Located in Huangshan city, the home of Huizhou culture, the Ancient Huizhou Culture Tourism Zone consists of the Ancient Huizhou Town...【more
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Self-driving Tours in Huizhou

In a strict sense, the quintessential area of Huizhou culture is neither Yixian County nor Wuyuan County which I visited years ago. As a matter of fact, Shexian County, where the administrative government of ancient Huizhou was located, is the cradle of Huizhou culture and the birthplace of Huizhou merchants. Back in the Qin Dynasty when the county of Shexian was set up here, and in Tang Dynasty, it was upgraded to zhou, called Shezhou (an administrative division in ancient China), and in Song Dynasty, the name of Shezhou was changed into Huizhou.
I have been to some ancient villages famous for Huizhou culture and architecture, such as Xidi, Hongcun, Nanping, Guanlu, Tangyue, Xiaoqi, Yancun, etc. Therefore, the only places absent from my travelogue would be Shexian County and Jixi County. Quite by chance, during the Qingming Festival, one of my colleagues was to send a client of his to Jixi to sweep the ancestral tombs, so he invited me to accompany him. Although I would leave for Tibet in a few days, it would otherwise have been a good time for rest at home and preparations, I still failed to resist the temptation of the verdant mountains and crystal water of Huizhou.
I made the itinerary, a simple one. We would start on April 4, and send his client to Wangchan, Jixi. If time permitted, we would visit the ancient residences in Qiankou; if not, we would check in Xiangming Hotel, Tunxi; on April 5, we would spend the whole day appreciating Xin'An River Landscape Gallery; on April 6, we would pick up his client and visit the scenic area of Longchuan in Jixi County.
Qingming Festival always witnesses rain. On the morning of April 4, Changzhou had some light rain, but it later became heavier and heavier all the way to the south, until it became a downpour. The best route of car-driving from Changzhou to Huangshan is to take Nanjing-Hangzhou Expressway first, and then Hangzhou-Huangshan Expressway. But since we had to send the client to Jixi, we took the provincial road via Yixing, Guangde and Ningguo to Jixi, and then to Shexian and Tunxi, about 400 kms in all. Owing to the heavy rain and poor road conditions, it was already 4 p.m. when we arrived in Shexian County. And then we took the Hangzhou-Huangshan Expressway for the final 30 kms. Several minutes after we got off the expressway in Tunxi, we arrived at the Xiangming Hotel, where we had reserved rooms.
Sometimes the world is so small. Last year, I went to Wuyuan during the Qingming Festival. At the first traffic circle off the expressway in Tunxi, I saw a building near completion with grid patterns, which struck me as strange. But ironically, this is the Xiangming Hotel which we lived in this time. It is a conference center which hosted the International Huizhou Merchants Conference in 2008. Upon entering the lobby, one can sensed the strong smell of internal decoration, and I wondered how on earth those conference participants stood the awful smell at that time. Apart from that, this hotel met all the basic requirements of five-star standard hotels
After we checked in, we went to the Ancient Street in Tunxi. My colleague showed greater interest than I did. The rainfall in Tunxi was too heavy for an umbrella, and we paid a second visit to the local cousin restaurant at the entrance of Ancient Street. During the three days’ tour in Ningguo, Tunxi, Shexian and Jixi, I tasted almost all the typical dishes of Huizhou Cousin, ranging from smelly bean curd to salted mandarin fish, from stirred-fried starch noodles to stone frogs braised with black fungus. Generally speaking, Huizhou Cousin is salty and spicy. After days of the local flavor, only the stone frog soup and the pork braised with bamboo shoot agreed with me. Food, anyway, is an integral part of fun in travel. On the second day, we visited the Xin’an River Landscape Gallery, a well-renowned scenic hiking route in East China. Back in 1997, I went to Qiandao Lake by ship from the Town of Shendu, Shexian County, and the picturesque scenery along the two sides of Xin’an River impressed me greatly.
In fact, there is no precise definition of the so-called Xin’an River Landscape Gallery, because it refers generally to the coastal landscape and villages of Xin’an River, but the starting point is usually the Town of Shendu, Shexian County. Shendu, located at the junction of Changyuan River and Xin’an River, is an important transit center of tourists on the golden tourism line of Mount Huangshan - the Qiandao Lake in Anhui Province, and also the throat of waterway from ancient Huizhou to Zhejiang Province. It is from here that the ancient Huizhou merchants started their business trip.
Starting from Town of Shendu, three routes are available for travelers: the first choice is going down to Qiandao Lake at the lower reaches of the Xin’an River, which was my route back in 1997; the second option is to the upper reaches of the Xin’an River, from the Town of Shendu to the Town of Kengkou via Mianxi, Miantan and Zhangtan. The ship sails between Shendu and Zhangtan only, and tourists can choose to drive or hike along the rest of the road way. This section is the very part of Xin’an River Landscape Gallery, which costs 50 yuan; the third option is travelling along the upper reaches of the Changyuan River, heading to Shitan and Changxi, but only on foot.
We originally planned to drive to the downtown of Shexian County in the morning, and take the bus to Shendu, and then walk back to fetch our car after the visit. In this way, we could save the landscape gallery admission fee. Speaking of admission fee, Shexian people are quite calculating, worthy of their title of “merchants’ descendants”. The local people set up two ticket stations at Shendu and Kengkou which are the two ends of No. 004 County Road, forcing passing car to pay for admission. One should know that this is a public highway, which was built much earlier than the scenic area. For another instance, Shexian County circled an area in downtown, and called it the Ancient Huizhou Sceic Area, with an admission of 60 yuan per person, a daylight robbery.
When we drove to the downtown of Shexian County, we decided to drive directly to the Town of Shendu to save the trouble of changing transportations. However, under the guidance of our GPS, we took a rough mountain road to Shendu via Bei’an. This road has only mountains but no river-side scenery, so it can not be called Xin’an River Landscape Gallery, so naturally no money was charged for this part. That also explains for the poor road conditions. After the awful drive, we had little courage or mood for hiking, so we drove directly to Xin’an River Landscape Gallery. As expected, we were stopped on the way at a ticket station. We have experienced so much to make it here, so just pay for it!
It had been raining all night long, but unexpectedly the rain stopped in the morning, and the sun emerged from behind the clouds now and then. There were few vehicles or pedestrians on the road, very quiet and comfortable, so we drove very slowly, enjoying the pure river water on our left, and yellow cole flowers and villages on the right. When spotting appealing sceneries, we just stopped to take some photographs. This was just the fun of self driving-- free!
According to the guidance on the tickets, we crossed the river by ferry and landed on a small village of Zhangtan. It is so named because of the millennium-old camphor trees in the village. The only transportation of going outside is the ferry-boat. Only six people were on the ferry: the two of us tourists, a married woman with her young daughter returning home to visit parents, the elderly boatman and his shy little grandson. It took about ten minutes to cross the river, and boat was driven purely by manual rowing. The already gray haired boatman did not overcharge us because we were tourists, and the fare was just 1 yuan for each, as indicated clearly on a boat sign. How pure these local people were! Here I need to solemnly correct my pervious evaluation of Shexian people. Only a particular and small group of people would resort to unscrupulous tricks for money, and anyway it is a commonplace everywhere, not unique to Shexian people. Zhangtan is a backward and closed small village. Apart from a few old camphor trees, no other sights would be worth visiting. As the married woman said, loquat trees on the mountain were their sole source of income, but very limited in quantity. In addition, seen from the ferry, some litter-like things were floating on the river, and under close scrutiny, they were the packages. If only they were not left by those tourists.
After leaving Zhangtan, we gradually increased the speed of the car, and on the way back to Shexian, we met a hiking couple. Aware of their intention of a lift, we slowed down and picked them up. They could not find the coach back to Shexian after their visit to the village of Zhangtan. They looked quite young, not working for long, but they were tougher than us. They walked all the way to the village of Shitan along Changyuan River despite of the rain, because they thought Changyuan River was more beautiful than Xin’an River. From the photos in their cameras, the water in Changyuan River was truly more shallow and clearer, and one could even walk down to the riverbed, getting closer to Changyuan River.
When we got back to the downtown area of Shexian at noon, a parking attendant showed us a secret path into the Ancient Huizhou Scenic Area in exchange for “tip” tips. This should be a win-win situation, so --deal!
The so-called Ancient Huizhou Scenic Area was nothing but a city wall and a gatehouse built at the center of Shexian County, and one had to pay 60 yuan admission to enter. In fact, the scenic area was also part of the county, with tens of thousands of residents living inside, so there was no way of complete closure. About 200 to 300 meters left or right from the admission gate, people could have free access inside. Those who pay for the admission were nobody else but the fooled package tourists.
The Ancient Huizhou consisted of Xu Guo Stone Memorial Archways, Doushan Old Street and Huiyuan Garden, the latter being a group of newly-built architectures of ancient style, without too much value.
Xuguo Stone Memorial Archways were built back in the Ming Dynasty. As the national key protection site of cultural relics, it is the most famous ancient memorial archway in ancient Huizhou, and it represents the highest level of memorial archway building craftsmanship. Huizhou architecture features memorial archways, dwellings and ancestral shrines, and Shexian is also known as “the hometown of archways”, for archways can be seen everywhere here, but very rare is an archway complex with four faces. Xuguo Stone Memorial Archways were funded by Mr. Xu Guo, the grand secretary of state council, after he was praised by the emperor. The carvings on the archways are all the compliments for him.
Doushan Street is located in the center of Shexian County. It is so named because of its shape like the Big Dipper, and it is a collection of tourism and cultural attractions like ancient dwellings, ancient streets, ancient carvings, old wells and ancient archways. Here tourists can find typical ancient Huizhou architecture in the Ming and Qing Dynasties, such as the Wangs’ Residence, Lord Yangs’ Family Courtyard, the ancient old style private school, and the Businessmen Pans’ Family Courtyard.
To tell you the truth, Huizhou architecture are basically the same, with the pure white walls and grey roofs, well-proportioned horse head walls, enclosed square structure of courtyard. Each building includes the exquisite wood carvings, brick carving and stone carving, especially carvings on the entrance tower. The people of Huizhou take the entrance towers very seriously, and there is a saying, “Ninety-nine percent of the entrance towers decoration and one percent of the rooms”.
Our next stop was Qiankou Ancient Residence. Qiankou Ancient Residence Museum is divided into two parts: Qing Garden and Ming Garden. The most striking difference between Qiankou and Xidi Village and Hongcun Village lies in that the former is not a natural village, but a reconstruction of the ancient residence with original materials, residential layout and design, or rather a museum of Huizhou ancient residence. In the section of Qing Garden, some representative products of Huizhou culture were on display, such as ink, ink stone and brick carving, etc. Qiankou Ancient Residence was a free scenic spot, and the only 4-A level scenic spot free of charge in Huizhou. On its website home page read the slogan, “Beijing is the place to admire royal residence; Qiankou is the place to feel the folk dwelling”.
On the way to Qiankou, I had planned to accompany my colleague to visit the Tangyue Memorial Archways Complex, but I was really unwilling to pay the costly admission of 80 yuan. I remembered the last time I went to Tangyue, I noticed a highway nearby, so we drove the car to the highway to take a look from the distance. However, the smart locals stopped us at the entrance of the road to the archways, and there was no other access available unless we flew over the village. So we gave up the visit. When we returned to Tunxi, it was still early, so we went downtown for dinner and shopping in the Old Street. In the Old Street, a small piece of wood carving would be charged for hundreds or even thousands of yuan. As said by those businessmen, lobular rosewood would cost up to one million yuan per ton, which was far beyond our comprehension and belief, so naturally we did not have the heart to pay.
For the last day of the tour, we were to pick up the client at Wangchuan Village and then go to Longchuan Village. We departed from the hotel at 8 o’clock a.m. As a result of several days of rain, the air was moist and foggy in the morning. Unexpectedly the Huangshan-Hangzhou expressway was open as usual, so there was little traffic on the way. Supposedly, most tourists had not started their journey yet. In Shexian County, we got off the expressway and transferred to provincial road. The fog dispersed slowly, and when we arrived in Jixi County, it cleared up. On the way to Wangchuan, Jixi County, the road was lined with shiny yellow cole flowers on both sides, forming a sharp contrast with the dark and sullen picture the day before. Jixi County used to be under the jurisdiction of ancient Huizhou, but nobody knows how it was transferred to the jurisdiction of Xuancheng, or how Wuyuan to that of Jiangxi Province. In this way, the ancient Huizhou as a whole was split into three parts. Longchuan Scenic Area is only 12 kilometers from the downtown of Jixi County, and it is now a popular tourism spot, because this is the ancestral home of Mr. Hu Jintao, the former Chinese President.
Longchuan is one of the oldest villages in Jixi County. The Hu familial clan has lived here for over one thousand six hundred years. The entire village was shaped like a boat, with Dragon Peak and Phoenix Peak at the eastern and western part of the village, a clear and shallow creek running through the village, which made it a place with ideal Fengshui. Huizhou people attach great importance to Fengshui, and they pursue the harmony between man and nature. Their ideal village Fengshui is: leaning against a high mountain at the back, with a river running though the middle, and a lower mountain in the front. Fortunately, Huizhou has plenty of mountains and streams, which can fully meet the demands of Huizhou people.
There is abundant evidence to prove that the favorable Fengshui in Longchuan really brings good luck to their posterities. Otherwise, how can we explain all those eminent figures in history from Hu Mi, Hu Zongxian, Hu Xueyan, Hu Shi and Hu Jintao. Naturally, visitors to Longchuan will definitely go to the Hus Ancestral Shrine.
Huizhou people used to live in familial clans, with a very strong patriarchal clan ideas and extremely tight clan organizations. “Gods should be placed in a temple, and ancestors should be laid in a shrine”, and the ancestral shrine was indispensable in the village. The Hus Ancestral Shrine is the family shrine for Mr. Hu Zongxian, Minister of War, Mr. Hu Fu, Minister of Revenue in Ming Dynasty, and Mr. Hu Guangyong, businessman and government official in the Qing Dynasty. It was built in the Ming Dynasty, and the plaque at the front gate which reads “The Hus Ancestral Shrine in Longchuan” was the inscription of Mr. Wen Zhengming of Ming Dynasty.
The Hus Ancestral Shrine in Longchuan is known as the masterpiece of Chinese ancient shrines, with its architectural style integrating wood carving, brick carving, stone carving and color painting in one, especially its over 600 pieces of wood carvings of exquisite craftsmanship. At both sides of the main entrance, there were several doors of meters high. The upper part of each window had hollow lattice, and the lower part had flat flower carvings. Most of them were lotuses, some in buds, some in full bloom; some lotus leaves stretching like an umbrella, and some curling up like a hat. The picture was also decorated with some lively and dynamic images, such as birds flying in sky, swimming fish, ducks playing in a river, frogs leaping in a pond, mandarin ducks courting, opening mussels, etc. The windows and doors at the back was carved with vases, combining techniques of relief carving and shallow carving. When introducing a piece of wood carving, the tour guide pointed at a crab hidden under a lotus leaf and said: “This picture refers to ‘harmony’ (The pronunciations of crab and lotus together are the same as harmony in Chinese).” I guess this is the inspiration of a “harmonious society” advocated by Mr. President, as it originated from his family’s ancestral shrine.
Bidding farewell to Longchuan, we embarked on the return journey. This concluded my three-day-tour in Shexian and Jixi, with everything going smoothly. As a tourist who is interested in Huizhou culture, I now can say confidently: after all my visits to Yixian County, Wuyuan County, Tunxi, completed with my tours in Shexian County and Jixi County, I have had good understanding, experience and feelings of Huizhou culture.
 
 
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