.

First published in ET Travel, Economic Times (New Delhi)

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