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Chongqing - a mega-city with an ancient past

Chongqing is an extraordinary place. Known as China's "Mountain City" it is set among rugged mountain ranges at the foot of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and is partially encircled by the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. It is also a crossroads where old meets new and the past meets the future.

With around 32 million residents, it is the world's most populous and fastest-growing megacity, yet it has an ancient history dating back to China's earliest civilisations. As the starting point for the recently developed rail link to Europe, Chongqing is also a place where East meets West. Moreover, as a strategic base for the development of China's western hinterlands, Chongqing enjoys elevated status as one of China's four National Central/Core cities, alongside Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.

Like Bangkok and Venice, Chongqing is crisscrossed by waterways. These give it a special character and also serve as boundaries between different districts of the city. One of these districts - the Jianbeizui New Area - is being developed into a major financial and business centre, with belts of advanced technology, logistics and manufacturing as well as urban services. The mayor of Chongqing, Huang Qifan, describes the city as having an almost perfect geographic location with two major transport wings - the maritime Silk Road connecting Chongqing to Asia, via the Yangtze River, and the rail Silk Road connecting the city to Europe. Chongqing also has a high-speed rail connection to China's other major city in the west, Chengdu, which is the principal capital of Sichuan. Bullet trains between the cities can cover the 309 km in just two hours.

Certainly Mayor Huang has a point. Thanks to its geography, Chongqing has a special prominence in China's history. To the west of the city centre, the ancient town of Ci Qi Kou lies on the banks of the Jialing River. Dating back at least 1,700 years, for centuries it was an important trading post. Its name means "porcelain village" and it has been producing porcelain for world markets since the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century.

Many other interesting sights can be seen along the rivers from Chongqing. The Yangtze is the main arterial route to the east and traverses the Three Gorges Dam. Indeed you can take a boat from Chongqing all the way to Hong Kong.

There are many Buddhist monuments and sites in the area surrounding Chongqing that provide evidence of its ancient past. These include the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Dafu temple with its 71 metre-high Buddha image carved into the rock, and the Fengdu Ghost Town, which features images of ghosts from Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.

Chongqing has a vast underground cave network which adds further mystery to this intriguing city.

Antiquities from the golden era of the Tang dynasty have been found there and many of the caves have yet to be explored. World War II was fought to the bitter end in Chongqing, with the caves providing shelter during bombing raids.

Naturally no visit to Chongqing would be complete without sampling the city's famous spicy hot pot, featuring the fiery Szechuan peppers, and a visit to the giant pandas at Chongqing Zoo. The zoo was created nearly 70 years ago in the immediate aftermath of the war and it sprawls over 45 acres, providing a welcome refuge in the western suburbs of the city.

A visit to Chongqing is an unforgettable experience, as the visitor witnesses the grandeur of nature, and experiences a majestic sense of history, while also feeling a sense of awe at the remarkable transformation which is taking place in modern China.

For more columns in this series please visit www.bangkokbank.com


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