Not so long ago Anshun’s Sunday Market was one of the biggest, most vibrant and exotic in China. Kilometers of streets filled with farmers, traders, ethnic minorities, craftsmen and a gaggle of pockpockets. These days the market is a mere shadow of its former self and is restricted to a few delapidated streets.
These photos were taken in 2003 and show the hair seller at the market.
His bags are full of human hair that are sold in small bundles mostly to women who attach it to their own hair, either to cover thinning or to make it look longer. The bundles are sold by weight.
We will be re-posting our article about Anshun’s Sunday Market market very soon.
This an updated version of the article and photos of Shalu Monastery that we published on the old holachina.com web-site. Since 2009 Shalu Monastery has undergone massive restoration so it may be quite different from when we were there.
Shalu Monastery: August 2007
We visited the monastery of Shalu夏鲁寺 on the second day of our excursion, as a side trip on the way from Gyantse to Shigatse. Shalu was actually off limits to foreigners and we didn’t have it listed on our permit. Our excursion was a spur of the moment decision.
However, our Tibetan driver nonchantly said there would be no problem. And hey this was 2007! Travelling in Tibet hadn’t been so relaxed and open for decades.
The talk among travellers in China in 2007 was that very soon foreigners wouldn’t need permits to travel around Tibet anymore; such was the optimism due to the up and coming Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Little did people know that within a few months, all the good intentions the Chinese authorities had about opening up Tibet would be shattered by the riots in Lhasa and Tibet would be closed to foreigners for quite a while. Even now (2019), Tibet is still nowhere near as open as it was back then in 2007.
Getting to Shalu Monastery
About 20 kilometres before Shigatse, our van turned left off the main road and went onto a bumpy track full of potholes and puddles.
We passed sturdy farmhouses, some of them still under construction, and large fields full of grazing yaks. Wheat was being grown everywhere and the whole area looked quite prosperous.
The original Shalu Monastery was destroyed by an earthquake in 1329, but it was rebuilt by Buton in 1333 under the patronage of the Chinese Mongolian emperor of the Yuan dynasty.
Many Han Chinese artisans and Newari artists from Nepal participated in its reconstruction, giving it its distinctive architectural style, exemplified by the green-tiled arched roof and steep eaves of the central hall, the Shalu Lakhang.
Apart from the architecture and the many large statues of important religious figures, what mostly grabbed our attention were the incredible murals.
Like in Samye, the tall walls that go behind the main altar are covered from top to bottom by amazing paintings, dimly lit by an occasional light bulb.
Apart from the usual, slightly repetitive, Buddha figures, there are many exquisite and exotic scenes of a non-spiritual nature, such as caravans of distinctly Arabic-looking merchants leading camels, slim Indian-looking courtiers at play, or beautiful young ladies.
The murals in the side chapels, attributed to Nepali painters, mostly depict large elegant Buddhas in lotus position, demons and many-armed gods, surrounded by floral motifs. Given their shining state, they must have been retouched recently.
Not all the murals were so beneign. Gruesome scenes of animals and humans being flayed or disembowled also lined the walls.
During our exploration, friendly monks unlocked most of the smaller, side and upper storey chapels for us, allowing us to appreciate the treasures inside, such as ancient statues and thankas.
The sight of all these precious objects and paintings, clearly venerated by the monks, gave us a real sense of ancient history and tradition.
The monks lead us into the library which is normally kept firmly under lock and key. The collection of manuscripts and scrolls at Shalu is huge and very important for Tibetan Buddhism. Then, as we came out of the library we bumped into a young German who was staying at the monastery studying Buddhism and learning Tibetan. How on earth did he manage to get a permit to do that in Shalu?
Shalu village is completely traditional as well, it’s a warren of towering white-washed houses, protected by walls and intersected by narrow muddy lanes.
Interestingly, while we were exploring, the Shigatse – Shalu bus, an old battered vehicle, turned up, showing us that this is another excursion you could easily do on your own.
Getting there and Away
We had hired a Car and driver in Lhasa to go to Gyanste and Shigatse. Shalu Village lies somewhere between the two towns. As mentioned above, we saw local buses from Shigastse arrivng in Shalu. The only problem will be permits, and whether under stricter control the authorites will turn a blind eye to foreigners visiting Shalu.
The monks in Shalu told us that they had some guest rooms. However, we just visited on a day trip and stayed in Gyantse and Shigatse.
In Gyantse we stayed at the Jianzang hotel which lies on the main street of the modern part of town (Yingxiong Nanlu) and is certainly one of the nicest places we stayed at in the whole of Tibet, or even China. The hotel is embellished with bright, colourful murals and lovely potted plants and flowers, while rooms are large, clean and comfy. We paid 180 Yuan for a double with bathroom, though there were cheaper rooms and dorms as well. The hotel also has its own rooftop restaurant and staff are very friendly.
You will have no trouble finding several places to eat along the same main street. The Yak bar and restaurant, for which you have to go upstairs, is a pleasant, laid-back place with Tibetan sofas and low tables, specialising in western-style food such as chips, pizzas and burgers. We decided to give the guidebook-recommended Zhuang Yuan a miss after one look at their menu, outraged at the idea of paying nearly 30 Yuan for a portion of chips.
Instead, we walked into a large Chinese restaurant, a few doors away and identified by a green sign, where we had an excellent meal.
We stayed at the Shigatse Post Hotel, a new-ish place (2007) right opposite the posh Shigatse Hotel, down Shanghai Lu. Our double room was painted and furnished in Tibetan style, complete with thankas and white ceremonial scarves, all very bright and clean; good value for 180 Yuan.
Going down Shanghai Lu towards the centre we found plenty of food, though restaurants were mostly of the simple, snack food variety. A ten-minute walk from the hotel will take you to the night market.
Step back in time and visit this fascinating ancient village in Guizhou Province.
We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived at Tunbao village 屯堡 (sometimes known as Tunpu), next to the larger town of Tianlong天龙. We had heard that it was home to a special group of Han Chinese who still dressed in Ming clothes. They are descendants of part of the army sent to quell unrest in the region during the reign of the Hongwu emperor; the founder of the Ming Dynasty 1368–1398.
Although we had wondered whether it was going to be some themed, Disney-style village to amuse Chinese tourists, we were actually pleasantly surprised.
The first thing we discovered came as a total shock: the women in Ming dress were the same ones we had seen haggling at Anshun market, or working the fields in nearby villages. We had previously mistaken them for Buyi (Bouyi) 布依族; ( an ethnic minority who live in this area), but from our previous visit to Shitou Zhai we had learnt that they wear darker clothes, embroidered in the different way.
The ladies in Ming dynasty clothes were definitely authentic; there were not only old ladies, but many young girls too, who continued to sport these traditional garments. There seems to be an area of villages and towns around Anshun where this practice continues.
The Ming costume basically consists of long, calf- length blue tunics, black trousers, dark aprons and the embroidered cloth shoes that are common in this area of Guizhou. The tunics are usually bright blue, but can be turquoise, purple or pink as well.
The ladies wear their hair in a bun at the back of their head, with a small white cap around it, held in place by a long pin, and they usually wear long dangling earrings as well. As is often the case, the men don’t wear anything special.
Tunbao village isn’t undiscovered. There is a 25- Yuan ticket that includes a guide, which we declined. However, it is far from over-run and a very picturesque place, which offers a much better example of the local stone village architecture than the touristy and over-priced Shitou Zhai.
While souvenir shops line the main street, the sales pressure is low and the haggling good-natured. Local woodcarvings and Dixi opera masks seem to be the main products.
The stone houses are well preserved and still lived in, many have a multitude of traditional farming implements spread all over the courtyard, as an indication that farming is still one of the main occupations of the villagers.
Tunbao 屯堡 boasts a few real architectural gems: one of these is the ancient Three Religions Temple 三教寺 (Sanjiaosi) which combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. In the Temple courtyard there’s a delightful wooden pyramid, adorned with carved figurines and ceramic bowls with tea-oil lamps.
Old ladies in their traditional blue dresses sit around sewing shoes, some are real ones, while others are miniature versions, something that seems to be another speciality of the village.
The second gem of Tunbao is the 19th century church school, built by a French priest, an unusual oval stone building with adjacent wooden halls that house a Dixi museum.
Dixi is the local style of opera, in which actors wear colourful wooden masks and extravagant costumes. The museum has a whole collection of these masks, some of them huge and frightening creations.
On the stage in the courtyard, regular mini-performances are held, whenever there are enough people around. The performances are lively and the mock fights are excellent.
You may have to wait around a bit in the plant-filled courtyard (look out for the dragon-shaped mini-tree) for a few other tourists to turn up. The actors a quite happy for you to enter their dressing room, nose around and ask questions.
Buses leave regularly from Anshun’s 安顺 main bus station to Tianlong. It takes around 45 minutes, up to an hour, depending on the route they take.
were a number of restaurants serving local dishes and a few small inns
Practicalities Anshun 安顺
can be tight in Anshun, especially at weekends, holidays and in summer. You may
have to search around a bit before finding a bed, most of the hotels that feature
in the popular guidebooks seem to be eternally full.
In 2003, we stayed at the pleasant Huayou Binguan on Tashan Xilu (tel. 322 6020), where comfortable airy rooms went for around 150 Yuan and staff were very friendly. Unfortunately, it was completely full on our last visit.
In 2007 we really had a hard time finding a room. Eventually we were pointed to the huge Fu Yun Hotel, right next to the bus station on Guihuang Gonglu lu. Light, airy rooms, arranged around an atrium, were 210 Yuan, a modest breakfast included. Staff were extremely friendly.
Other cheap options that may have vacancies are the Ruo Fei Binguan on Nanhua Lu, and the Anju Binguan next to the train station.
The best food in Anshun is definitely to be had at the night market. At seven o’clock on the dot, stall holders start appearing from nowhere, pushing their carts, and within minutes the entire length of Gufu Jie and its surrounding streets become crammed with stalls and tents, selling all kinds of snacks and more elaborate dishes. Cauldrons bubble and grilles crackle and practically the whole of Anshun seems to turn up for the feast.
Huo guo is extremely popular and the Anshun variety is one of the hottest we’ve ever tasted!
Another popular dish is grilled fish: you take your pick from an aquarium and watch while your choice is plucked out, bashed several times on the floor, gutted and placed in a metal griddle on top of a barbecue. You pay according to the weight and type of fish (around 60–70 Yuan for two). The whole, grilled fish is served on a hot plate, covered by spicy vegetables and aromatic herbs. Washed down with a mini, portable barrel of draught beer it makes for a very tasty meal.
One more dish that seems all the rage is barbecued mixed meats, mostly innards and offal, which you cook yourself on a round hot-plate, teriyaki style.
For vegetarians there is a real treat, something that seems unique to Anshun: at the top end of Gufu Jie there are two tents that specialise in vegetable pancakes. For 4 Yuan you get ten small pancakes that you can stuff with any of the vegetable fillings, meticulously prepared and attractively laid out on plates. Sauces and chilli are provided for dipping.
Xinjiang lamb kebabs and a host of other snacks make up the rest of the market.
Fruit shakes and shaved ice with various toppings, called baobing,
provide the desserts.
Quanzhou: A fascinating Chinese City with a long history.
Quanzhou 泉州/Zaitun: the City of Light! Or not!
The City of Quanzhou is a must for any History buff, such as myself. It was made famous by Marco Polo, who described ‘Zaitun’, the name by which Quanzhou was known then, as ‘… one of the two ports in the world with the biggest flow of merchandise…’.
Whether fiction or reality, Jacob’s diary makes for an interesting companion on a visit to Quanzhou. One of the most fascinating parts of the book is Jacob’s account of the many different foreigners living and trading in the city, in the years preceding Marco Polo.
He refers to Franks (Western Christians), Saracens (Muslims) and Jews, among others, all living in the city in their own communities, according to their religion. Who were they? How did they get there? What were their impressions of China, and finally, what traces did they leave?
A visit to the maritime museum and new Islamiccentre provides ample evidence of the early presence of foreigners in Quanzhou, such as tombstones and carvings from the different religious groups.
Besides the many Arab gravestones, there are Christian, and even Hindu, memorials as well. The Museum also houses a fascinating collection of miniature models of all types of Chinese sailing vessels, eloquent witnesses to the advanced stage of Chinese shipbuilding, in comparison with Europe.
Finally, the Qingjing Mosque, established as early as 1009, is further standing proof of the long historical ties that linked Arab traders to the legendary port of Quanzhou.
For the modern- day visitor, Quanzhou is at first sight just another bustling modern Chinese City. However, unlike most of its Southern counterparts, Quanzhou still retains many of its traditional streets and examples of Fukianese architecture.
The square in front of the Confucian temple Fuwen Miao, in particular, has some beautiful low, red-brick houses, with the characteristically sweeping roofs that end in a kind of projecting forks.
The vicinity of the beautiful Temple of Kaiyuan Si is another, recommended area for walking and exploring. Here, the traditional Fukianese courtyard houses rub shoulders with colonial-style buildings, housing all kinds of traditional shops, selling anything from candles and incense, to embroidered shoes and dried food.
Moreover, the temple itself is well worth a visit. It was built in the Tang dynasty and reached its peak of importance during the Song dynasty.
The temple grounds are huge and shaded by venerable, ancient trees under which the locals gather to play cards, or practise tai chi.
They are home to numerous halls, some of which double as museums, and two outstanding, five-storey pagodas. Many of the halls, as well as the pagodas, have wonderful carvings. Besides its architectural and religious charms, the Kaiyuan Si also harbours the hull of a Song dynasty sea-sailing junk, which was excavated near Quanzhou in 1974.
On a practical note, Quanzhou is not an expensive city to visit. Good hotels can be found in the centre, along or just off Wenling Lu, for around 150 yuan, for a standard double with breakfast.
We stayed at the City Holiday Hotel, a typical three-star business hotel for 164 yuan for a standard double (Tel. 0595 – 22989999). It was pretty good value with spotless rooms, friendly service and a reasonable breakfast.
Apart from the prices, what makes Meishijie such a great place to eat is that there are restaurants specialising in all the regional styles of Chinese food, but with the added benefit of using some of the freshest fish and seafood you will find in China.
We discovered an amazing restaurant in the middle of the city in a traditional building serving wonderful seafood but we can remember the name or address. Sorry!
Finally, Quanzhou makes a good base for further exploration of the area, such as excursions to Chongwu 崇武镇 , or Anping Bridge 安平桥 . You can also visit nearby Xunpu Village (Oyster Village). Oyster shells are used in the construction of some of the houses.
Zhangbi cun 张壁村 is a tiny, beautiful, bucolic village in rural Shanxi Province. The village is famous for its underground castle, Zhangbi Gubao张壁古堡, a labyrinth of tunnels dating back to the Tang Dynasty (more than 1400 years).
Here are a few of the photos we took. There will be more on Zhangbi Village and its underground castle in the coming weeks.
Zhangbi Village can be easily visited on a day trip from the ancient walled city of Pingyao 平遥.
The best way to get to Zhangbi Village is to hire a car and driver. You can also take in the Wang family courtyard王家大院 on the same excursion. It all makes for a great day out from Pingyao. We paid 400 yuan and which also included stopping at Shuanglin Temple 双林寺 8 kilometers outside Pingyao。
Pingliang has become a large prosperous town in the last decade and has expanded enormously. Along with that expansion there are more hotel and eating options than what we have listed here. Kongtong Shan has become a huge domestic tourist spot and has undergone a lot of renovations. Many of the old temples have been rebuilt and some of the authenic atmosphere of a taoist hideaway has disppeared forever. That said it is still a beautiful place. Transport to and from Pingliang has also improved. Especially the bus connections to other major cities such as Lanzhou, Tianshui and Xian. You also don’t need to purchase the Gansu Travel Insurance anymore (Click here.)
Once you get there, Pingliang is a small town which makes an excellent base for a visit to the Taoist Mountain of Kongtong Shan, one of the most sacred in China, which is a mere 15 kms away.
The best approach is to take a taxi to the reservoir (around 20 Yuan); a steep flight of steps will take you up to a road, skirting the reservoir, and on to the first temple. This is a beautiful ancient Taoist structure, guarded by venerable old priests, some of them with the pointy goatee and bun, characteristic of many followers of Tao.
We have wanted to visit Fanjingshan, the sacred mountain in Guizhou province on the border with Hunan province, for many years. Unfortunately, we never had the time when we were in Guizhou. Last summer one of my students, Maria Vioque and her partner, visited and climbed Fanjingshan and here is their review and photos.
Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve梵净山
Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. According to the Chinese Tourism rating system for places of interest in China, this sacred mountain for Chinese Buddhism has an AAAAA rating (the highest score).
Just climbing up the infinite steps and walking through the lush green forest was an experience in itself, but better to get some tips in advance if you want to enjoy this unforgettable spiritual experience properly.
Starting the Ascent
On arrival, it is necessary to buy two tickets to get into the Fanjingshan Nature Reserve; one to enter the park and another one for the shuttle bus (approx 100 CNY both) to the entrance.
It’s easy to feel dizzy and a little carsick on the shuttle bus as it wizzes up the narrow zigzagging road with hairpin bends, but the amazing landscape and the delightful river flowing by the side of the road make the discomfort all worthwhile. Continue reading “Fanjingshan Guizhou Province:梵净山”
If you would like to see one of China’s greatest Buddhist sites without the hordes, then turn up at the Longmen caves – 13 kilometers south of Luoyang – in the late afternoon and you’ll have them almost to yourself.
Arriving at around 16.30 is a a good option. This will give you about 2 hours to explore the site before you are chased out by guards anxious to go home.
Take bus number 81 from the train station, or a taxi if you are in a hurry.
Accommodation: We can’t really recommend anywhere to stay in Luoyang. We spent one night at a 7 Day Inn opposite the train station. The place was cheap, but also a bit of agrimy dump. In 2002, when we first visited Luoyang, there seemed to be far better accommodation options. You are probably better off staying in the city centre.
Eating:There are a few decent places to eat around the train station, or you could try the heavily restored old town for traditional snacks.
Arriving: We arrived in Luoyang from Jincheng 晋城市(Shanxi Province). There is some dramatic scenery on the way as you drop down from the Shanxi plateau to the Yellow river plain.
Leaving: We took the high speed train to Xian 西安. Next day tickets were easy to get hold of even in August. However, the high speed train station is quite a long distance from the city center and the old railway station. You’ll need to take a bus or a taxi and allow yourself plenty of time.