Diary : 3 - 5 November 1996
Excursion to Dazu and Chongqing
The SettingAfter sending off LCY, the client assigned a driver, Xiao Zhu, to drive me to Dazu and Chongqing. Chongqing, the largest city of Sichuan, is about more than 300km away from Chengdu. A year ago, it took more than 10 hours to travel by road. After the construction of the Chengyu Expressway (Chengyu means Chengdu - Chongqing, as “cheng” and “yu” are Chengdu and Chongqing in short respectively), it now takes only 4 hours. And more highways are built in China. Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, all of China’s main cities will be linked up by expressways like this.
Dazu : Magnificent grotto artDazu is a small county 165 km northwest of Chongqing. Heart of an agricultural country, Dazu would have looked like just about an average Chinese county town if not for the magnificent stone carvings of both religious and non-religious themes. The first carvings were done by a local warlord during the last years of the Tang Dynasty, subsequent sculptures were commissioned by local landlords, officials, commanders and other well-to-dos, either to show off their wealth, or as tributes to their faith - either Taoist, Confucianist or Buddhist. All three religions co-exist in the same confined area. No problems about this - for in Chinese culture and history, religion is seldom a cause for conflicts and contention. In fact, most Chinese believers live a life influenced by all three great traditions, and few can hardly tell which religion they belong to. In any case, it was these carvings that bring faraway visitors like me to Dazu.
Reaching Dazu itself was quite a hassle. We had to divert from the Chengyu Expressway. Here we were once again in the timeless dirt roads that characterised the vast majority of the Chinese highway scene before the reform - the narrow, dusty and muddy tracks turned our car into a slow, dirty little creature. Xiao Zhu could hardly smile - the prospects of washing his embattled car was daunting. And we had to share the road with bull carts, farm vehicles, goats, pigs and all. Added to the adventure were the twisting and turning roads, and deep ravines that suddenly appeared from nowhere, not to mention the numerous potholes. How can they promote tourism in a place like this without proper roads ? Would tourists want to brave a few hours of uncomfortable journey to reach Dazu ? Only backpackers would bother but probably would not boost the local economy significantly. No wonder, as I were to discover later, that the hotel was almost completely empty.
The Dazu Guesthouse, a three star outfit in the Dazu county town was where we spent the night. This was a relatively large and modern building, certainly the best hotel in town. But it was weird seeing an almost empty glass tower built next to paddy fields and fish ponds. It was too late to visit the famous carvings, and so we took a stroll in downtown Dazu. Oh God ! Dazu certainly wasn’t a rich booming city of the Chengdu Plains. There were few new buildings in Dazu. Most looked like by-products of the Maoist era. The shops were stocked up like other Chinese towns, but most goods appeared dusty and outdated. The people here reminded me of those I met during my first trip to China - poorly dressed and most peasant-like in their appearance and manners. Perhaps, the relative isolation of this region have impeded economic progress. Will a fine road from Chongqing improve the bell-being of this region ? Maybe they should do something about it, or the county will be left behind in the economic race.