The Bamboo Road
And they are off. The first ever bicycle expedition we call The Bamboo Road from Shanghai to Singapore, a three months 8000 km long covering seven countries, left Shanghai last Sunday. I was suppose to have been there with them. Traditionally, I plan to be on each of our inagural tours. But life is life, issues intervened and thus I will join the tour in a month or so. As a result, there are certain things that I will miss. I was hoping to see parts of China’s Grand Canal; a project undertaken in 605 AD. It took years to complete at a cost of thousands of lives but it changed the history of China. Imagine! A 1790 km long canal running from Beijing to Hangzhou (where the tour spent their 2nd night of the trip). The work has been described by Chinese historians as an “act of brilliant madness”.
The rivers in China run west to east but Emperor Yang of the Sui dynasty needed rice to feed his large army in the north, soldiers that were continuously fighting various invaders. A million farmers who were forced into building the canal were “supervised” (think slave labour) by thousands of soldiers. While the farmers worked on the canal, countless villagers starved, there not being enough hands to harvest the crops. Once built, the canal become a unifying force, a trade route on which many cities were built and a target for invaders such as the British forces in 1840s. It was also a conduit for cultural exchange.
Unfortunately, in the rush of modernization that has overtaken China in the last two decades, much of the charming old parts of the cities along the canal (they were 18 major cities situated along it) have been demolished. Even a call in 2005 by a small group of Chinese citizenry to establish the Grand Canal as a UNESCO site did not stop the destruction. Still, as a bit of a history buff, here are some pictures of what I am missing. Hopefully, two years from now, I will be on the 2015 Bamboo route, and will have an opportunity to explore what is left of this incredible feat of engineering.