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Exploring Nanjing – An Ancient Capital City
|by Subra Narayan|
My travels took me to Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province in eastern China, through which the Yangtze River runs. Nanjing is a nice blend of a modern city and ancient culture coupled with beautiful parks and lakes. A less known fact about Nanjing is that it was the capital of China under several dynasties, before it shifted to Beijing. Much like the Great Wall of China, Nanjing has its own unique monument called the Ming City Wall which runs about 35 km and 12 meters high that served as a fortification for the city's defenses. Built in the 14th century by the Ming dynasty much of this majestic wall survives today and serves as an impressive landmark.
Right in the heart of downtown Nanjing a few meters away from the hustle and bustle of traffic and crowds is the Xuanwu Gate that leads the unsuspecting visitor into the beautiful Xuanwu Lake and park. This impressive body of water is adorned with lotuses and surrounded by well-designed walkways lined with evergreen trees and shrubs. An early morning walk along the lake is very rejuvenating and you are in the company of locals walking, jogging, skating as you run into people engaged in Tai chi, that ancient form of Chinese martial art practiced as a graceful exercise.
There are several parks and islands around the lake dotted with weeping willows, colorful flowers and beautiful arched bridges. Armed with my binoculars and camera, I was on the lookout for birds, although the sky was overcast and not conducive for photography. A trio of small birds landed on the lake, swimming gracefully and occasionally diving -these were Little Grebes. A common rock thrush flitted along the bushes while a wagtail perched on a pole in the lake and darted back and forth looking for food in the marshes.
Walking through the islands you cannot miss seeing a unique structure in the distance amidst the backdrop of skyscrapers; it's a pagoda that takes you back to the past! The Jiming temple was built sometime around the 4th century during the Jin dynasty and then rebuilt several times. Nestled up in the hills it is very serene as a cool breeze wafts around as you climb up the steps. The seven story structure, approximately 45 meters high, is called the Bhaisajyaguru pagoda. The place is abuzz with visitors lighting incense sticks and paying obeisance to the Buddha.
Alighting down the steps of the temple, I spot a pretty bird -Light-vented Bulbul common in many parts of Asia.
A short drive from here brings us to the Nanjing Botanical Gardens which is lush green and sprawling; dedicated to the memory of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the famous reformer of early 20th century in China. With overcast skies and a mild drizzle it's a pleasant walk in the gardens and I spot a majestic bird seated on top of a gazebo like structure - it's a black billed magpie. There are several myths worldwide about magpies, but in China it is believed to bring good luck.
Walking down further I hear several excited noises and spot one of the most beautiful birds - the Azure winged magpie that is brilliantly majestic in flight. A red billed blue magpie peers through the branches - tempted to call this the garden of Magpies!
Not too far from here is the Confucius Temple built almost a thousand years ago around 1034 AD during the Song dynasty to honor the great Chinese philosopher and sage. Situated on the banks of the Qin Huai river, it is a major tourist attraction, especially for souvenir shopping along the busy cobblestone streets. Numerous painted cruise boats ply up and down the river against the backdrop of arched bridges and a beautiful long stone wall replete with architecture from the Ming dynasty.
It is time to take the high-speed train back to Shanghai, where we head to the famous Bund area, in fact to Nanjing Street, which is a world of difference from its namesake city.
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