From Beijing, we headed to Pingyao Ancient City, a UNESCO listed town, in Shanxi Province by train. The comfortable ride was only marred by the sight of heavily polluted air. As we entered Shanxi Province, the darkened polluted air was clearly visible. Pingyao train station is about 8 km from the old city.
The well preserved Ancient City is enclosed within a Ming and Qing Wall, built in the 12th century. However, Pingyao has been in existence since 600 – 700 BC. Today, most of the buildings had been restored to its former grandeur. The whole walled city is paved with cobbled streets. It is a fascinating place. Unfortunately, the air is laden with thick smog resulting from burning of coal for warmth in winter. Visibility was poor.
We stayed a one of the traditional 400 hundred year old courtyard mansions decorated with ornate carvings and elaborate courtyard. The best mode of travel is by walking. The main street is the busy Ming-Qing Street. There are hundreds of shops selling from food, souvenirs to accommodations. The iconic City Tower is also on this street. Street vendors fins pockets of this street to earn a living.
I met with workers covered in coal dust as they shovelled coal. Their hands callused from the hard work. At another site, an old dilapidated building was being refurbished and remodelled into a hotel. Work here is slow as all was done with manual labour.
There are several entrances to climb up the onto the fortified wall. Beyond it lies the modern city. Atop this wall, the view of the ancient city is revels it terracotta tiles, cobbled streets and panoramic views from the South Gate. It also provides an opportunity to pry into the daily lives of the residents. After descending from the West Gate, a narrow lane lead to a row of unrestored homes. Grasses and other plants, withered from winter, covered the roof tops.
Temples, old merchant’s homes and business premises such as Rishengchang Remittance Bank or Exchange, the City God Temple and several more significant Courtyard homes dot within this walled city. The old city is a great place to wander on foot as most sights a compacted within the walls. On one back streets, I found myself tasting and wandering a vinegar factory. In the evenings, the Ming-Qing Street become lively with dinners. Red lanterns add beauty to this ancient city. Today, a full moon shone a soft glow onto the stone streets. Finally, the locals do put up some of the best Shanxi cuisines.