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Chongqing offers more than visitors can take

Huang Zhiling

THE mentioning of Chongqing reminds the Chinese of their country's youngest and largest municipality.

With the approval of China's legislature, the National People's Congress, Chongqing, with a population of 30 million, became China's fourth municipality directly under the central government in March 1997.

It also reminds them of China's war-time capital and the seat of the Allied Forces' Far East Theatre Command during World War II. At that time, it was both China's political, economic and cultural centre and a nerve centre for the anti-fascist allies.

In addition to its historical and important position today, Chongqing has a beauty of its own. Located at the juncture of the Yangtze River and its tributary, the Jialing River, Chongqing, which ranges from 160 to 380 metres above sea level, is China's best-known mountain city. Houses and apartment blocks blanketing the mountainside, give it an unusual look.

Because of the undulating pattern of its buildings, Chongqing is famous for its beautiful lights at night. One of the best locations for an overall view of the night scene is Loquat Hill Park, which has many remnants from World War II, including a 60-metre-long air-raid shelter used by Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong Mei-ling.

Standing at the top of the park, among the glittering lights, visitors can easily spot the city's landmarks, such as the Chongqing People's Assembly Hall. In a traditional Chinese style with a marble wall foundation, big vermilion pillars, flying eaves and glistening, green glazed tiles, the hall is like a brilliantly illuminated palace.

From the outside, the hall, which is Chongqing's most important meeting place, looks like a combination of the Hall of Praying for Good Harvests in the Temple of Heaven and the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Chaotianmen Port draws numerous visitors because it has been famous enough in history to be mentioned in many books about Chongqing, but it is also another ideal site for viewing the city's lights.

In the evening, a journey aboard a ship from the port takes visitors to the juncture of the Yangtze and the Jialing rivers. Looking up at the elevated buildings from the river, Chongqing appears a spectacular place from which the night has been banished.

The port is an embarkation point for a boat trip down the Three Gorges of the Yangtze. Immortalized in stories and legends, the Three Gorges, which are known for their magnificent, precipitous and tranquil landscape, have drawn visitors from home and abroad to cruise between Chongqing and Yichang, Hubei Province. Comprised of the Xiling, Wuxia and Qutang gorges, the Three Gorges are 210 kilometres long. The Wuxia and Qutang Gorges are in Chongqing.

Visitors to the Three Gorges, which are hailed as one of nature's most captivating stretches of scenery, will find a side trip to the Lesser Three Gorges along the Daning River equally wonderful.

Located in Wushan, a county under Chongqing's jurisdiction, the river originates from south of Daba Mountains and runs 250 kilometres before joining the Yangtze in the Wuxia Gorge, cutting through rocky mountains.

Almost all visitors to the Lesser Three Gorges are impressed with their thrilling precipices, jagged rocks of grotesque shapes, lush trees, shrubs and bamboo groves, and crystal clear waters. They are also inspired by human wonders.

Square-shaped holes can be found in precipitous cliffs. They were bored in lines according to the rises and falls of the cliff face. They are the ruins of an ancient plank road built more than 2,000 years ago.

With a telescope, careful visitors can spot hanging coffins in caves bored into steep cliff faces nearly 500 metres above the water surface. For centuries, researchers have wondered how they were placed in caves at such an altitude. According to the guides, the ancients placed the coffins there to show filial piety for their ancestors.

Also on the tourist route of the Three Gorges is Fengdu, a county under Chongqing's jurisdiction.

In world literature and mythology, the entrance to hell has many guises.

Sometimes it is by crossing a river of forgetfulness; other times, it is an opening to a bottomless pit filled with fire.

In Dante's "The Inferno," it is a door to nine infernal circles with the inscription: "Abandon hope, forever, you who enter."

In China, the inferno is in Fengdu. Located on the upper reaches of the Yangtze, Fengdu has been known as the "City of Ghosts" for hundreds of years.

In ancient China, folk belief held that no departed soul, whether noble or lowly in life, could expect to evade a final judgment in Fengdu.

With the judgment, deceased spirits who did good deeds while alive ascended to heaven, and those who did evil received horrendous punishments in the 18 levels of hell. The most severe punishment was perpetual exile in the boundless sea of hunger and want. The replica of the 18 levels of hell is in Fengdu's hilltop temple.

When the Three Gorges dam project is completed early next century, all of Fengdu will be submerged. Fortunately, the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) temple with the replica is above the projected water line.

Most visitors to Chongqing take a keen interest in Dazu, a prosperous county about 70 kilometres away.

Local legend has it that Dazu, literally big foot, commemorates an outsize footprint left on the bed of a pond in the county by Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism. Dazu also means great sufficiency, and the county seat, with thriving business stalls, elegant-looking buildings and a clean environment, palpably justifies its name.

In the cliffs of Dazu, which is under Chongqing's jurisdiction, visitors can see monumental religious sculptures.

Construction of the sculptures began more than 1,000 years ago in the Tang Dynasty, continued through the Northern and Southern Song dynasties (960-1279) and was completed in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Forty Buddhist grottoes with more than 60,000 stone figures are secreted among the county's terraced hillsides. Because secular themes and story-telling are the common features of the sculptures, people do not need to worry about understanding obscure Buddhist sayings.

One sculpture depicts the inferno of ferocity. There was a deep-rooted belief in China that those who did not take good care of their parents who were too old to look after themselves would be cast into the inferno to be tortured.

The Dazu grottoes boast China's most detailed presentation of the inferno sufferings.

The best-known carving in Dazu is entitled the Death of Sakyamuni. In a sleeping position, the 70-metre-long Sakyamuni is surrounded with disciples and worshipers. The lower part of Sakyamuni up to the knees melts into the mountain and disappears, which leaves to the imagination just how far the Buddha roots his feet.

(China Daily)

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