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Old 13th September 2014, 10:02   #1
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Default Memoir of a China Trip

What happens when you take off at the drop of a hat to exotic locations in the North for long, comeback and churn travelogues after travelogues on Team-bhp, pretending you don't exist at home, leaving your wifey behind to attend to the daily chores? You might get excused one time, may be twice, but not for ever !
My wifey decided to give me a fitting reply by undertaking long travels with an all lady gang, and I could only say I was left spell bound!

This was a trip undertaken by my wifey to China in 2012. She had been traveling on her own for quite sometime and this was her second such trip, the first being a trip to Leh, Ladakh. She travels with like minded ladies in a group. She would like Team-bhp readers to be benefited from her experience, and to give a heads up to those wifey's, girlfriends, moms, friends, foes who face people like me day in day out . Go live your passion she says!!

I am compiling the details as documented by her for team-bhp. By the way she writes better than me.
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Old 13th September 2014, 10:23   #2
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The Itinerary
13th May - 24th May 2012

Day 1 - 13th May, 2012 (Beijing)
Arrive at Beijing International Airport by afternoon from Bangalore.
Beijing Kung Fu Show followed by Chinese dinner
Overnight at Holiday Inn Express, Beijing

Day 2 - 14th May, 2012 (Beijing )
The Great Wall of China.
Beijing zoo after lunch
Shopping at one of the popular markets of Beijing.
Overnight at Holiday Inn Express, Beijing

Day 3 - 15th May, 2012 (Beijing)
Visit the Temple of Heaven followed by an experience of the tea ceremony
Visit to Hutong Area to have lunch at a local restaurant
Tienanmen square and the Forbidden City after lunch
Overnight at Holiday Inn Express, Beijing

Day 4 – 16th May, 2012 (Beijing - Lhasa)
Take a flight to Lhasa at 9.00
Arrive at Lhasa Airport at 14.40
Day at leisure for acclimatisation
Overnight at TIBET GANG-GYEN Hotel

Day 5 – 17th May, 2012 (Lhasa)
Full day city tour of Lhasa (Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkor street)
Overnight at the TIBET GANG-GYEN Hotel.

Day 6 – 18th May, 2012 (Lhasa)
City tour of Lhasa. (Norbulingka, Sela Monastery)
Overnight at the TIBET GANG-GYEN Hotel.

Day 7 – 19th May, 2012 (Lhasa – Xian)
Train to Xian
Overnight in the train.

Day 8 – 20th May, 2012 (Xian)
Arrive at Xian at 20.50
Overnight in Hotel Grand New World Hotel

Day9– 21st May, 2012 (Xian)
Full day excursion (Terracotta Museum, Old City Wall and Wild Goose Pagoda)
Pagoda train to Shanghai
Overnight in the train

Day10– 22nd May, 2012 (Shanghai)

Drive to the water town of Tongli
Drive back to Shanghai
Overnight at Hotel Paradise

Day11 – 23rd May, 2012 (Shanghai)
Shanghai City Tour ( Yu Garden, Old City and Bund)
Overnight at Hotel Paradise

Day12 – 24th May, 2012 (Shanghai - Bangalore)
Shanghai International Airport for your onward flight back to Bangalore.


That seems like a plan
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Old 13th September 2014, 10:29   #3
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The beauty of the snow capped Himalayan ranges coupled with the peace loving philosophy of the predominant Buddhist population had sowed in me, the seeds of desire to visit Tibet over a year back. That was when I read about a travel group in a magazine. Checking out their listed tours showed a Tibet tour with a visit to the Everest base camp and flight over the Himalayas.

The seed had been nurtured for a year when I finally took the trip in May 2012. The tour itinerary had been modified a bit with the Everest base camp being replaced by cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an. Never the less, I decided to go ahead, as the jewel in the crown, Tibet was intact.

Day 01 - 13th May 2012
The tour got onto a slightly delayed start as the flight from Bangalore to Beijing was delayed by over 3 hours. The wanderers from all over India finally got to meet each other by late evening on 13th of May, Chinese time being ahead of India by 2 and a half hours. The group was a melting pot of women from all corners of India, from Punjab to Kerala and Pune to West Bengal. 16 wanderers from varied age groups and professions all driven by the single binding love of travel and discovery.

The late start called for a bit to reorganization into the itinerary. Day 1 saw the weary travelers settling down to rest after dinner at a local Chinese restaurant.
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Old 13th September 2014, 10:36   #4
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Day 02 - 14th May 2012

We headed off to Tienanmen Square with our Chinese tour guide. The vast square is adorned by the picture of Mao Zedong. Chairman Mao as he is popularly called seemed to be keeping a vigil at the square swarmed by tourists.

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From here we walked to the Forbidden City which includes the administrative and living quarters of the Chinese emperors of yester years.

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Built in 1406 – 1420, Forbidden city saw 24 emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties. I picked up from the guide that the area is so called because it was forbidden to locals during emperor rule. Typical to Chinese architecture is a pair of Lions at the entrance, one roaring male with a ball under one paw and the other female distinguished by a cub under its paw. Its vast sprawling area is organized into administrative quarters in front and living areas beyond for the empress and concubines. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, this has been restored as a historical monument. In Chinese history of 19th century, notable is empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled from behind the curtain with her son Tongzhi, the 10th Qing emperor on the throne.

After hogging on a Chinese lunch of yummy fried shrimps and a dozen vegetarian dishes, all hailing ‘good health’, we proceeded to the second half of the day’s tour.

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The Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a complex of religious buildings for annual ceremonies of prayer to heaven for good harvest.

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The gardens surrounding the temple of heaven seemed to be a pensioner’s paradise. Several elderly groups could be seen sitting and relaxing around a game of cards.

On exit from temple of heaven, we walked to a shop that sold different varieties of Chinese tea. A demonstration of the Tea Ceremony, with several varieties like jasmine tea, fruit tea and Ginseng Oolong tea had me spend a fortune to get a variety to gift my husband, who had volunteered to handle home in my absence. Tea happens to be the national drink of China. Restaurants serve tea after meals. India will declare tea as the national drink in an year’s time, so says a national daily. However, I did miss the ‘chai chai’ chants on our Indian railway platforms, during the train travels in China.

The highlight of the day was the Beijing Kung Fu show which enacts the legend of Kung Fu with dance, Kung Fu and acrobatics. The English subtitles kept us informed of the story line of the many difficulties and temptations faced by a young monk on the road to enlightenment and how he finally reaches his destiny of becoming a Kung Fu master.

An Indian dinner at Hotel Ganga was received with much enthusiasm by my travel mates. It had a very relaxing and cozy ambience and we could see many foreigners unwinding with a drink in an atmosphere where time seemed to stand still. We ladies had a laugh about the western atmosphere in a place so Indian in name.
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Old 13th September 2014, 11:54   #5
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Day 03 - 15th May 2012

Day 3 called for an early start as we were scheduled to visit the Great Wall of China. The crowd at the breakfast lounge of Holiday Inn Express revealed that we weren’t the only group up for an early breakfast at 6.30 am. Our guide had warned us the previous day that a late start meant more time in traffic, and the travel to Badaling Great Wall would take over an hour.

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The Great Wall in Badaling area was swarming with tourists all queued up to take the next cable car to the top of the wall. This portion belongs to the over 8000 km wall that extends from east to west of China. The construction is said to have begun as early as 200 B.C during the Qin dynasty to act as fortification from the invasion of nomadic Mongol tribes from the north. Our guide told us a story of many lives lost in building the great wall and how the great wall has stood witness to the Chinese history from ancient times till date.

On the way back we visited a Jade factory. China is famous for Jade and Pearls in addition to tea and silk. But owing to the large fake markets, it needs skill to distinguish the fake from original and in ensuring that the price you are paying matches to the true worth of the items.

After a visit to Beijing zoo to see the famous Panda, ladies were dropped in Hutong area for the love of their life – shopping!

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Hutongs are stone paved alleys with quaint shops on either side.

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These were once the traditional Chinese houses, now preserved to retain age old flavour and showcase traditional Chinese culture to tourists. Much of the city however has been taken over by multi storeyed flats which are leased by the government for 75 years. It cannot be handed down generations. The future generations again need to pay the government if they want to use it after this 75 year span.

The ladies didn’t seem much pleased with the shopping as Hutongs are costly as opposed to the fake markets in the city. Vowing to make up for the loss in Lhasa, Xi’an and Shanghai, we retired to the hotel.

Next day, we would fly out to Lhasa, Tibet.
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Old 13th September 2014, 11:58   #6
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Day 04 - 16th May 2012

The endless stretches of the Himalayan ranges as can be seen during the flight to Lhasa is a feast to the eye. Looking out through the cabin window into the vast desolateness made me wonder of the loneliness of many who walk these terrains to make their way to Nepal and India. As the flight approached Lhasa the white snow peaks gave way to bare rocky slopes.

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The warm reception by our guide at Lhasa airport cheered our spirits after what seemed like a day spend with Air China from Beijing to Lhasa. The airport security checks had been more stringent and special permit is required for entry into Tibet. We arrived 3 hours later than scheduled. The pills for altitude sickness which we had started popping from the previous night, seemed to be doing its job. All seemed at home with the high altitude as they lugged along with the heavy suitcases to the airport parking lot.

The drive to hotel Tibet Gyan Gyen took about 45 min. Enroute we saw the Yarlung Tsangpo which we call Brahmaputra back home.

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I gathered from the guide that the famous Manasarovar lake was 5 – 6 hrs drive from Lhasa. And the Everest Base Camp in Tibet was 700 km from Lhasa, nearer to the Nepali border. Beautiful roads and railway tracks gave order and modernity to the otherwise natural beauty of this region.

The sun was up well beyond half past eight in the evening but we had to curb our urge to take a stroll in the city. Rest and light food is advised on day one for acclimatization. I was a little wary of altitude sickness from my previous experience in Ladakh and choose to stay in bed before and after dinner. The fact that the hotel had a dispensary with a doctor and ample oxygen supplies for any emergency was a big relief.
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Old 13th September 2014, 12:07   #7
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Day 05 - 17th May 2012

Next day morning we set out to see the sights in Lhasa city. The summer and winter palaces of successive Dalai Lama’s are prominent attractions.

The summer palace, Norbulingka has huge sprawling gardens and open spaces. It hosts the Tibetan traditional opera and folk song performances every year.

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Built by the 7th Dalai Lama, the summer palace interior has paintings on the walls which takes one down the history of Tibet. As per recorded history, Tibetan empire was founded by king Songstan Gampo in the 7th century A.D. The founding of the Tibetan script is attributed to one of his ministers who was send to Nalanda in India and established the script on his return to Tibet. A huge radio of olden days with the Indian emblem stood as a sign of friendship between India and Tibet. We were told that it was a gift from Jawaharlal Nehru to the then Dalai Lama on his visit to Tibet.

The Potala palace is unmistakably the biggest landmark of Lhasa.

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Initially constructed by Songstan Gampo in the 7th century, it was reconstructed by the 5th Dalai Lama who moved in here when he took over as the political and religious leader. To cover 360 steps to reach the palace would take nearly quarter to an hour. Climbing would be extra strenuous due to the lesser percentage of oxygen at these altitudes. As i stopped during the climb to catch my breath, I could see stunning views of Lhasa city from here.

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There were women aged over 65 years in our group and I was amazed to see them slowly and steadily making it to the top. They said the secret was yoga and couple of walking sessions every week.

Photography is not permitted within the complex and the entry and exit times are recorded to regulate smooth flow of the large number of pilgrims and tourists visiting the palace.

The throne of Dalai Lama had an installed figure indicating that the throne wasn’t empty. It was awesome to see the Thangka paintings on the walls retaining its richness of colours after so many hundreds of years. We were told that these were never repainted and the colour richness is attributed to the use of minerals and organic pigments.
After the white palace or the living quarters we moved to the red palace which is an area devoted to religious study and prayer. This palace has the golden stupas or the tombs of eight Dalai Lamas.

As we left the palace, feeling enriched and blessed, time was well into evening. The sun was still shining bright as though to light the streets for a shopping escapade.

After tea and onion pakodas at an Indian restaurant at Barkhor street, we set off to scan and shop in a land where the calculator was the only medium of communication between the vendor and the shopper. Beautiful Thangka paintings, art items and jewellery of Himalayan corals, pearls or ruby are available for an avid shopper.

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Bollywood ring tones seemed to be fashionable and popular amongst Tibetans. It seemed to imply the loving sentiment the people of this land has for our home country. After shopping and an Indian dinner, we retired to the hotel.
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Old 13th September 2014, 12:13   #8
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Day 06 - 18th May 2012

The walk to the Jokhang temple next day morning doubled up as a sightseeing tour through the Tibetan market area of various spices, condiments and yak cheese. Yak meat, cheese and butter are famous here. Heard from our guide that yak products are considered nutritious as the yak feeds on rare herbs at high altitudes. Chinese soldiers on duty at watch posts and vigilant police are a common sight at crowded areas of the market and at Lhasa square. All sign boards are written in Tibetan as well as in Chinese. And i could gather that Chinese language has also been introduced in schools across Tibet.

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Jokhang temple stands at Lhasa square and is an important pilgrimage sight of Tibetan Buddhists. It was built by Songstan Gampo in 7th century to enshrine the Buddha statue brought by his Nepali wife. As per legends, the place where the temple stands now was a lake inhabited by a demon. The construction of the temple at other locations failed until the demon was located and killed.

Pilgrims walk the city, chanting and praying with the Buddhist wheel before coming in for prayers into the temple. Many devotees could be seen prostrating at the entry to the temple.

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The Sera monastery is the second largest monastery in Tibet. Here we got to see kalachakra depictions painstakingly done with coloured sand grains. Another interesting sight was the daily debates by the monks.

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On our way back we visited a Tibetan home where we were served butter tea and snacks. Later in the evening was Tibetan dinner followed by folk dance and singing performances by local artists. Dim Sums (steamed dumplings with meat or vegetables inside) was available through most of our meals of this China trip. Additionally, Tibetan cuisine included yak soup and meat.

Next day, we would take the train from Lhasa to Xi’an.
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Old 13th September 2014, 12:19   #9
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Day 07 - 19th May 2012

This train journey was one of the highlights of the trip. We waved goodbye to our guide at Lhasa train station and proceeded for security check procedures. The waiting lounge was comparable to ones available at any airport. This rail track would connect the Tibet plateau to major cities in China.

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The excitement at being on what was called the highest railway track at over 5000 mts altitude reached its peak as boarding was announced. This journey would take us to our next destination – Xi’an.

The Great wall of China and now the highest railway track, are remarkable landmarks that showcase how the Chinese are adept at taming harsh terrains. These stand as witness of their hard work and a never say die spirit.

The first half of this overnight journey runs through vast and desolate arid stretches of land. The scenery is characterized by snow capped mountains, lakes and grazing wild yaks. Enroute we passed the holy lake Namtso. This salt lake is the largest lake in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

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Old 13th September 2014, 12:44   #10
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Day 08 - 20th May 2012

By next day morning, the altitude had dropped and farming villages came into sight.

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As we got closer to Xi’an, the terrain was made rich by lush green mountains.

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The city of Xi’an was already lit, when we exited the station to drive to Hotel New World.

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Credited as one of the oldest cities in China, Xi’an (then Chang’an) has a history of over 3000 years and is famous for the terracotta soldiers. After a dinner of chicken steak, French fries and soup, we retired for the night. The ambience and comfort of this one night stay in Xi’an was to compensate for the overnight train journeys between which it was sandwiched.

Xian’s history is attributed to it being the starting point of a trade route that extended till the Mediterranean Sea, with silk as the leading source of trade. This was called ‘The Silk Road’. From the year 25 AD during the Eastern Han period, Indian Buddhism was introduced into China, eastward along the Silk Road.
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Old 13th September 2014, 12:54   #11
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Day 09 - 21st May 2012

The Wild Goose Pagoda was built during the 7th century and has numerous statues and Jade carvings from the life of Shakyamuni or Gautama Buddha. It houses the Buddhist figurines and scriptures brought to China from India by the Buddhist translator and traveller XuanZang. He is said to have travelled westward from Xian, along the Old Silk Road in 629 and built the Pagoda on his return to Xian in 645.

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From here, we drove to the mausoleum site museum of first Qin emperor, Shihuang. The terracotta warrior army all arranged in the pits from where they were excavated was a magnificent site. These date back to 200 BC, during the Qin dynasty. The emperor is said to have made the terracotta army to protect him in the after life. A thousand of them have already been excavated, and the total number still buried in pits are estimated to count to eight thousand.

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The pottery warriors and horses are said to have been stuck together from hundreds of broken pieces. These are life-like and each warrior has been made to look different with varying features and height. The colour painted armour and dress of the soldiers had lost their colours within three days of excavation, we were told. Hence, further excavation has been kept on hold for better technologies for preservation. Also, the government has cordoned off visitors to the actual mausoleum site which is a little further away from the pits. The movie ‘The Mummy: Tomb of Dragon Emperor’ is a story based on the Qin emperor and his terracotta army.

After packing a dinner of burger and coke from Mac Donald’s, we boarded the train for an overnight journey to Shanghai, the last Chinese city in our itinerary.
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Old 13th September 2014, 13:00   #12
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Day 10 - 22nd May 2012

After check in and breakfast at Hotel Paradise in Shanghai, we set out for the water town of Tongli. Tongli is a small laid back town that can rightly be called Venice of East. Water canals, row boats, bridges and cycle rickshaws made this place unique to any other places we had visited earlier. We took a walk along the cobbled pathways by the water canals peering into small shops on the side. A Chinese lady was making sweets in one and another sold oyster shells with pearls.

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There are good many age-old houses preserved to give a taste of Chinese architecture and culture. ‘Retreat and Reflection garden’ built by an administrative official in the 19th century (now converted as a display museum), gives a good feel of Chinese aesthetic sense, culture and beauty. It has the residential areas including tea hall and reception hall to the west and the garden with pavilions, bridges, ponds and rock gardens to the east. Ponds, rocks, plants and architecture form the four elements of a Chinese garden. These elements as per Chinese Feng Shui symbolize balance of yin and yang energies, opposite forces complementing and completing each other. The younger generation in China has the freedom to choose their faith, we were told, and many of them follow philosophies such as Confucianism and Taoism.

Shanghai is a shopper’s paradise owing to the large fake market business that thrives here. From Rolex watches to i-Pads and i-phones, all at unbelievable prices. If you are the kind who is happy with a look-alike, then you could shop here till you drop. Our guide told us that the look-alike electronic items couldn’t be expected to have a life beyond a year or so.

A cruise over the Huangpu river in the evening was an electrifying experience. The Shanghai sky scrapers all lit up against the night sky looked different to anything I had seen back here in India. I came to gather that the development of this part of China as a world financial capital occurred not more than a twenty years back.

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Shanghai has a vibrant night life with karaoke bars where you can sit back and enjoy some relaxing music. Or if you want to expend some pent-up energy, you could take to the dance floors. After enjoying some cocktails, seafood and lovely music we called it a day. As the cab drove up at the hotel, it was almost midnight.
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Old 13th September 2014, 13:05   #13
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Day 11 - 23rd May 2012

All sweet things must come to an end. And so must a vacation. Remembrance of good times, fun and discovery would linger on. Time had flown and we were on the 11th and last day of our tour. After the Yu garden visit, our friends from Delhi would fly out that day evening. Six of us were to stay back an additional day and catch the flight to Bangalore, the next day.

Yu Garden is an excellent model of classical Chinese gardening architecture. It was built during the Ming dynasty in the 16th century, as a private garden for the administrative commissioner. The ponds, rock gardens, bridges and pavilions and the greenery balance the essential four elements of a Chinese garden as per Feng Shui and Taoist philosophy.

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After the Yu garden visit, the Delhi folks continued to the Airport, while we decided to explore the Bund area for the rest of the evening. The Bund area consists of the old buildings from the European and British architecture. From here we can see the Shanghai Financial Centre and the tall TV tower across the Pu river. Way side cafes, snack bars, well maintained pathways and the western architecture gives a feeling of being in a major European city.

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Old 13th September 2014, 13:07   #14
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Day 12 - 24th May 2012

After a relaxed morning on day 12, we left for Pudong airport. The airport connectivity to various parts of Shanghai is amazing. It took us barely 8 minutes to reach the airport via the Maglev, which is a fast train capable of speeds over 300 km/hr.

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As I boarded the flight for the onward journey to Bangalore, the feeling was of deep satisfaction of 12 well spent days with the bonus of new friendships and acquaintances.

Through these days after the return from the trip, as I took to writing this memoir, I have re-lived the trip and seen China a second time better. Hope this memoir does the same for my travel mates and to all other readers.


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Old 13th September 2014, 23:40   #15
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Default Re: Memoir of a China Trip

Thread moved from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing.
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