Someone once said “You can either travel or read, but either your body or soul must be on the way”. I think the important thing during a travel is about what you learn along the way in that journey and to remain focused on what you see on the way before you get to the destination. Long before Shanghai become an international trading spot, it used to lead a quieter life by the water. As a major administrative, shipping and trading city, Shanghai grew in importance in the 19th Century due to trade and recognition of its favorable port location and economic potential. Following the British victory over China in the first opium war, the city was one of the port cities forced open to foreign trade.
The subsequent international treaties allowed the establishment of Shanghai International Settlement and the French Concession. Shanghai started flourishing as a main centre of economic activity between China and other parts of the world. Its influence declined after the Second World War with the Chinese Communist Party takeover of mainland China in 1949. After Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms in 1990s, an intense redevelopment of the city began that witnessed return of finance and foreign investment to the city. It has since re-emerged as a hub for international trade and finance and the home of the Shanghai Stock Exchange, one of the world’s largest by market capitalization. Today it is aptly described as China’s Showpiece to the world and that of its booming economy. It’s renowned for its Luziaji skyline and museums and historic buildings along the Bund.
China’s foremost business and financial centre, it appears to have thrown itself headfirst into the future with soaring superstructures, opulent shopping malls and the world’s fastest commercial train zipping back and forth from Shanghai Pudong International Airport. Take your eyes away from the skyline though, and you’ll find a different Shanghai. But to experience real Shanghai culture, take a walk along traditional lanes, narrow residential lanes peculiar to Shanghai and you will get to know the real Shanghai.
Visiting Shanghai is a true East-meets-West experience. You find Buddhist temples, classical gardens and the Old City offer a taste of traditional Chinese culture. No doubt periods of European and American occupation have transformed China’s ‘City on the Sea’ into an international metropolis. The Bund, Shanghai’s busy waterfront on the Huangpu River, is lined with historic buildings of numerous architectural styles that include Art Deco, Renaissance Revival and Neo-Classical. Western influence is apparent in areas such as the former French Concession whose tree-lined boulevards, bijou bistros and hip boutiques give the area a distinctly Parisian character.
It is very difficult to see any city when you are visiting it for just a couple of days and certainly not a city of the size of Shanghai where there is much to see. One has to plan carefully what you certainly want to see. But some things are simply unmissable – like the Bund. Divided along the river Huangpu, this is mesmerizing and a major tourist attraction. While the east side is largely the financial district, the west side of it will give you the feel of old Shanghai with old buildings largely maintained under state patronage with no changes being allowed in them.
One feels so excited by the bustling and busy city life here and also shocked by those fantastic tall buildings and large mansions. The moment it gets dark, the Bund on both sides is lit up and is a memorable site. The old heritage structures are not high rises. You will find red flags over these beautifully lit up buildings. This is where people gather in the evening to have fun time. You can stand at the banks of the river and watch the Shanghai Towers, Oriental Pearl Tower and other iconic buildings.
The west side of the Bund witnesses more activity then the east. It is bustling with people eating and drinking and is much more affordable than the East. There are many small shops from where you can buy eateries and drinks. If you want to see the east side you need to take a boat to cross over. It costs just two RMB. Good thing is that public transport is quite reasonably priced. It’s terminal to terminal for just two RMB. But it takes hours to see the area and one must go during the day. This side is full of swanky restaurants which are expensive, the big malls where you find all the brands of the world. There are tourist buses which take you around for a good fee.
And in case you wish to enter and see any place, you will find the ticket prices equivalent to 1300 rupees going all the way up to 2500 per person. And also if you are fine with walking around and looking up the modern architecture paradise, it is possible that you will end up literally with pain in the neck at the end of a wonderful hour long walk along the river with beautifully crafted gardens all along the line.
If you want to enjoy a fifty-minute cruise in the river it will cost around rupees 1400 per person so one could instead consider a boat ride from one side to the other and back for just rupees 50.
Behind these high rises also lives old Shanghai that one must not miss. Walking in to explore where the old lifestyle lives in Shanghai lanes or alleys is indeed interesting. One gets a feel of old Shanghai’s traditional way of life, its culture, the authentic local lifestyle. These lanes are tiny but full of life.
The names vary from one place to another, one-time period to another, one ethnic group to another. The lanes are called ‘Longtang’ in Chinese. One finds a stylistic stone arch at the entrance of most of the lanes. These lanes are the backbone of the city. They are actual witnesses of the fall and rise of the city. These lanes are more than a hundred years old. Their condition is poor compared to new Shanghai. Those who can afford it are moving out but there are others who continue to live the history. It’s fun to be strolling down these lanes and to watch traditional Shanghai life.
All the life here is so peaceful. And every one here seems to be enjoying his life. But overall life is extremely organized in Shanghai. You come out of those narrow lanes and you find these huge roads with equal space for pedestrians and cycle tracks.
Take a stroll down and you will find children playing on these walkways and at some places even dance classes being held without disturbing anyone. If I have another chance to come to Shanghai, I will certainly not miss it.