Introducing China – The Epic Adventure
by Mark Heng
Home to the world's largest population and curator of the world’s oldest continuous civilisation, China is a vast land that is home to a culturally idiosyncratic people, which makes for a delightful destination where travellers come to explore the amazing natural environment and delve into the engaging culture of a rising nation. China is a colossus land that takes visitors on an epic journey from the wide open panoramas in the west, through breathtaking scenery and historical sites in the heart of the country, to the bustling, modern cities on the eastern coast.
China's two biggest cities are the gateway to the rest of the huge nation, and have made headlines for hosting recent international events. Shanghai is China's largest and most developed city, host of the 2010 World Expo, and the most dynamic city in the world's fastest changing nation.Where East meets West, the Huangpu River divides Shanghai into the older city centre of Puxi on the west bank, which houses the colonial riverfront of the Bund and tree-lined neighbourhoods, and the modern sky-rise developments of Pudong on the east side. The capital of Beijing is the cultural centre and seat of government of the country, and is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions centred around Tiananmen Square. Aspiring and confident, especially after hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing is an orderly and symmetrical citadel that retains an awe-inspiring imperial grandeur in its palaces and temples. Guangzhou, known as Canton in the era of tea-clippers, is the mainland's third largest city and the first city most travellers to mainland China visit, an energetic and colourful tribute to consumerism.
China's most iconic landmark is undoubtedly the ancient Great Wall of China, a series of stone and earthen fortifications originally built to protect the Chinese Empire against intrusions by nomadic groups. More than 8000 kilometres long, the Great Wall can be visited at many points. Another monumental landmark is the Grand Canal, the longest artificial river in the world, which runs from Beijing through Nanjing, a renowned city of culture with many historic sites, and Suzhou, an ancient city famous for canals and gardens known as the “Venice of the East", to Hangzhou, a famously beautiful city. The historic Silk Road begins at Xi'an, China's oldest city and ancient capital, home to ten dynasties and the well-known terracotta warriors, and runs through Turpan, known as an oasis city in the harsh climate and for its grapes and unique Uighur culture.
The rich and scenic natural environment of China offers a beautifully stark contrast to its cities. The Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve is known as the habitat of giant pandas and for its many multi-level waterfalls and colourful lakes. Guilin is popular with tourists for the sensational mountainous karst, lake, and river scenery surrounding the city. Laid-back and casual Kunming, the “City of Eternal Spring”, is a scenic gateway to beautiful gardens and a rainbow of ethnic minority areas. Hainan is a hilly island with beaches that is being promoted as China's Hawaii.
China is steep in religion and spirituality, even as the country's masses soar towards modern consumerism. Hence, there are sacred sites around the country that are important destination for pilgrims from around the world. The mountain-side caves of the Yungang Grottoes are filled with 51,000 Buddhist carvings statues, as well as scenes depicting Buddhist teachings and famous monks. China's Sacred Mountains are divided into the Taoist Five Great Mountains and the Buddhist Four Sacred Mountains. Taoist Mount Tai is the most climbed mountain in China, associated with sunrise, birth, and renewal, while Buddhist Mount Emei is associated with “Great Virtue”, containing more than one hundred temples and monasteries. The monasteries and unique culture of Tibet makes it feel like an entirely different world. The world's tallest mountain, Mount Everest, can also be visited from here.