Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Huangshan City's Old Town Magic

Last weekend, Marc and I decided to get away from the city for awhile and breathe some fresh mountain air. So, we hopped on a bus which took us four hours south of Hefei to wonderful Huangshan City (locals also call it Tunxi, its original name). This quaint and beautiful mountain city which is located in the southernmost point of Anhui province is known for two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Mount Huangshan (which means “Yellow Mountain” in English) and Hongcun and Xidi, the ancient villages of Southern Anhui.

View from the my window on the bus as we near Huangshan City
A photo of Mount Huangshan
Ink painting showing Huangshan by painter Shitao circa 1670
Ironically, we actually didn’t get to go to any of these sites because we found out a little too late that although both sites surround the geographic expanse of the city, getting to them would take another 1-2 hour bus ride being 50-80 kilometers away from the city proper. The mountain is also best explored for at least 2-3 days because of its immensity and it is best to book tour packages or stay in one of the hotels located on the mountain. Since we were only staying 2 nights in Huangshan City and didn’t book any tour or tour guide for any of these sites, we decided to leave them for another trip and to just relax and enjoy the beautiful city of Huangshan and its one other famous attraction located right in the heart of its downtown area: The Old Town, also known as Tunxi Ancient Street or Song Street.

Me in front of The Old Gate at Tunxi Ancient Street
Tunxi Ancient Street in a way, kind of reminds me of Yu Yuan (Yu Gardens) in Shanghai, though the main difference is that it is much older and instead of a network of streets, this one consists of one main 1.2 kilometer street. Walking this street is truly like going through a portal back in time.

The street’s centuries-old history goes back all the way to the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279). At that time, many architects and workmen from Tunxi lived in the city of Hangzhou (the Song Dynasty capital), and upon returning home copied the structural style and architecture in the big city, and so Tunxi Ancient Street was built. 

By the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Tunxi Ancient Street street had 47 stores with shops on both sides of the street featuring the local Anhui style of stone base, brick construction and tile roof. Nowadays,  the street is also used as a natural studio for films and period TV series in China

An ancient Chinese medicine store where you can buy herbs
for any ailment

Paint brushes and paintings on scrolls depicting Huangshan mountain
I loved this awesome stationery store
with cute cards and notebooks.
After walking for some time, this cute coffee shop
called Sweet Time Coffee enticed us to stop by.

The perfect shopping ender
which for sure they never made back then:
a great Banana Mango Milkshake!