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Wuzhen: Venice of the East
Text and photographs by Shakoor Rather

 

 

It’s hard to beat the magic of a boat cruise down an ancient waterway alongside fishermen rowing into the setting sun. Waterfront houses with flower gardens greet passersby navigating under crescent-shaped bridges crossing the canal as dusk engulfs the final moments of the day.

Such a spectacle heralded the beginning of my summer journey through a wonderland of traditional Chinese crafts, museums and folklore in Wuzhen.

A wooden house facing the water caught my attention, reminding me of a navigational canal called Nallah Maar that my grandfather often mentioned in his tales. That canal, which was the lifeline of old Srinagar, connected a lagoon to the famous Dal Lake.

Archived images of the canal show tourists flocking to the waterway and boatmen offering rides on the crystal clear water past rows of old Persian style houses with flowerbeds.

Stories of the canal, which was gone by the time I was born, mesmerized me as a child. My stroll through Wuzhen awoke those childhood memories that had long been hidden under a pillow.

Located at the center of the six ancient towns south of the Yangtze River, 17 kilometers north of the city of Tongxiang, Wuzhen displays China’s history via ancient stone bridges, stone pathways and delicate wood carvings.

Renowned Chinese writer Mao Dun was born in Wuzhen, and his best-known work, Lin’s Shop, describes the life in the town.

Wuzhen is divided into six traditional districts: workshops, local-styled houses, culture, food and beverage, shops and stores, and the customs and life district. A tourist boat took me through the magical town, and I spotted an architectural marvel: “Bridge within a Bridge.” The serendipitous attraction was born of two ancient bridges that can be seen through each other’s arch. Another example of innovative architecture is the Moon Bridge, which is designed to evoke the full moon. These bridges look especially beautiful under moonlight, when the night sky reflects off the water underneath.

Later, I found myself fascinated by a shadow play performance, a form of traditional Chinese art. Performers tell entertaining stories by projecting characters made of sheep or cattle hide onto a white screen. They control the puppets with bamboo sticks, creating lifelike action in the shadows.

Waterfront houses along the canal cast shadows on the glistening water.   A street in Wuzhen.   A roadside cobbler mends shoes and hearts alike.

 

 

 

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