Wed, September 29, 2010
Lifestyle > Travel

Country escapes

2010-09-29 01:50:50 GMT2010-09-29 09:50:50 (Beijing Time)  Global Times

A man plays with fire in Nuanquan, Hebei Province. (Photo source: Global Times)

By Sam Linsen

BEIJING, Sept. 29 (Xinhuanet) -- Hebei Province in northern China offers a vast array of rural getaways, from fireworks festivals to cultural village and peaceful town squares.

Taking it easy

Zhangjiakou inYuxian county is quiet and comfortable. In the early evening, the town's central square is adorned with strolling couples, playing children and relaxed parents who socialize under a sky of stars. Among one of the square's boarders lies a bustling street, fragrant smells escape from roasting food and burning wood with welcoming smells making you realize that tasty snacks are close by.

City life goes on around green corn fields and an ancient town. A 13-story high pagoda, situated just behind the south gate of the old city, has been a landmark for centuries, it was erected in the Liao Dynasty (916- 1125). Despite the ancient appearances, the city is a hive of activity, locals ride, cycle, sell and bargain on every street corner.

Similar towns are dotted throughout Hebei's rural countryside. Many local customs have survived throughout different dynasties, and every village offers distinctive perspectives.

Fire spectaculars

Two events attract nationwide attention each year during Spring Festival when skies above Nuanquan town and Shangsuzhuang village are lit up by fire.

In Nuanquan, local men throw melted metal against the village's gates, dashuhua. The men are armed with large wooden spoons and a continuous supply of bowls that contain the glowing mixture. When the airborne pieces of metal solidify, they explode upon collision with the gate's bricks, generating breathtaking ancient fireworks and lighting up the village's fortress wall as well as hundreds of meters of sky above.

The spectacular is repeated well into the evening, with hundreds of spectators staring in amazement and enjoying a rain of stars.

Shangsuzhuang lights its skies in a ceremony called baidengshan. Candles made of animal fat are lit to reveal a four-character poem that wishes prosperity for the future. Hundreds of people gather in front of the temple that was specifically constructed for this singular event. Serenity spreads over the village while people watch four men carefully light each candle one by one.

The peaceful atmosphere is then broken as the crowd is suddenly taken by surprise with loud fireworks and striking drums.

Culture & nature

The fortress of Xigubu offers a great chance to enjoy a taste of cultural heritage. Both large and small temples have survived for hundreds of years and are still in full operation today. Walking through the old structures, ancient frescos can be discovered with many still powerful and vivid.

Hebei's mountains set a perfect backdrop to local cultural sites of the province and have long divided a considerable part of the territory from China's east coast.

An ancient tale explains how when offered land as far as he could shoot an arrow, a soldier took aim through the mountains, with marks of his arrow remaining on stones preceding the mountain ridge on the way to Feihuyu and Kongzhongcaoyuan.

Almost wherever you look in Hebei, green valleys and fragrant meadows are surrounded by ancient villages and temples. Single or multi-day trips are a great way to travel to unknown spots.

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