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October - November 2004


Encounter with China

by Bajrang Bahadur Mathur

Going to China to see and explore the ancient monuments such as the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army and the Forbidden City is a perfect and genuine travel experience. China is a big country with the longest civilisation in the world, over 4000 years old. It has a population of over a billion people. It is interesting to note why the country is called China. The name of the first sovereign emperor was Quin Shi Huag Di. It is him who unified the country into a big empire called Qin, pronounced as Chin, and from there, the name China originated. He also believed in eternal life and wished to live forever. Therefore at a young age he started constructing his mausoleum at the ancient capital of Xi’an and, for his protection when he died, he had buried with him a huge army of terracotta warriors. It is said that there are some 7000 life-size figures of soldiers grouped in order of their ranks and in readiness for battle. They include guards with swords, spears and crossbows, together with guards mounted on horses.

Beijing: until recently the city used to be called Peking. It is an extraordinary city, a seat of power, and the capital of China. At the heart of the city is Tian An Men Square, one of the largest squares of the world. The name means heavenly peace. On the north side of the square is the Forbidden City, the Imperial Palace. The Imperial Dynasties ruled China from this palace, which is spread over 100 hectares and comprises pavilions and courtyards. It is now a Museum and houses a magnificent collection of bronzes, porcelain, paintings, jade and other treasures.

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is a good example of buildings, which were designed, and built for gods. The emperors used to come here to pray for the good of themselves and their subjects. The richly decorated temple sits on a marble terrace and, remarkably, it was built in wood without using any nails.

The Summer Palace was built near Beijing over many centuries by the successive emperors. The buildings are surrounded by Chinese landscaped gardens, planted with flowering trees and shrubs. The last Emperor had a lake excavated. In addition and a unique two-storey structure in marble, in the shape of a boat, was constructed at the banks of this lake.

The Great Wall is a massive man made structure and it is claimed that it can be seen by the naked eye from outer space! With all later extensions it is some 6500 kilometres long. The main purpose of the wall was defence from the tribes living in the northern territories.

The Yangtze River flows from the Tibetan highlands to the East China Sea covering a distance of 3400 miles. It is one of the longest rivers in the world. The best part of the Yangtze to cruise is between the bustling city of Changquing and Wuhan. The natural and rural beauty of this river is a feast to the eye. The cruise is through green terraced fields, riverside villages and communities, high mountain ranges, mighty soaring gorges, cliff top temples etc. The world famous scenery of the Three Gorges of Xiling, Wee and Qutang is simply breathtaking. These steep and rugged gorges are supposed to be some 70 million years old.

Bajrang Bahadur Mathur is a retired Chartered Architect and Town Planner and lives in London. Since retirement he is doing honorary and voluntary work with a few charitable organisations. He is a keen traveller. All drawings and sketches are by him.

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