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     Volume 6 Issue 9 | March 9, 2007 |

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The Splendour of China

Dr. Shamim Ahmed
Guangzhou, a thriving metropolis.
We alighted at Guangzhou International Airport from aboard China Eastern Airlines close to midnight. Our sojourn during the next week would take us to South China.

Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) -- the South Gate of China is the Capital city of Guangdong Province. Guangdong Province is situated in the southern part of China mainland. A thriving metropolis, Guangzhou is the centre of political, socio-economic, educational and cultural life. It boasts the largest population of overseas Chinese. The third largest river of China, Zhujiang (The Pearl River) flows through the heart of Guangzhou and is navigable to the South China Sea. The Pearl River Delta is one of China's most densely cultivated areas. With the opening of China to the outside world, Guangzhou is one of the first 'open'cities in China. An ancient city with a history of 2800 years, it is named 'the Spring City' because the city is always green and blooming with fresh flowers all year round.

China has one of the fastest economies. Much to our surprise this was a totally different China than what we had expected. Elegant skyscrapers, trendy shopping malls, wide boulevards and islands decorated with a riot of flowers, ornamental trees and modern sculptures, broad avenues and spectacular flyovers with modern fleet of public transport and flashy cars -- in one word, captivating. The city roads were meticulously clean. Modern restaurants and food outlets -- including McDonalds and KFC were dotted everywhere.

Guangdong is famous for its gastronomy and for each meal we gobbled various kinds of Cantonese cuisine, much to our delight. Traditional Chinese green tea was always served as an appetiser.

Splendid China -- a miniature park that reflects the glories of ancient China.

The night life is lively with the shopping areas of Shangxiajui Road, Beijing Road, Friendship Road and various other bustling markets littered with several modern food outlets which remain open till the wee hours.

Language is a serious problem though. English is very little understood. However, we managed to communicate using sign language. The people were very friendly and caring and many extended a friendly hand.

On the first day, we visited the Guangzhou Ocean world and the Guangzhou Zoo. Guangzhou Ocean world is a maritime amusement park. There are 10,000 marine creatures of over 200 species living in a huge aquarium. Many can be viewed by walking through an underwater tunnel. The Guangzhou Zoo, spread over 43 hectares, boasts over 450 species on display. We took a of minibus for a tour through the zoo and were fortunate to have a glimpse of the Panda-China's national symbol.

The following morning, we headed by train for Shenzhen -- one of China's five special economic zones -- just north of Hong Kong. Shenzhen is a Mecca of foreign investments and since the late 70's has been one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It is the busiest port in China and the largest manufacturing base in the world. China is a vast country comprising 56 nationalities. Shenzhen is one such spot where one can be acquainted with the rich and diversified folk cultures of China. Another half an hour by Metro brought us to Splendid China and China Folk Cultural Village. Splendid China, situated by the picturesque Shenzhen Bay, is a tourist area. It is the richest, most lively and comprehensive miniature park, which reflects the history, culture, art, ancient architecture as well as the customs and habits of various nationalities in China. Splendid China is one of the world's largest scenery parks in the amount of scenarios reproduced. Spread over 450 acres, it is a world of flowers and greenery and provides a window for a glimpse of China's history and culture and tourist resources.

Walking through the China Folk Culture Village was thrilling. It is a large tourist centre where folk arts, culture and architecture of China's various nationalities assembled in one area - the first of its kind in China. There are spectacular about 500 acre houses 24 villages of 22 minority nationalities. In addition to appreciating the distinctive architecture of different nationalities, we enjoyed carnivals of national arts, cultural dances and performances. The village introduces the colourful rich culture and social customs of China's 56 nationalities and is reputed as China Folk Custom Museum. The traditional handicrafts and souvenirs are additional attractions.

The following day, we visited The Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King - With more than 2000 years of history, it is one of the most famous museums in the world. It is the largest King's tomb ever found in Southern China. Across the road, nestled on the Yuexiu Mount is the Zhenhai Tower, and now lodges The Guangzhou Museum. The Museum boasts a huge collection of archaeological relics, the biggest one being the Zhenhai Tower itself, which dates back to the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century. Atop the Mount (Yuexiu Park) is the Five Rams Stone Statue-the symbol of Guangzhou.

The next day, we visited The Ancestral Temple of Chen Clan It is the largest, best preserved, best decorated ancient architecture dating back to the 18th century. It houses a rich collection of paintings, pottery, embroidery, wood work, glass work, silk and ivory work. It was a treat to watch many artisans busy in their world of creativity. We then hopped to Baiyun Shan (The White Cloud Mountain) by cable-the picturesque forested mountain resort -- named after the fact that white clouds always pervade its peak. A Sichuan lunch, served hot and crispy at the summit was next. At the foot of the Baiyun Shan, is the mesmerising Yuntai Garden which features a wide variety of rare flowers, shrubs and trees.

From Guangzhou, we travelled by a domestic flight to Kunming -- the capital of China's southwest Yunnan province. A tourist city, Kunming is renowned for its perennially pleasant weather, intriguing highland and scenic landscapes. Situated at an altitude of 8000 ft, producing what is described as year round springtime, it is otherwise known as the 'City of Eternal Spring'. Unfurling the curtains of our hotel rooms, I was surprised and equally delighted to spot green domed elegant mosques on all corners. It may be added that the Muslims comprise 20% of the population of the Yunnan Province. We offered Magrib prayer at the beautifully maintained mosques led by the Chinese Imam. A number of Halal restaurants, served by white-capped Muslim girls are found amidst towering corporate offices and glamorous shopping arcades.

A golf resort in Spring City.

Kunming boasts a number of picturesque lakes in the city. The enchanting Dianchi Lake (also known as Kunming Lake) with neighbouring Daguan Park is a gem in the heart of the city. The nearby Green Lake Park, the largest is equally stunning with rich collections of flowers and shrubs. The lakes are filled with lotus of all shades and swans of brilliant hues swim in the tranquil waters.

On the final day of our excursion, we boarded a luxury bus to the famous Stone Forest (Shilin), known since the Ming Dynasty as the 'First Wonder of the World'. The natural landscape along the two hour drive from Kunming was simply mesmerising. The 'Stone Forest' covering an area of 400 square kilometres includes both large and small stone forests, as well as many other scenic spots. On a minibus ride through the Stone Forest, we marveled at the natural stone masterpieces and were bewitched by the intricate formations. The magnificent, strange and steep landscape with countless labyrinthine vistas was simply awesome. Finally, I must confess that after a gruelling safari, it was a truly wonderful experience visiting great China. Most definitely a dream come true.

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