As Chongqing continues to revive its many vestiges of cultural heritage that had descended into virtual anonymity, the latest addition to the rapidly expanding tourist trail is Huangjueya Old Street, a once bustling epicentre of diplomatic and commercial activity that branches from the main drag upon Nanshan Mountain.
Word about this 350 million yuan restoration project has been going around for some time, as people consider potential business opportunity, especially since the developers are again keen to instill a unique artisanal feel by leasing only to independent names, not unlike Testbed 2.
In total, there are around 175 buildings as part of the restoration, but rather than simply making up numbers, the design is for each and every one to retain its own unique attraction and style
HuangJueya黄桷垭 translates very roughly as Yellow-rafter-landstrip, a name befitting of the traditional architecture and historical relevance the site once exuberated.
The 500 metre long street is one end of a larger area once known as the ‘Huangge Ancient Walkways黄葛古道’ that began in the Tang Dynasty, and prospered all the way through the Song, Ming and Qing. It has always enjoyed great prominence in the memories of Chongqing citizens.
Among the renowned locations about to proudly receive visitors, decades after their fall from glory, are the Yunnan and Guizhou Commercial Guildhouses, the former station house, the old post office, plus the original family homes of famous Taiwnese writer San Mao三毛, and Li Kuian, a founding member of Chongqing University.
In and around these attractions are museums displaying historical artefacts, photo galleries, art exhibitions, book displays, and creative spaces that will embody the past glories of this ancient site.
My impromptu yet long envisaged walk through Huangjueya had a similar motivation to Huguang Guild in Jiefangbei. The overcast skies and drizzle suddenly gave way to cloudless horizons, and the inviting warmth of winter sunshine enticed me to make the half hour drive from my home in Yubei District.
Nanshan is a mountain ridge on the eastern side of Chongqing, and is a wonderful getaway any time of year, packed with manors, teahouses, bookstores, universities, museums, nightview platforms like Yikeshu and the Golden Eagle, botanical gardens, waterparks, Caribbean Bay and Japanese Spa. It’s truly a world unto itself.
A previous chance to visit was thwarted by the nightly rush of visitors, and though it was a quiet midweek afternoon, I was fortunate enough to come across an unstaffed residential carpark just opposite on a crowded sidestreet.
Since there were few spaces available, I had to box in another car, but remembered to display a contact number on the dashboard should the owner return in my absence. A trait that has caught on with the high levels of car ownership, but dearth of legal parking space.
Should you decide to visit, I would strongly suggest coming by taxi or public transport.
I thoroughly enjoyed an hour exploring the main street and side alleys. At present, the attraction is still a work in progress. While plenty of buildings are already up and running, others are at all stages of completion.
Workmen were busy fixing slabs on the walkway, capenters chopped away at wooden structures, and the sounds of sledgehammers, metal cutters, and drills resonated through the otherwise pleasant ambiance.
There were cosy looking guesthouses in business, snack stalls, mahjong centres, artefact shops all along the main street, something to grab your attention wherever you should choose to wander.
At the end, you reach a verdant space where a flight of stone steps leads down to a community of local residents, who continue their daily lives in charmingly antiquated surroundings, and seem relatively unperturbed by the sudden mass of tourists on the doorstep.
As I walked back towards the station house, a friendly voice sounded in my ears from above. A young man selling Turkish ice cream from a stall perched upon a flight of steps asked where I was from.
Saying how much he loved England, we chatted briefly as my daughter tucked into a mango flavoured offering. He had only come to China three months ago, and answered that he was from the country emblazen in the stall name when I was dumb enough to ask. His English was good, but he did struggle trying to decipher my strong British accent.
Despite the buidling work, and the fact a majority of attractions are yet to open, there was a very sizeable number of tourists, both local and from out of town. I can only imagine the crowds Huangjueya will pull when the whole restoration project reaches completion in the next year!