Two days of being shrouded by the Huangshan mist was enough to dampen my spirits. The lure of hot running water and central heating was too tempting to pass. On reaching Huangshan city, i went straight to the railway station to book my return tickets to Beijing for the next day.
"No" she said.. There were no sleeper tickets to Beijing for tomorrow's train.Â "Min Tien Min Tien ??" I asked..Â ('min tien' being the Chinese word for tomorrow.. my question loosely (i use that term liberally) translates to "how about the day after tomorrow??" :) Nope.. the tickets weren't available on that train either.Â
Although i love long train journeys, i was in no mood to spend 18hrs sitting in an unreserved compartment during the wee end of the spring holidays. Like in India, it tends to get very crowded in the unreserved compartments here with people pushing and shoving and jostling for seats. It is a funÂ experienceÂ when on shorter 4 to 6 hr trips but i was definitely not up for 18 hours of the unreserved treatment.
Out came the Lonely planet.. and i was beginning to feel a tinge of excitement trickling back in. I had to choose another route back home and the prospect of going someplace new excited me. Hangzhou was the first option, but soon after reading that its a magnet for tourists i decided against it. Nanjing seemed a much safer bet as it is well connected to Beijing and is not really a tourist attraction. Another perk with going to Nanjing was that it would let me spend a day at JiuHuaShan, one of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains.
With the plan decided.. i had a night to kill in the Huangshan city. Luckily i spotted the Huangshan International Youth Hostel close to the railway station and checked in. After a long shower and a early dinner, i set off for only tourist interest nearby. The Tuxi Old Street or Lao Jie as it is called locally. It was recommended to me by one of the chinese passengers i met on the train from Beijing. He had offered to show me around and i was going to take up his offer.
The Tunxi old street is a charming remenant of the 500 year old Song Dynasty. It is a commercial pedestrian street.. some 1.5km long and around 7 meters wide, flanked on both sides by numerous old and famous shops. Products of "Huizhou Four Carvings" (brick, wood, stone and bamboo), Anhui style Chinese painting, print, rubbing from a stone inscription, Goldstone seal cutting, Chinese pot gardening and root carving can be seen here and there. The buildings all retain the traditional Song dynasty architectural style and for this reason it is sometimes called as the "current song city".
Jason, my friend and guide for the evening told me that the relative remoteness of the Huangshan region helped it to retain its unique architectural styles. Before the roads were built, the only way to get here was by boat over the Yangtze river. And this unique architectural style of the place is visible everywhere.. especially and more prominently at the villages of Xidi and Hongcun. Both of which have been deemed world heritage sites by UNESCO. Accordingly to Jason, it is only in the late 70's that the word about the beauty of the mountains go out and slowly slowy the tourists started trickling in. Now the trickle has turned into a torrent and is only getting bigger day by day.
Apart from history, the main draw for me about Lao Jie was its street food vendors. There were a lot of interesting things to try. And of course it was the first time ever that i used my new camera in the night time and i was floored by its capability. It was as simple as cranking up the ISO to 3200 or more and just point and shoot. I was happy... whatever little buyers remorse i had quickly vanished :)