Chang in China

Meiyang Chang is a household across India. The lovable, talented “Indian Idol” singer and winner of “Jhalak Dikhla Jaa” is now an entertainer in his own right. He wears many caps, each of which takes him to a new destination. Read on to find out how his trip to the country of his ancestors went.
Most of my holidays are somewhat influenced by work. This time, I headed to China for a performance. Though it is the country of my ancestors, I’d never visited before. I don’t fancy travelling alone; a companion lets me share the joys and experiences with someone else, and it’s a great way to strengthen any bond. I’ve always maintained that happiness multiplies by sharing your lunch, and guilt is divided by splitting dessert. So my mother came along, and we thoroughly enjoyed our travels, gorging on local delicacies, laughing at our inability to understand the language, and spending some genuine quality time together.

We started in the capital of Beijing, doing plenty of walking in the crowded areas of Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The latter is an imperial zone replete with mystery – a goldmine for the curious tourist in me! I loved the Temple of Heaven, one of a few Chinese temples not swathed in red and gold, but instead pleasing dashes of blue. On a sweltering day, this temple provides a pleasant ambience for travellers.
Missing out on the Great Wall would have been unacceptable, and what a sight it was. It took my breath away, figuratively and literally. The steep, 45-minute climb to the halfway mark was the most intense workout I’d had in months. Naturally, I was humbled by the sight of a 90-year-old man happily trotting along the length of the wall with more vigour than I’d been able to muster. But the view from the top was truly one from the heavens. Chairman Mao once said that you’re not a true man if you haven’t scaled the entire wall. Given how steep the climb is, I’d agree.

The tombs of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty were an example in extravagance, even in death. Much like the Egyptians – who mummified and buried their pharaohs in the Great Pyramids along with food, riches and servants for the afterlife – the Ming emperors had Sacred Way. The 1,800-metre long road is lined with stone warriors, advisors and animals, all guarding passage to the afterlife. Ironically, the tombs themselves are extremely simple and frugal.
Xian was our next stop. I’m a big history buff, so seeing the Terracotta Warriors had been a dream. Since their accidental discovery by farmers in 1976, each warrior has been painfully excavated and put together. As for the Yangtze cruise itinerary, each stop – the Red Pagoda, the White Emperor City, the Three Gorges, Fengdu Ghost City – was more interesting than the last, with fantastic myths of magic, gods, heaven and the seven hells. The technological marvel that is the Three Gorges Dam didn’t seem out of place in such a rich, historic culture.
Of course, sailing through the actual place of our origin, Hubei province, was a strangely happy highlight. Our guide even offered to trace our ancestry if we provided her with some hard-to-find details about our names. I guess I’ll take her up on that offer someday.

By virtue of being Chinese-Indian, I do not eat most meats. However, one must experiment in China. My first new gastronomic adventure in Beijing was fried scorpions, and I was disappointed to realise that they taste like any other fried snack. The hot pot was one of my favourite meals of the trip – meats and veggies cooked and spiced according to your palate, all in a succulent broth. What I genuinely loved was the variety, authenticity and the sense of adventure. Mom’s excitement at having access to this fare surely rubbed off on me. One thing we did not get time to savour, the pièce de résistance, was roast duck. I’d had it in Chinatowns across the world and enjoyed it, but ironically and unfortunately, I couldn’t get a bite in the most authentic of places.

The people of China are extremely disciplined and regimented. It’s a far cry from India, where almost anything goes. The cultural diversity is probably as rich as India, if not more so. Most of the heritage sites in China were once made extensively of wood and have since been destroyed or deteriorated. The restoration by the government is impressive, and the attention to detail in their artisanship is exemplary.
The most special part of my trip has to be the Yangtze River cruise. Mom and I had plenty of time together as friends, rather than as mother and son. I can’t remember the last time we talked about so many things. We even befriended some very interesting Australian, British, Bosnian and Chinese tourists, each with a tale to tell. The fact that there was no mobile connectivity for the duration of the cruise was a boon. We ditched our phones for sun and stories.

 As a parting gift, one of my guides even gave me some advice on finding a bride, if ever I planned to marry in China. Though language is a barrier and vegetarians might find it tough to fill their stomachs, I surely recommend visiting for the sheer joy and amusement it has to offer. If you’re game for adventure, then this culturally rich, history-soaked trip is a must! I have a lot left to see the next time I go there.