Imperial China

Visiting Jokhang Temple

 

Visiting Jokhang Temple
Visiting Jokhang Temple, the religious center of Lhasa.

 

This was not my first trip to China. I’ve had the pleasure of exploring Beijing and Shanghai before but on my most recent adventure that I took with Imperial Tours, I was privileged to discover the rich culture and history of less-known parts of the country—Huangshan, Hongcun, Hangzhou, Chengdu and Lhasa. While China continues to reinvent itself, embracing its energy and creativity for the future, it was important for me to find a balance between this “new world vision” and the ancient China I hold dear to my heart—and that tells a fascinating story for travelers of all ages.

After spending a few days in Shanghai for fantastic shopping and cuisine, Imperial Tours took us to Huangshan, home of ultra-scenic Yellow Mountain. I was mesmerized by the cloud-shrouded granite peaks as I climbed through the mist, high into the sky by a cable car. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yellow Mountain is the inspiration for the typical granite peaks you see in many Chinese paintings. Trekking up Yellow Mountain is not difficult but there is an option of the cable car (like I took). We stayed at the Pine Golf Hotel, the best choice in the area, and it perfectly met our needs during our brief visit. The hotel is not on the mountain—it is conveniently located nearby and offers the best quality and value as compared to the mountain-based properties.

Lijiang’s History
Lijiang’s history goes back more than 800 years. The old town is shown at the left.

My main interest in coming to this part of China was to explore the different villages, particularly Hongcun, near the southwestern slope of Yellow Mountain. When we arrived, art students were there for the day to paint the scenery since the buildings, bridges and canals are excellent examples of traditional Ming Dynasty architecture. Hongcun was featured in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and has also been the setting for others such as Ju Dou by China’s famous director Zhang Yimou. Wandering around the narrow streets of this ancient village is a lovely way to spend some time. Our lunch here was one of my favorites! We dined on the patio of a home where the owner brought out numerous savory dishes for us to try—it was a dream of amazing vegetables simply prepared to showcase the food’s natural flavors.

From here, we took a four-hour bus ride to Amanfayun in Hangzhou; since we arrived at night, I couldn’t wait for the morning to check out my next new spectacular location. I woke up very early the next day hoping to see monks walking through this village setting on their way to Lingyin Temple, which is close to the hotel. Amidst the low-hung clouds and mystical hidden Buddhas carved in the walls, I saw many worshippers coming to the temple in the early hours. Amanfayun’s setting is its winning factor—it’s unique and extremely peaceful.

Lijiang
UNESCO World He ritage listed Lijiang as one of its sites in 1997.

The Hangzhou city tour Imperial put together was fascinating. I stopped at one of the oldest existing pharmacies in the country with doctors waiting to cure any ailment. You just look at the pictures on the wall and pick the treatment you’d like—a very different take from modern medicine! Number 7 please! While I was completely involved in the ancient experiences and sites around me, when I needed my “American” fix, my Imperial Tours’ China host, Gwen, found a Starbucks for me so I could savor a warm cup of coffee as I continued with my Hangzhou city tour. I knew this type of personal attention would rate as high with my clients as it did with me.

After a few days in Hangzhou, we flew to Chengdu, capital of the Sichuan province and known for its pandas. I was here over 20 years ago but the city has changed so much that I hardly recognized it. We stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel, a modern high-rise overlooking the Jin River. Since we had traveled all day, Imperial had organized dinner in our rooms so we could relax and recharge for the next day’s adventure—seeing pandas! I observed these magnificent animals in a much more modern setting now than when I first visited two decades ago. There are even opportunities to hold them—a fabulous treat. The next day, we visited the Qingyanggong Daoist Temple and learned of the history of Daoism from one of the monks who lived there. He graciously agreed to let us see his quarters, and he even played wonderful music for us.

The last stop on our journey was the highlight for me—Lhasa, Tibet. I was first here in 1991 at the time when Westerners were returning to the area. Since Lhasa is so much more accessible than it was many years ago, now is the time to come visit. While you’ll see a new airport, roads, million-dollar condos, and monks with cell phones, you can still appreciate the beauty of the Tibetan plateau, the shimmering blue sky against the mountains, and the beautiful, soulful Tibetan people. You must first acclimate to the elevation of 12,000 feet above sea level so it is important to move a bit more slowly and what better place to get accustomed than the St. Regis Lhasa Resort, where I was fortunate to stay for a few days.

In the hotel design, you can tell careful attention was paid to bringing the Tibetan feel in every detail of not only the rooms but the lobby, library and public spaces on-property. You quickly become very spoiled when your personal butler, who always seems to know when your car is returning from the day’s touring, is there to greet you at the door of the hotel.

We visited the Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lama, where you must have an appointment to enter and unlike the past, you cannot see all the rooms. The Potala Palace is the most popular site in Tibet; it’s a place of spiritual pilgrimage and a tribute to Tibetan architectural skills. A must-see is also the Jokhang Temple, which still seemed the same to me with hundreds of Tibetans waiting to enter. As the religious center of Lhasa, this is the place where you see the many faces, colors and spiritual fervor of the Tibetan people. The square is more modern now with numerous shopping stalls, and everyone has a cell phone. Here, you can spend hours taking in the local flavor of the people from the smells of the food to the brilliant look of the Khampas (nomadic people). While in Tibet, we also saw the debates over Buddhist scriptures at the Sera Monastery as well as enjoyed meals in a nunnery in a gorgeous setting, and a colorful nomadic tent (courtesy of the St. Regis).

Soon upon returning from this intriguing country, I’m already dreaming of the next opportunity to visit with Imperial Tours, a company that has perfected that art of curating memorable experiences. China needs to be explored many times so you can appreciate the rich history and keep pace with how the country is growing in leaps and bounds. Each visit enriches my worldview.

What would be my next China adventure with Imperial Tours? In-depth exploration of Yunnan, a province rich in natural resources and pastoral beauty! For more information on Imperial Tours, visit www.imperialtours.net or call 888-888-1970.

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