Tag Archives: Babhnan

Fuzhou: A fortunate surprise

Fuzhou was not really in my bucket list. To be honest, I hardly knew about this city, like most of the travellers and even more of the tourists. This, despite it being the capital of Fujian province and one of the biggest cities in South China- my neighbourhood for last 8 years now.

This is one of the entrance of Sanfang Qixiang- roughly translated as the "three lanes and seven alleys" aka  Beverly Hills of Imperial China! Founded in 708 AD, the 40 hectare complex has been home of over 400 of China's richest and most powerful!
Sanfang Qixiang- roughly translated as the “three lanes and seven alleys” aka  Beverly Hills of Imperial China

But one fine day I found myself in Fuzhou. I had just spent a few days in Yongding county famous for its community houses called Tulous whom the USA mistook for nuclear reactors at the height of Cold War. (You can read about my travels to Tulous here). Next in line was Xiapu, beautiful beyond words for its scenic mudflats and life on the sea- with entire villages on sea! (My Xiapu Mudflats memories are here). And the road connecting them passed through Fuzhou making me wonder why not give the city a chance as well! 

And lo and behold: It turned out to be one of the best of the decisions I had made in ages! Here I was in a city with a history of over 2200 years with the first settlements recorded here in 2nd century BCE! 

Some of the restored houses in Sanfang Qixiang decorated with lanterns
Buildings decorated with lanterns in Sanfang Qixiang

And then there is over 1400 years old Sanfang Qixiang- roughly translated as the “three lanes and seven alleys” aka  Beverly Hills of Imperial China! This one complex, slightly over 40 hectares in total area, founded in Tang Dynasty (618-907) and inhabited ever since is what over 400 of Imperial China’s the richest and most powerful men called home. Sadly, men alone as I found no mention of women despite repeated ‘family houses’. 

Inside Lin Zexu Memorial Hall: Remembering the man who destroyed Opium Trade and thus caused the First Opium War
Inside Lin Zexu Memorial Hall: Remembering the man who destroyed Opium Trade and thus caused the First Opium War

Talk about the man who sparked the First Opium War, Lin Zexu, a Qing official, Yan Fu, a Chinese scholar who translated Darwin’s theory of natural selection in Mandarin or Bing Xin who translated our own Gurudev, Ravindranath Tagore: they all called this complex home! 

Lin Zexu: The man who started the opium wars!

Ironically, many of these historic houses had been abandoned and become subdivided squatter homes before their restoration in late 2000s, a telling comment on the power of time. 

I had entered the complex doubting the famous saying that “One Sanfang Qixiang equals half of China’s modern history,” kept returning to it fully convinced. Exploring the lanes and alleys throughout the day and then a couple of drinks in one of the bars dotting An Tai Canal, marking the boundary of the Sanfang Qixiang. 

Then there is a majestic manmade lake West Lake- excavated in 282 A.D. by Yan Gao (Yán Gāo 严高), an official of Jing Dynasty. Yeah, in 282 A.D.! Go to the lake in the morning and it would be a riot of colours both on the water turned golden by the morning rays and people: People practicing Tai Chi, aunties learning ballet in groups, the elderly reading, couples on morning walks! Name it! They are there! And true to Chinese quirks when it comes to traveling- they have built a Dinosaur Park at one corner of the lake! Believe it or not, I could not hold myself back from getting clicked with one of them! 

majestic manmade lake West Lake- excavated in 282 A.D. by Yan Gao (Yán Gāo 严高), an official of Jing Dynasty. Yeah, in 282 A.D.! Go to the lake in the morning and it would be a riot of colours both on the water turned golden by the morning rays and people: People practicing Tai Chi, aunties learning ballet in groups, the elderly reading, couples on morning walks! Name it! They are there!
West Lake

Fuzhou has so much more to offer, sadly the small boy from Babhnan was short on time. So he passed by the majestic mosque so many times, yeah Islam is not banned in China despite whatever morons claim! In fact one of the most happening places I have ever been to in China is the Muslim Quarters of Xi’an with a huge, centuries old mosque that looked more a pagoda than a mosque!! 

Fuzhou Mosque: :Legend has it that Prophet sent emissaries to Fuzhou in 628 A.D.
Fuzhou Mosque: :Legend has it that Prophet sent emissaries to Fuzhou in 628 A.D.

There is Drum Mountain in Gu Shan revered for its Buddhist Temple at the top, about half an hour away from the City Centre. In the very centre of the city are 3 mountains and a lake- which actually is a river Min! 

A rather cheerful Chinese restaurant owner served me Onion Bhaji and Butter Naan and then sang a beautiful Bollywood song! Aah you gem of a woman, I miss you!
Butter Naan , “D”nion” Bhaji and live music : What else could one ask for?

Do try to steal a visit to China Shoushan Stone Museum for having a rare look at Shoushan stones and understand its history- how they are mined, carved and so on. These stones, also called agalmatolite are rare treasures and one carved stone may fetch millions of dollars in today’s market.

Of course the small boy from Babhnan could not squeeze the last two in his sojourn in Fuzhou. Mudflats in Xiapu were calling him. As it is, one life is never enough to see it all, but Fuzhou is close enough for a second visit! 

See you again, Fuzhou, and you too, mates, perhaps in Fuzhou! 

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Babhnan Boy: Milestone Zero

Aboard a ro-ro ferry on the mighty Mekong river, the young man thought of Manvar, a small rivulet 4,800 kms away, seeing a small boy swimming in it decades ago. Stupid, no? 

Circa 2010: The small boy from Babhnan aboard a ro-ro ferry in Phnom Penh

No. Be they in Bombay or Beijing, small town kids never go anywhere alone. Wherever they go, they go with their homes lost behind in their villages, Kasbahs or small towns. You can see that in their eyes- that sudden wetness that gives them away with all their longings and belongings. They might be proud of their journeys or disappointed with themselves, they would suddenly look away, seeking refuge in the same lost villages they grew up in. No matter what exiled them- be it hunger, war or career, their lost homes are the cross they carry alone. 

Be it distress migration for the poor ones or chasing dreams for the more fortunate, the small town kids are destined for exile. Just like that young man aboard that Ro Ro Ferry in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 

The school in Babhnan in which I studied till 8th grade now

They know that despite all the speeches by the great leaders promising them the moon, they don’t get even proper roads that can connect Delhi with their villages. They know that they are the past of the country, running behind the metros by decades. They know that bridges don’t connect the past with the future, they only make fortunes for those promising these bridges! 

They know that they would have to go, leaving all the memories behind and chase their dreams in places that could be anything, but would never become home. 

The small boy from Babhnan knew this. He knew that every passing year is another year close to exile, that began at 12, just 12 when he was sent to a boarding school in nearby Gorakhpur. Home was no longer home, it was just a holiday. Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, Summer Vacations. His own agricultural fields were no longer his playfields where he would steal tractor rides. The “Middle School” Cricket ground in Babhnan that seemed like the biggest possible in the world had suddenly changed to a joke, a tiny joke on that, on the name of a cricket ground. 

Another school nearby last year

Slowly, the small town kids’ school bags would start getting heavier and their ‘holiday visits’ fewer. Gorakhpur for secondaries would change to Allahabad for grads, Allahabad to JNU for Research, Delhi to Hong Kong for work. With every dislocation changing friends, acquaintances, neighbors, everything. 

Ironically, exile was never the saddest part of the story. It was the small boy from Babhnan not knowing that this a one way road- a point of no real returns. That those who fail and return would looked upon for their lives. That those who ‘succeed’ would have hardly any time for returning- for taking that stroll on the railway station that once defined their lives: that set them on the path of chasing their dreams as far as those trains could go. The same one from which this small boy from Babhnan started dreaming of traveling the world and telling the tales.

His friends listened to him with rapt attention about the places they had never travelled to. The places this small boy hadn’t either, the places whose details he pieced together with the: names of the trains and where they go with information he got from his parents, their colleagues, newspapers, name it.

So success or failure, these kids would be sort of jinxed, of not returning. Mahesh would better become Mat and work as a cyber collie, Lalita as Linda, is she was fortunate enough in a patriarchal society to be allowed to chase her dreams, they would dread to return.

And when they would for the occasional visits- nothing would be the same. The most promising kid in their class would have become a grocer they would have nothing much to talk about. The best batsman in their team would be selling medicines. And they both would be uncomfortable with the small boy from Babhnan’s success, the small boy with loss. Of the home. Forever. 

Only mercy? He would be taking Babhnan to places, making that nondescript mofussil town, a mere blur on the map of the country known around, even if in his own smaller circles.

At the Babhnan Railway Station, this January

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