Exploring Shanghai’s Eclectic Past

There’s much to explore, discover, and do in Shanghai. And the lights can totally change the appearance of a monument or building, making it worth it, to stay back till daylight fades away. There’s no real order of seeing these places, unless you’re walking or cycling. I’d suggest the metro to those who are crazy (like us) to test their levels of stamina. If you are short on time, it might me a good idea to opt for the Big Bus. It will save you the trouble of walking and changing multiple metro lines.

Jing’an Temple

Jing’an Temple’s location couldn’t be more contradictory. Cocooned between towering skyscrapers and billboards, the temple seems to have arrested time within the confines of its secluded walls. Blink and you might miss the main door that leads to the temple. Inside, you are transformed into a world filled with smoky incense and fervent devotees. Tourists seemed few and were as curious as we were. Should we light an incense stick or should we test our luck by throwing a coin in the tower? Instead, we stood and observed. Stairs lead you to the first floor where a main hall enshrines a statue of Buddha. The detailing on the wooden panels is admirable. The back exit leads you to a maze of staircases – which in turn lead to the monk quarters. The statue of smiling Buddha, giant gong, and other enclosures are enshrined on the same floor. The lower floor holds the hall of the Jade Buddha among other smaller rooms. There’s something in the solitude of a quiet hall. It can kill the noise outside and if you’re focussed – on the inside as well .

Nanshi (Old Town)

 As Shanghai surges ahead to become a modern megapolis, there are few spots that reflect what it might have been to live in old Shanghai. Nanshi or old town is almost a caricature of its old self, but if that’s what it takes to preserve it, so be it. The inner lanes of the old town are teeming with souvenir and tea shops, pearls, and some of the best food that Shanghai has to offer. If you’re into art – there are many stalls displaying China’s folk arts. In the peak hours of the evening rush it might be difficult to navigate your way. A visit to the Yuyuan Garden and Temple of the Town God is worth it. By night, the old buildings are lit up with a string of lights, transforming them into a visual delight.

The Bund

Listed as one of the top sights to explore in Shanghai, the Bund lives up to its name. If you’re into walking, it takes about 20 minutes from Nanshi to reach the promenade and Bund. Huangpu River physically separates Shanghai’s colonial past from its modern present. On a cool summer’s day, locals and Shanghai’s expats choose to spend the evening – either walking or jogging along the river front. The promenade has its fair share of tourists as well. Ferries are rented for private celebrations or for transfer. It would be a good idea to sit down and admire the jagged skyline of Pudong opposite. If you’re not in a hurry, wait for it to light up and watch messages being beamed across its buildings. Further along the promenade, the old colonial buildings of the Bund light up too. And if you think you’re up for the walk – it won’t disappoint.

Xintiandi

Xintiandi has transformed itself into a chic, up-scale urban area with bustling cafes, boutiques, and art galleries. Keep an eye for the abstract art installations en-route. Fortunately, it’s still possible to get a glimpse of the brick layered Shikumen houses. It might take some searching to find the site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China – now a museum.

Tianzifang

Best viewed at night, Tianzifang is the perfect melting pot of the past and the present. Abundant with art, clay works, and bric-bracs; there’s much to scout for. The winding lanes lead to cafes offering local cuisine, Italian food, and even Turkish ice cream. What really caught our fancy was the number of stores selling clay animals and figurines. It was hard to choose. And all that walking can build up quite an appetite. It won’t be a bad idea to settle for one of the quaint rooftop restaurants. And call it a night.

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