Tag Archives: Chongqing

Chongqing’s Wansheng Stone Forest

China’s most famous stone forest (石林)is located in Yunnan Province about 3 hours outside of Kunming. It’s massive and from what I hear well worth a visit. Chongqing’s stone forest, on the other hand, is virtually unknown. And some locals might tell you it’s not really worth the 3.5 hour drive from the city (没什么好玩儿 is not an uncommon response). However, we were pleasantly surprised.

Dating back to 600 million years ago (claimed by the park; hyperbole, perhaps, though perhaps not), Chongqing’s Wansheng Stone Forest (万盛石林)is a whopping 200 million years older than Yunnan’s Lunan Stone Forest (路南石林). So take that Yunnan!

Fast Facts:

Name: 万盛石林  |  Wansheng Stone Forest

Where: 重庆  |  Chongqing

What to Do: Walk around an ancient stone forest, duh! You can also sip tea and ski down a grass slope (sadly, the course was closed when we were there, but it should be open in the summer).

Getting There: Allegedly you can take a bus, but it’s not easy because you’ve got to take another bus (a mini-private bus, … so a bit 麻烦) from where you get dropped off in Wansheng. So the easiest thing to do is rent/hire a car. It should take about 3.5 hours one-way.

You can easily spend about 3-4 hours walking around the maze of stone pillars. Heading in with little to no expectations, the Wansheng stone forest really was quite inspiring in terms of scale and coolness factor of the rock formations. Moreover, the park was basically empty on a Sunday afternoon (bear in mind we went in the winter), which made for a truly peaceful wandering experience.

We went on a typical smoggy/foggy Chongqing day, and it still felt good to be outside. 3.5 hours outside of the city you won’t find sunshine necessarily, but the air will smell/taste a little less sour.

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Walking through the rocks, you can see the layers of age etched into the stone like the rings of a tree trunk. When you look around the surrounding area, it really is quite amazing because this stone forest seemingly just appears out of nowhere amidst an otherwise normal Sichuan countryside.

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重庆 Chongqing

Around lunch time we stopped at one of the many benches lining the pathways. A very affectionate and chill dog joined us. There really isn’t much in the way of eateries in the stone forest (aside from your standard assorted meat hot dog and 快速面), so it’s a good idea to pack a lunch.

The textures on the rocks are quite exquisite. A lot of the rocks look like dinosaurs or some other scale encased creature.

重庆 Chongqing 重庆 Chongqing

重庆 Chongqing

In the middle of the park is a lake, which has stepping stones that you can hop along to walk over the lake. Leaping from stone to stone is shockingly entertaining, especially if you’re a child at heart (we also had a middle-schooler with us who loved it).

The tea house by the lake is also a nice spot to relax and enjoy the geological wonderland you’re in. It was closed for the winter while we were there, but looked pretty nice nonetheless.

重庆 Chongqing 重庆 Chongqing

 

重庆 Chongqing

Below is the grass ski course. We really wanted to try it out, but again this was closed for the winter. Apparently you ski down on what are basically giant rollerblades. The grass was surprisingly slippery and soft, as you could somewhat coast down even on flat shoes. I can only imagine how fun it would be when filled with kids (and adults) falling on their faces.

If grass skiing isn’t your thing, then definitely take the slide down the hill back to the parking lot. It’s one of those where you sit on a blanket going down a plastic slide. The course is short, but absolutely fun and beats walking down for sure.

重庆 Chongqing

If you happen to have an open weekend in Chongqing, I’d definitely put this on a potential to-do list. The stone forest, Wulong’s karst bridges, and Jindao gorge would make a pretty awesome 3-day Chongqing itinerary.

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It’s always a bit surreal doing day trips out of Chongqing. When you’re out in the countryside you easily forget about the concrete and steel mega-tropolis that’s waiting for you in the evening. Driving back home, as one 40-story building after another appears, you get that combined feeling of dread and wonder. And when coming back during sunset, the smoggy/foggy city has a sort of haunting beauty to it.

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Finding Wansheng Stone Forest on a Map

Chongqing Xpress: Part 4

Everyday for the past year a massive construction project has seized the plot of land where Chongqing’s Jiangbei district used to have a water park. For months it seemed like nothing was happening, as all we could see were holes slowly being dug in the ground by massive drills. However, once the arduous task of installing the foundation was done, the site quickly burst to life.

When the wood and steel arrived at the site it looked like someone had dumped an entire skyscraper’s worth of materials onto the ground. Then slowly but surely the pieces got sorted out and a structure began to take shape.

Now like little worker ants, anonymous yellow and red hats scurry around mud and concrete on a seemingly 24/7 schedule. While this isn’t one of those skyscraper-in-90-days stories, the building appears to be buzzing along with measured efficiency.

The people working on this site look like they’re anywhere from 20-50 years old. And while there are definitely more men than women, the women seem to do almost all the same tasks as the men. Actually, all the crane operators are women.

As one who doesn’t understand from a technical perspective much of what is going on at the site, it’s quite fascinating to watch the Erector Set-like structure gradually climb up and up. What’s more, it’s amazing to see such a large structure being built with basically just hammers, saws, welders, and a couple heavy lifting machines. So here’s a tribute to those hard working men and women that we hear every morning, night, and weekend. Thanks for unknowingly sharing your work with us.

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Chongqing Xpress: Part 3

October and November have been wet, cold, and grey. You can count the number of clear days on one hand. Below are some sites on a rare clear-ish day from the areas around the 菜园坝长江大桥.

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Just behind the Chongqing Railway Station there’s a massive collection of blue roofs. Under them lie of mixture of homes, shops, and markets. Pictured in the bottom, those living on the banks of the Yangtze have literally been pushed to the edge, with nowhere else to go as the city’s urbanization outpaces all who cannot afford to keep abreast.

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The banks of the Yangtze are always alive with activity. Stairways that disappear into the river serves as fishing perches, picnic spots, and stoops to wash clothing.

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People like to say that Chongqing has 35 million people. However, the urban areas of Chongqing only have about 8 million. And yes, in certain areas the flow of people is unending. But it’s actually quite easy to find quite places. For instance, walk over almost any bridge and you’ll find it oddly peaceful, despite the cars whizzing by.

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At sunset, the haze that typically casts a grey film across the city does indeed turn the sky, for all but a couple minutes, into a burnt orange veil. On those rare days when the sky is kind enough to break open and give a glimpse of its blueness, the fade of blue into orange can be quite stunning.

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Chongqing Xpress: Part 2

The following images were taken on the southeastern edge of Jiangbei (江北). Jiangbei lies to the north of Jiefangbei(解放碑)across the Jialing Jiang (river 嘉陵江). While Jiefangbei is Chongqing’s central business and shopping district, Jiangbei has long been established as a secondary city center with numerous shopping centers and burgeoning business districts.

As Jiangbei expands with new business parks like Jinrong Zhongxin (Financial Center 金融中心) and scores of 30+ story apartment complexes, images of the now somewhat cliché yet no less real contrast between old and new assault the landscape.

 

Pictured Below:

Upper Left. A welder works in the darkness of an underground shop. Steep hillsides, under bridges, and basement units are popular shop locations for mechanics and migrant construction workers.

Upper Right. Hand mixed cement is the glue holding together much of Chongqing’s poorest communities. Blue corrugated metal serves as roofs for many low-income houses marked for teardown (拆).

Middle 1: An old cement apartment building stands in front of new units in the distance. In cheap housing complexes, an apartment’s single window is valuable space for all the everyday things that need air and light. And more often than not, broken window panes are replaced by plastic bags, not glass.

Middle 2: Looking up at a typical lower-middle income apartment building.

Bottom: Looking down at a typical older low-income housing complex.

 

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Chongqing 重庆

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Chongqing 重庆

 

Upper Left. The red tension cables of the still-under-construction bridge connecting Jiefangbei to Jiangbei’s new (and mostly vacant) southeastern business park run in front of the outline of towers in Jiefangbei’s central business district.

Upper Right. A kite flown from the promenade around the Chongqing Opera House (重庆大剧院)flies above an apartment complex sporting the words 天下 (the land under heaven, i.e. the whole world).

Middle Left & Right. Green, a color once native to Chongqing, is now as much a planned impostor as the buildings and people. Manicured hedges, flowers in highway medians, urban vegetable gardens, and trees in public parks are the last vestiges of green in the city. Urban gardens are typically shared by residents of nearby apartment complexes. The gardens are usually quite vertical, using land that is unsuitable for any other use.

Middle Bottom. Cranes are the symbol of life for a building. While many projects in Chongqing have frenetic cranes swinging about them, many others are simply abandoned skeletons, often the result of a lack of sufficient investors.

Bottom. The white lines of a driving school test course suggest a complexity that might ensure capable drivers. However, the current generation of drivers seem to be proof that no matter how strict the driving test, the most important factor in creating good drivers is having parents/teachers who are good drivers, which only a few of the youngest generation have.

 

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Chongqing 重庆

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Chongqing 重庆

Chongqing 重庆

Chongqing 重庆

 

Upper Left & Right. The controlled chaos of construction under the southwestern side of the Chaotianmen Chang Jiang Daqiao (big bridge 朝天门长江大桥). This massive area is set to be a new mixed retail and business center.

Bottom. Many migrant workers make a home wherever they’re allowed to or not bothered. That often means taking to hillsides near their construction sites. This man sits beside his temporary home and gazes through the haze at a block of high-rise apartments.

 

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Chongqing 重庆

Chongqing 重庆

 

Upper Left. The red walkway that scales the upper edge of the Chaotianmen Chang Jiang Daqiao. Not open to the public, this walkway runs across the entire top of the bridge and would be undoubtedly breathtaking and terrifying to climb.

Upper Right. The bolts holding the Chaotianmen Chang Jiang Daqiao together.

Middle Left. An old seemingly abandoned or perhaps repurposed boat’s sign hints at its past life (茶|鱼 means the boat served tea and fish).

Middle Right. A construction worker installs windows in a newly built apartment complex.

Middle 1. The Chang Jiang’s (Yangtze) waters are almost always alive with boats of all shapes and sizes, from modern commercial shipping and fishing boats, to individual wooden canoes used for fishing and trapping.

Middle 2. Sunset against the Chaotianmen Chang Jiang Daqiao.

Bottom. Panorama view through the haze of Jiefangbei’s Chaotianmen (朝天门).

 

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Top. Plastic dividers used as highway medians and barriers at construction sites piled together for storage.

Bottom. An abandoned house marked for demolition (拆) is used as a temporary home. This house stands in an area marked for construction, though currently no development appears to be taking place. Houses like this, which are partially torn down amidst stagnant projects search for funding become homes to those with no other options. This particular house stands next to a bustling residential district.

 

Chongqing 重庆

Chongqing 重庆

 

Chongqing Xpress: Part 1

It’s sometimes difficult to document and reflect upon the city you live in. Because everything is so close to you and simply part of your daily routine, it’s hard to step back and take things in as an objective observer. In an effort to take a more deliberate look at Chongqing, with this post we’ll start to document the oft referred to mega city that is, upon an only slightly deeper inspection, more of a provincial place (though not in any pejorative sense), despite its concrete and steel skeleton.

Chongqing is too vast and multidimensional to encapsulate in a couple lines of prose. And as residents of only a year, we’re not yet qualified to make anything more than hypotheses and mildly penetrating observations. However, with the help of images we can at least begin to shed some light on an incredibly dynamic place that most foreigners don’t have the time or opportunity to experience firsthand.

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Most chroniclers of Chongqing can’t help but reference the classic scenes from yesteryear when sinewy men hauled ships by hand through the Yangtze. Those same scenes are often paired with captions recounting how Chongqing used to be a truly beautiful city, where the river’s water crashed high along river banks that were covered in green. Today, the beauty along Chongqing’s two converging rivers, the Jialing Jiang (嘉陵江) and Chang Jiang (长江, aka Yangtze), has changed. The river is extremely shallow for most of the year, exposing the sand, earth, and garbage that lies at its floor. The walls of the river are a mix of concrete and stone docks. Ramps feed out of the rivers like veins, providing easy access for smaller boats.

The water varies in color from brown, to green, to red, depending on what sediment and runoff wastes are particularly strong at any given time. Despite these facts, many older residents of Chongqing still use the rivers as recreational areas. The banks of both the Jialing Jiang and Chang Jiang are alive during the day with swimmers, fishermen, and people washing all manner of things.

The pollution in the rivers is no secret to locals and they too are shocked to see their elder compatriots swimming in the murky water. In the areas where the light-rail hugs the edge of the river, you’ll see young people in disbelief snapping pictures of swimmers on their cell phones.

Despite the pollution, Chongqing’s rivers are still a massive part of the city’s identity and livelihood, as they visually dissect the city much like Paris and London are bifurcated by the the Seine and the Thames, respectively.

Chongqing 重庆 Chongqing 重庆Chongqing 重庆 Despite being an inland city, Chongqing’s relationship to its rivers yields many scenes akin to those found in a traditional port city. Rusted barges, anchors, cut up tires, and old ropes clutter the shores of its rivers.

Look down long enough from any bridge and you’re bound to see tug boats and barges hauling gravel, sand, coal, and other building block materials up and down the rivers. Look closer and you might even catch a sweaty fisherman taking a shower. Look longer still and you’ll probably come across a tired cruise boat filled with tourists, peering out at the city in the haze.

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Calling Chongqing’s haze beautiful or somehow aesthetically enticing feels like a stretch. Can a skyline obscured by a combination of fog and smog honestly be called dreamy? That all depends on what your dream is about. If you’re dreaming about an enchanted forrest blanketed in the morning mist, then no, Chongqing is not dreamy. But if you’re dreaming of the struggle to define an ever evolving concept of success in a land of uncertain and yet undeniable opportunity, then yes, the fog-smog of Chongqing is entirely dreamy and in many ways is a candidly literal metaphor for the present state of affairs.

A new bridge connecting the north eastern side tip of the Jiefangbei District(解放碑)to Jiangbei(江北)is to many another sign of development. The bridge will alleviate traffic and make access to Chongqing’s central business district a little easier. To me, the bridge’s tension lines, although markedly different, nonetheless remind me of the Zakim bridge in Boston, which then leads me to ponder if Boston’s big dig project somehow stands as a connection between these two seemingly disparate cities.    Chongqing 重庆Chongqing 重庆

The tops of Chongqing’s highest skyscrapers often disappear into the fog-smog. The partially complete giants then leave you wondering how high they go. Is the sky clear on its top floor? For much of China’s middle-class, it really doesn’t matter. These towers represent, on so many levels – literally and figuratively – the chance for a better future.

And while that notion of better will change as people become more wealthy (indeed one day in the all too near future middle class Chinese will be doing pilates and taking wheat grass shots), for now better means owning an apartment in one of those towers that disappears into the byproduct of what built it.

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I love the idea of finding beauty in Chongqing’s haze. But so far, the idea hasn’t become a reality. Maybe I haven’t found the right angle or the right light.

So I’ll keep looking.

The Karst Bridges of Wulong

The theme for this mini-post is massive rocks. Located in the Wulong National Geology Park, the Wu Long karsts form a range of massive stone bridges and deep mountain valleys in Wulong county of Chongqing municipality.

The Wulong karsts, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are also home to the Three Natural Bridges (天生三桥 – Tiānshēng Sān Qiáo), which was the destination of our first excursion in the area.

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Fast Facts:

Pinyin: Wǔ lóng kāsītè | Chinese: 武隆喀斯特

Location: Wulong County, Chongqing

Getting There: Public buses (not recommended), hire a driver, or go with a group

Attractions: Karst mountains and an ancient Chinese building straight out of a kung-fu movie

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Chongqing’s 35 million people, 100+ foggy & smoggy days, and army of demolition sites do not typically instill notions of natural beauty. And while the city’s silhouette can be striking at night when lit up and viewed across the Yangtze River, Chongqing’s real beauty is still in its rural roots, which are immediately visible in the stunning hilly landscape that begins as soon as one ventures outside the Goliath metropolis.

Wulong Karst 武隆喀斯特

To get to the beautiful Wulong karsts, the first step is to navigate through the town of Wulong. Wulong town is essentially a playground for Chongqingers on weekend getaways. The downtown area is inundated with hundreds of new (and already seemingly falling apart) villas and townhouse developments all of highly questionable taste. To say that this once pristine geological wonderland is now commercialized would be an understatement. However, the landscape in this area is undeniably impressive, albeit a bit too accessible by tour buses (While we wish everywhere was only accessible by 3-hour uphill hikes, I’m sure in 20 years, we too, will appreciate paved access to some of these once remote areas).

We’d recommend Wulong as a nice weekend excursion if you’re perhaps a Chengduer looking to explore Chongqing, or if you’re on a cruise down the Yangtze and you have a couple days in Chongqing. For us, Wulong is one of the many local attractions outside of the city that we’re just starting to discover. We wouldn’t recommend seeking out Wulong as the primary target for an extended trip requiring a flight, as the area is simply too small and probably isn’t worth the expense of such a trip. Nonetheless, if you find yourself in the area, Wulong will not disappoint.

Unlike Guilin and Yangshuo’s spire like mountains, Wulong’s karst mountains form jagged ridges, valleys, and archways that reach over 200 meters high. The Three Natural Bridges is the main attraction of the area. To get there we opted for public transportation, which turned out to be a bit too time consuming to justify the meager cost savings (see ‘Getting There’ below for details on public transport).

Wulong Karst 武隆喀斯特

Once there, the Three Natural Bridges definitely lived up to our managed-yet still-excited expectations. The walk through the park takes about 90 minutes at a leisurely pace. The entire walkway is paved and many of the local women were unsurprisingly rocking 3-inch heels.

Initially, a path will lead to a rather rickety elevator. Once we stepped into the elevator, the first view of Tianlong Bridge appears, which will get your blood running. As the elevator descends into this massive valley, I experienced the great sensation of being small and insignificant under something shaped by thousands of years.

Wulong Karst 武隆喀斯特

Wulong Karst 武隆喀斯特

As we descended down under the first of the three massive stone archways, an almost mystical building set directly under Tianlong Bridge comes into view. This ancient outpost was featured in Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower (a fact proudly inscribed in a rock next to the building). It’s easy to see why Zhang Yimou picked this spot as the only outside scene in the whole movie: the environment truly makes you feel like you’re in a classic Chinese period movie.

Wulong Karst 武隆喀斯特

A downpour had hit Wulong the day before we arrived and consequently, waterfalls were literally spouting out of the rock crevices all around us. Moreover, from the tops of the bridges water streamed off dispersing first into droplets and then into mist. Watching the droplets plummet towards us felt like real life Matrix-style bullet dodging as we tracked the falling water from hundreds of feet above.

Walking through the deep valleys, Wulong gives one the feeling of being wrapped in an epic combo of Lord of the Rings and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. After finishing the walk through the remaining two bridges our necks were happily sore from craning our heads upwards.

Wulong Karst 武隆喀斯特

Wulong Karst 武隆喀斯特

Wulong is a great day trip. It’d probably be an even better weekend trip as we were pushed for time. There are a number of really beautiful places around Wulong that we haven’t explored yet, so we’ll be sure to report back our future findings. Thus far, Wulong is definitely a thumbs up. For you Beijingers, I’d rate Wulong as in the same ballpark, but slightly better than Long Qing Xia (龙庆峡) in terms of awe factor.

Getting There

For those who are curious, here’s how we did it: we started by taking the subway to 四公里. From there, we walked to the adjacent bus station and bought a ticket for Wulong (武隆). The bus ride took 3 hours and dropped us off in downtown Wulong. From there we took a minibus to Shān nǚ zhèn (山女镇), which dropped us off at the Wulong tourist center, a massive domed building that also has the 武隆印象 performance. From the tourist center we bought the entrance ticket and a 40RMB bus ticket to the actual site of the Three Natural Bridges.

In all, the journey took us about 3.5 hours and only saved us about 50RMB compared to going on a group tour organized by a local hostel (we heard they book all inclusive trips for 200RMB each). So yes, you can get to Wulong by public transport, but when we explore this area next time we’ll either rent a car for a day or get group transport. (Note that if you do plan to take public transport, the last bus from downtown Wulong to Chongqing is at 5:50pm).