In all my years that I have been visiting Beijing, I never had the time to go and visit the relatively unknown and beautiful Cuandixia Village, located around 60 kilometres on the outskirts of the city. That time finally came last weekend when I had a day to while away my time. I vowed to myself that I would get up early and go to see this gorgeous village. Not even the windy weather would have stopped me going there.
With a rich history going back to the Ming and Qing dynasties, Cuandixia is a small village of old stone cottages well placed on the curve of the great ‘Western Road’ that led from Beijing to the great mountains of Shannxi Province (and onto Xi’an etc.).
Since 2009, the village has been turned into a tourist attraction. You pay RMB 35 to enter the village, and almost every house either is a little shop selling souvenirs, or will put visitors up overnight or serve meals. The village is very pleasant to visit, and though the people who live there go about their daily lives they are very welcoming and open to host tourists for overnight stays or meals. It’s not artificial as is the case with the vast amount of historic attractions in China. It’s a real village with lots of rich history and culture (and you may even get to hear many myths and stories from the locals if you can converse in Mandarin), but one which the local government decided to turn into a business so that everyone can enjoy its benefits. Thankfully, there is none of the background Chinese music that you normally hear in most Chinese tourist attractions; and there are no touts that you normally see either. And most importantly, Cuandixia is thankfully not a beehive for tourists (yet), and so there is none of the artificial ambiance that we sadly see in places like Yangshuo (which has sadly lost its sense of the real Chinese culture I am sorry to say- do you really want to see a Starbucks, KFC, MacDonald’s in a national heritage tourist site?!).
I spent around three hours wandering around the narrow passageways and looking at the cottages, and ended up having lunch by myself in one of the homes. The chicken and other meat are cooked fresh. So if you order a chicken then most probably the chicken has been killed and cooked in front of you. It may not a beautiful sight, but its fresh and healthy.
Many of the homes (including the one where I had lunch) are constructed as four tiny buildings around a central courtyard. It’s best advised that you take a good pair of sturdy shoes to walk up and down the hilly lanes. In fact, if you want to get a panoramic view of the whole village then its best to go up the hill on the opposite side. The journey takes around half an hour to the peak, and depending on the weather the view can be magical.
The whole area surrounding Cuandixia is known as the ‘Cuanbai Scenic Area’. It’s situated in Zhaitang Town, in the Mentougou District, covering an area of 46.6 square kilometers. Apart from Cuandixia Village, there is the Double Stone Village, the Boyu Village and the Huanglingxi Village. Cuandixia comes across as the most atrarctive to the eye.
As mentioned that the village lies on the great ‘Western Road’. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the "Western Road" from Beijing led through the mountain ranges and connected to far-off Shanxi. Along this road were small villages that catered for tired travellers, and this included Cuandixia as well. In those days the villages would act as ‘bed & breakfast’ pit stop stations. The Cuanbai Scenic Area is also a fascinating place to visit for anyone specializing in history, culture, architecture, or sociology. There is so much to absorb, more than just your average mud hut.
These days the highways have replaced the ancient dusty roads, yet the people are living in a similar fashion (albeit with some modern creature comforts such as good working infrastructure of water, sanitation, gas, and electricity). The people living in the village do have televisions, radios, hot water, and heating systems to protect against the harsh northern winters. However the facilities are, of course, not glamorous as one may find in the cities.
What used to take a day on a horseback ride from Beijing to Cuandixia, now takes around 3 hours by car. If there is any hint of what life must have been like in ancient Beijing, then this route to Cuandixia would be the perfect answer for you.
Arriving at the village still gives some sense of the same kind of feeling that might have provided the ancient travellers, as a mountain curve is drawn back suddenly by a neat curve of the road and the village appears on the right hand side, wedged securely against one side of the valley. There is no hustle & bustle of touts running towards you as you arrive, and it’s all very tranquil and calm. It’s just the perfect way to start a small holiday if you want to get away from the noise of the city.
The majority of the artwork that remains in the village dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911); while the importance of the science of Fengshui was adapted from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) era.
Cuandixia can be reached by car on a weekday in approximately two hours, depending on the traffic. The best way to get to Cuandixia is to take a metro to Pingguoyuan Station (last stop at line 1), and then hire a cab. The cost should be RMB 300 for a round trip. The driver will take you there, wait for you there, and then bring you back. I spent around 3 hours at the village, and the trip cost almost the whole day. I happened to come here on a very cold, and wet day (it was raining cats and dogs). But I had to make the most of it. The people are nice here. If you are nice enough then they may even lend you an umbrella. From Pingguoyuan Station you can take bus number 929 if you wish. However, despite it costing much less than a taxi the bus will be a hassle for you. This is especially true if you have kids or if you are a photographer and want to stop to take photos on the way (which you can only do if you hire your own car). The bus makes frequent stops, will take a long time, and its just not a comfortable ride.
Where to stay
It’s best to book an overnight stay in one of the many courtyards that have rooms available for rent. Accommodations are basic but generally clean. The prices per person per night range from RMB 60 to RMB 80 depending on the family who is renting the room.
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