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Day 13. Zhangqui Stone Village

Wednesday, September 23, 2009 permalink [Permalink]

This morning we started early as we wanted to reach the traditional stone village of Zhangqui that Ray had read about and we didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

On the way out of Jinan we spot an old German-style pub and not far from it a Christian church - remnants of the past, where this area was part of the German concession; certainly out of place to everything we've seen thus far.

German-style Pub
[German-style Pub]

The day was stinking hot, and although the roads weren't hilly or packed with traffic, we were stuck mainly on long straight and uneventful highways.  By midday, we were scared that we'd missed the small town because the locals were giving us conflicting pieces of information; some of the people we asked didn't know where the stone village even was.  The closer we got, the further away the village seemed.

By late afternoon and after a spot of lunch we decided to pull over and ask again - our fears were justified - we'd missed the turn off; but only by few kilometres.  A quick chat at a local store secured the services of a friendly gentleman on a motorcycle who acted as guide and lead us back to the crucial intersection.

Our kind guide
[Our kind guide]

The road was tiny, only wide enough for one vehicle; both sides snuggled between crop fields and winding its way up a gentle slope towards a small mountain range.  There was lots of activity and quite a few people were busy ploughing the fields, collecting straw, drying herbs and corn.

Family ploughing a field
[Family ploughing a field]

Gradually the road started to pass through what seemed the start of a town - we weren't impressed at all and were wondering whether this village had disappeared off the map while the rest of China increased in size.  We pressed on and eventually came to a medieval looking gate, where we were quickly ushered aside, sold tickets and guided towards some guesthouse.

We rode through a second gate, or rather around it, and experienced a most surreal moment - almost like passing through a time gate.  Once on the other side, we could hear the sound of spiritual music coming from a small temple above the thick entrance gate.

It was easy to forget the hustle of bustle of the busy streets and modern China.  The music and birds, the greenery, cobbled stone path and the anticipation of what lies ahead bequeathed upon us temporary amnesia.

It was only after passing through the gates that we started to realise what a real treat this was going to be.

Village Entrance
[Village Entrance]

Our bikes rattled their way along the cobbled path and didn't miss an opportunity to buck you off if the wheel got caught between pavers.

Eventually we arrived at a huge stone structure.  If you use your imagination, you could probably see Chairman Mao under all the weather-beaten paint.

Chairman Mao - Perhaps under the weather
[Chairman Mao - Perhaps under the weather]

The air was getting colder and the sun beginning to set, but the end of the day certainly didn't detract from the delightful surprise this village was proving to be; every one of us was grateful for the chance to see some real living history.

It took us a good 10 minutes to reach the guest house which was nestled in the middle of the village.  The large doors at the entrance were guarded by two soapstone dragons and we had to push our bikes up a steep set of steps in order to reach the central courtyard.

Once there, we were shown where to park and lock up our bikes.  We locked them out of habit more than anything else; China has shown us that petty crime is not something we should worry about in these small communities.  The owner brought out a pot of tea and we all sat down for a moment.

Resting before trip to Pagoda
[Resting before trip to Pagoda]

Although exhausted, we were rather jubilant about this historical gem.  From the garden we could see a pagoda perched atop a nearby hill with views over the whole village.  It was going to be a race against time; with the sun setting it was only a matter of minutes before we would miss the chance to a panoramic view of the whole village.

Zhangqui Stone Village Pagoda
[Zhangqui Stone Village Pagoda]

Without washing up or resting, we grabbed our cameras and set off towards the pagoda.  Along the way we realised that the village of today isn't completely true to the antiquity we had been led to believe.  We came across mud brick buildings in various stages of decay, but weren't sure why they were abandoned - some looked as though they could easily be liveable.

We threw a couple of theories around, but the one which seemed most credible was that the population had dropped during these last years and people moved out to find employment in larger cities.  This was certainly supported by the fact that we didn't find a single child in the area nor young people.

Local women doing their washing
[Local women doing their washing]

A small track climbed through a well-manicured green garden towards the pagoda.  We could see that someone definitely takes care of the garden as well as the pathway; with lots of small repairs and pruned shrubs.  Perhaps our entrance fee went towards the upkeep?

The pagoda was open and we found a small staircase leading to the top - a perfect place to gain an overview of the village.  From the top we could clearly see the village nestled within the valley.  It looked like it was a strategically well-placed village, with the mountain range guarding on three sides and only a narrow entrance to the South.

View of Zhangqui Stone Village from Pagoda
[View of Zhangqui Stone Village from Pagoda]

It was meditatively peaceful on top.  And as the wind gently blew away the day's warmth from the air, we realised just how lucky we were to find this place and why someone decided to build the pagoda on this very spot.

Small dragon guarding the entrance to our guest house
[Small dragon guarding the entrance to our guest house]

We walked down slowly towards the village, where we made a small detour to pick up some drinks to accompany the evening's meal.

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