Fengdu Ghost City
Our first stop along the Chiang Jiang (Yangzi) River Cruise was at the Gohst City of Fengdu. There is a lovely temple and a palace on the city. The ironic thing is that the city will be totally underwater once the Three Gorge Dam is complete.
The world's largest city?
Chongqing is perhaps the quintessential Chinese city, unadorned by any cultural or spiritual legacy - it is small-town China grown up.It is the unashamed commercial hub of western China, or so it portrays itself, although the high mountains to the south and east make it curiously isolated from the lower Yangtze plains and the Pearl River delta: it remains a hub unto itself.
Chongqing also presents itself as the world's largest city, by virtue of it being split off from Sichuan province in 1997 and called a municipality. However, the boundaries were drawn generously. It is bigger than Austria, and 70% of its 31 million inhabitants are rural. It is a big city, though, and is growing dramatically: in every direction, the slopes and ridges around the confluence of the Jialing and Chang Jiang are cloaked in grey concrete and steelwork.
Yet for all its efforts to grow, Chongqing may be destined to remain a provincial backwater. It has attracted relatively little international investment, ranking below provinces such as Henan and Hubei, and only just a little more than isolated Inner Mongolia. Its parochial and staid approach is creating a Chinese-funded city, and one which is less cosmopolitan than even quite small cities elsewhere in China. Despite this, Chongqing has more to see than meets the eye - or is described in the guidebooks. Much of bygone Chongqing still exists, cohabiting uneasily with the pencil-thin skyscrapers.
Much of Chongqing's peninsula was built up to serve the treaty port developed in the late 19th Century. At every turn around the steep slopes, you can find Victorian-era architecture and urban planning: huge moss-festooned stone walls, clusters of gingerbread buildings in a surreal Baroque style with ornate gables, squat urbane brick buildings, and monumental stone staircases sweeping up the slopes. While so definitely Chinese now, these little Western influences pop out at the visitor. Perhaps the most endearing cultural clash is the church of St Joseph's, tucked away, completely surrounded by a canyon of residential skyscrapers behind the junction of Minsheng Lu and Minsheng Jiang. Little passageways and steps lead down to the tranquil enclosure where the church sits untroubled by the secular world around it.
The commercial centre of Chongqing is marked by wide pedestrianised streets and new shopping malls. On three sides, the alleys and lanes descend towards the rivers, and in this bicycle-free city, many make a living hauling goods up and down the steep hills.
Right at the heart of the city, is the Monument to Liberation, a cute clock-tower. It is a simple monument, overlooked by the massive glass wall of the Chongqing Department Store and the glittering neon signboards; not so long ago, the monument towered above the surrounding buildings.
Chongqing has much to offer, although its well-known museum is shut indefinitely.
You can get to know the real 21st Century China well in China: it 's more representative of China than Shanghai or Beijing and is regarded as an achievable model for many provincial cities across the country.
THREE GORGES NOTE:
Next stop downstream is Fengdu (also known as Huinan in the GIS database)