An Indian tourist in China By N.N.Sachitanand

Date: 2008-10-19 By chinatravelservice

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It was 2004 , two years after my retirement. My wife and I , both inveterate travelers, had already done the usual round of the Indian outbound tourist - U.S.A., U.K., Western Europe, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Bali etc. We considered a number of new places to visit .

"How about China ?" suggested my son . " You can get to see the glorious Forbidden Kingdom in Beijing ." He had just seen a rerun of The Last Emperor.
My wife was reluctant . " I believe the Chinese do not speak English at all . How will we get around ? And what will I get to eat as a vegetarian ? "

I e-mailed a journalist friend of mine in Hong Kong. His advice : " China is a fascinating place to visit. The best bet is to plan your tour through one of the major travel agencies there , preferably one that has been carved out of the original Government monopoly. You can try out China Highlights . Go for guided tours or ask for personal English speaking guides. Tell your wife not to worry. There are plenty of vegetable dishes available in Chinese cuisine."

So, I went to the Internet and the web site . A young , very helpful tour operator named Elaine efficiently hand - held me through the tour planning process.
I already knew something about China's places of tourist interest and was clear in my mind about some of the places that were a "must see" , such as The Great Wall, the Terracota Soldiers and the Giant Panda. Being a fan of Kung Fu films since the days of Bruce Lee , I was also very keen to pay a visit to the birth place of Kung Fu - the Shaolin Temple. Again , whenever my wife and I visit a foreign country, we are very interested in experiencing the local culture in the form of evening entertainment.

It was quite a handful that we demanded but Elaine pitched in quite enthusiastically to chart out a tour that would take us from the East coast entry point ( Shanghai), up North to Beijing, onwards to the heartland and down South-east to Kunming . It was a very complex 15 day tour combining overnight halts at Shanghai, Beijing, Xian ( home of the Terracota Warriors ) , Zhengzhou ( near Shaolin Temple ) , Yichang ( headworks of the gigantic Twelve Gorges Dam ) , Chongquing, Chengdu ( where the Giant Pandas are bred ) and Kunming ( where tea originated ). The trip combined a number of methods of travel including air , day train , overnight train, inter-city and a day-long trip cruise up the Yangtze river. At every major city , we were promised an evening variety show.

I was a bit anxious about anything going wrong . But Elaine assured us that everything would go according to plan and we need not have any worries. Of course, she provided us with a very detailed tour schedule , along with the names of the guides who would meet us , the hotels where we were booked and all the relevant telephone numbers including her own , in case of emergencies. Incidentally, all the negotiations and payment transactions were made through the Internet - a sign of the times.

One fine October day , we took off from Bangalore to Bangkok by Thai Air and thence onwards to Shanghai. Those were the days of the Bird Flu scare and on landing at Shanghai we had to join a long queue to pass a health check. I was worried that we would be delayed coming out and miss our guide . But the check was a mere formality for us since we had come from a non-flu country and we were soon out with our luggage eagerly looking around for our guide. What a relief it was to see the young man with our names on a placard . He was university student who spoke good English, had a cheerful personality. He reminded me of my college days back in the 1950s when I undertook guiding American tourists who came to visit my home town of Jaipur in Northwest India.

The next fortnight passed by in a breathless rush . There was so much to see and so little time . But , because we had arranged for our own taxi and guide everywhere , we could choose to tarry at some places we found more absorbing and hurry through those that did not interest us.

I would not like to bore the reader with a description of the places we saw as that is available on many sites on the Internet. But I can list some things that have stuck to my memory : the wonderful displays in the Shanghai Art Museum ; the grand walkway lined with trees and freestanding sculptures leading to the Ming Emperors' Tombs outside Beijing ; the immense width and height of the Great Wall ; the extremely well preserved 2000 year old chariot at the site of the Terracota Warriors in Xian ; the lively frescoes of the martial arts on the walls of one of the pavilions at the Shaolin Temple ; the glimpse of a newborn giant panda , only 6 inches long , at the Panda Breeding Centre in Chengdu ; the intricate metal sculptures of the 3000 year old Shu Kingdom at the Sanxindui Cultural Site outside Chengdu ; the amazingly tall and intricate limestone formations carved by nature at the Stone Forest near Kunming and several other such sights.

Since we are from India , which has a very large Railway network , we were interested to see how the Chinese train system functions. We traveled extensively by train in China. I must say , we were very impressed by the orderliness , neatness and punctuality . Perhaps one of the rules which I think we in India should copy is that of permitting only ticket-holding passengers into the stations. This prevents the type of overcrowding and chaos that you can see in Indian railway stations.

A highpoint of our China tour was the evening entertainment programmed into it . In Shanghai we spent a delightful hour and a half in the evening watching the breathtaking acts of acrobats ; in Beijing it was the intense and dramatic song and dance routine of the Beijin Opera ; at Xian it was a fascinating one -hour Tang Dynasty show which had splendid costumes of a bygone era and melodious performances on ancient musical instruments ; at Shaolin a thrilling half-hour of martial arts feats performed by the students of one of the biggest schools there and in Kunming we were treated to a delicious dinner of the famous Yunnan cuisine and watched vigorous folk dances of China's ethnic minorities which resemble many of India's folk dances. I must not also forget to mention the tasty , though spicy Sicuan style Hot Pot dinner we had in one of those huge restaurants in Chengdu which seemed big enough to seat over 200 people.

Of course , no foreign tourist visit is without its disappointments . In our case it was the Bund in Shanghai which seems to have lost its soul and gone totally commercial ; the Forbidden Palace in Beijing whose empty rooms were lifeless , unlike the richly furnished palaces in India and Europe and the ferry trip on the Yangtze which was long ( a full day ) and tedious . We were also very surprised and disappointed that very few Chinese shops accepted international credit cards or even travellers' cheques . At Kunming , we wanted to purchase an exquisite piece of tapestry at a shop but could not do so because we did not have enough Chinese currency with us at that time. My wife also has a suggestion about helping vegetarians . Travel agencies like Chinahighlights should provide a list of Chinese vegetarian dishes with their Mandarin names written in Roman letters and alongside , an English translation . This will help in ordering these dishes in the restaurants .

But, all in all, it was a very memorable trip thanks to the excellent arrangements made by Chinahighlights whose helpful guides and drivers went out of their way to see that we were comfortable . We would definitely like to visit China again , this time to see the northern and western parts of the country , which we did not cover in this tour. And , next time also , we will definitely take the help of Chinahighlights. Thank you, Elaine.


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