The images of an ancient China that many search for, those we commonly see depicted in novels and films – that of peaceful, open courtyards with delicately tiled roofs, narrow, lantern-lit alleyways that snake through the heart of a city, hidden temples and shrines identifiable by the fragrant trail of incense smoke, the simplicity of a family’s laundry hanging out to dry on the line, rickshaw drivers ferrying their passengers to and fro, and merchants tending to their shop houses on bustling pedestrian streets – are more often than not being replaced by high-rise office towers, blinding-neon lights, and the buzz of automobile and motorbike traffic in today’s modern society.
As such, it is becoming increasingly difficult to glimpse the same sights and wander around the same villages our ancestors had centuries ago, regardless of where in this vast land you travel. One notable exception to this new maxim, however, is the diminutive town of Pingyao in the Shanxi Province. This small but magical village allows visitors to step back into time, wander ancient lanes that have no names, see the patina on the facades that have been weathered by hundreds of years of snow and rain, and experience what life was like before the constant din of engines, construction, and modern technologies took over (however, I doubt ancient China had as many tourist cafes and souvenir shops, but I digress…)
The focal point of Pingyao’s layout is the City Tower, located in the heart of the city, where the two main thoroughfares converge. Further, another of this medieval city’s charms is the existence of the well-preserved town walls, whose watch tower-dotted barriers enclose the entire old town, with four gates located in accordance to the four cardinal directions:
Besides walking the cities circumference from atop the towering walls, the best way to enjoy a visit to Pingyao is to simply get lost in the winding streets and alleys, popping in and out of temples as you come across them. As an added bonus, many of the historic houses and buildings in Pingyao are also open to the public, where you can admire the series of progressive courtyards that would form a family’s housing unit, all the while hidden from the public eye:
Of course, a visit to a new place wouldn’t be complete without sampling the local cuisine. Here are a few of dishes unique to the city of Pingyao that I was able to find:
After Pingyao, I’m headed off to the former Eastern terminus of the Silk Road in the city of Xi’an, with the spicy cuisine in the Sichuan Province capital of Chengdu on deck. Until then, cheers from Pingyao!