A 15-day trip to China. Did it involve a lot of planning?
Rather. We have three children, aged 15, 13 and 12 who, like us, love to travel. Each year, we look at a new and exciting destination. This year, we decided on China—it has such a fascinating history. We started shopping for an agent in China in February and it took us a month to fine-tune the details.
How did you narrow down on your destinations?
We had to go to Beijing for the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. Xi’an drew us because of the terracotta warriors. Chengdu is not a tourist spot, but being animal lovers and wildlife enthusiasts, we just had to visit the Giant Panda Research and Breeding Base there. We were also keen to see the Three Gorges and the Three Gorges Dam, and Shanghai is one of the most happening cities in the world. We also stopped in Hong Kong on our way back.
Did Beijing live up to all the myth?
Apart from the historical structures—Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, the Ming tombs complex and, of course, the Great Wall at Badaling—we saw the new stadiums and other facilities, ready almost a year ahead of the 2008 Olympics. Beijing is very well laid out, with old and restored buildings as well as modern skyscrapers. The Great Wall was a definite highlight.
Next stop, Xi’an?
Xi’an was just for a day. Apart from the terracotta warriors and horses, it has a medieval city wall, at 13km the longest complete such structure in the world. From Xi’an, we flew to Chengdu—it was such a pleasure watching nine panda cubs at play. The adults were much more sedate, they spend most of the day on their backs, eating bamboo.
You also went on a cruise down the Yangtze, didn’t you?
Right. We started the cruise from Chongqing. The terrain is similar to the Western Ghats, but there are skyscrapers clinging to the mountains which form a gorge at the confluence of the Yangtze and the Jialing rivers.
Each cabin on the cruise ship Emperor, operated by Dragon Cruises, has its own balcony. Views include the beautiful mountains, suspension bridges, and the freeways linking towns and villages on one side to the other. The ship halts at Fengdu, an ancient town known as the Ghost City because the local temple is dedicated to the gods of the underworld. It was one of the most beautiful temples we saw.
When did you see the Three Gorges?
On Day 2 of the cruise. Qutang, Wuxia and Xiling are collectively known as the Sanxia or Three Gorges, running through the Fengjie and Wushan mountains in the Sichuan province. Our ship passed through the five-level ship locks—a two-and-a-half-hour process— necessitated by the difference in height between the upstream and downstream parts of the river. When complete, the Three Gorges project is expected to produce the energy of 15 nuclear power plants and minimize floods. We left the ship at Yichang and took a bus to Wuhan, from where we caught the flight to Shanghai.
We make so much of Chinese cuisine here—what was the food there like?
The most memorable meal we had there was Peking Duck at the very famous Quanjude Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing. No Peking Duck sampled anywhere else comes close to the crisp skin and melt-in-the-mouth meat here. The meal began with a number of starters, including jellied duck’s feet, sliced gizzard, kidneys and liver pâté. As an entrée, we had deep-fried duck’s livers with scorpions—crisp and crunchy and tasting very much like shrimp. Then came the main course: Beautifully carved slices of duck with wafer-thin pancakes, plum sauce and scallions.
Though the Chinese make use of all parts of an animal, most of the better restaurants have an English translation of their menus. So, ordering was fairly easy. We stayed away from dishes such as “Blood curd and other stuff”, “Bullfrog”, “Ox-pizzle” and one item, simply called “Explode your intestines”. We have no idea what it was.
(Hospitality consultant Rishad Minocher, 49, travelled to China with his wife, gourmet caterer Anna, their children and two other families in May. The Chinese are curious about India, they found, but so confident of their place in the emerging world that there is no sense of competition.)
(As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at email@example.com)