Have you ever wondered a place which will depict its history to you by merely looking and observing the place and interacting with the locals and a place which will tell how it has progressed through the years, how it has changed, how it has evolved yet its culture and history are deep rooted in its surroundings? Then, Hutongs, Beijing is one such place.
Beijing, capital of People’s Republic of China and being one of the populous countries of the world depicts its ancient culture and history through Hutongs and how they remained unchanged over period of time. Though there are many other places of archaeological and historical importance (The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple Of palace, various temples, museums and lot more-list is endless) but hutongs hold a special place in history, hearts of localites and leaves a distinct impression on visitors.
Hutongs, the term is used to refer to alleyways that are Beijing’s ancient narrow streets. Here, old type of transportation (cycles, pedicab) is still kept, so that tourists could see through the history. The narrow twisting lanes are an delight to move through to see, feel and experience real life of people living there. The passages connect to the courtyards of homes there. In fact, the traditional courtyards (siheyuan) are joined in such a way so as to form a hutong. Currently, there are over 1000 hutongs in China. Hutongs may have direction, be sloping have many turns or be a blind hutong.
Hutongs the word dates back to hundreds of years back. It originated from a Mongolian word-hottog which came to be known as hutong in China. Huttog means water-well, i.e. where there was water people lived there. As hutongs were formed by joining courtyards and people lived there, the word hottog came to be replaced by hutong in Beijing. The naming of hutong varies. A hutong may be named on some great personality living in that area or named with good itself.
The hutongs were also formed dated hundreds of years back. Hutongs were established during dynasty rules in China. Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties all saw the growth of hutongs. As said, Beijing hutongs vary from range of some centimeter to meters wide.
There are quite a few famous hutongs which are must visit for every tourist going to beijing. Nanluoguxiang Hutong in South Luogu Lane is one such Hutong. Other famous and attractive hutongs are Yandaixie Street (Tobacco Pipe Lane), Mao’er Hutong, Guozijian Street and Shijia Hutong.
The famous hutongs are usually found in/near Shichachai and Dazhalan. These are two sites which are must visit. Shichachai area is north of Beihai Park and Dazhalan Area is south of famous Tiananmen Square.
It is the most famous and popular Hutong in Beijing.It is located in northern part of Dongcheng district. It was built in Yuan Dyansty(around 13th and 14th century). It is famous for its design of courtyards and restaurants combining both present and past.
It is located in north of Xicheng District. It is famous for selling tobacco pouches and antiques thus deriving its name Yandaixie.
Mao’er Hutong situated in Dongcheng District was built during Ming Dynasty. It is famous for traditional gardens and famous personalities who lived there.
This hutong is located in northwest of Dongcheng District and is famous for its ancient archways.
Dongjiao Minxiang is the longest hutong ranging to 6.5 km. It combines Chinese characteristics with those of western one. Yichidajie Hutong,Lingjing Hutong, Qianshi Hutong, Jiuwan Hutong,Sanmiajoie Hutong are some other hutongs famous for one or the other thing. Lulichang Street, Jinyu Hutong are other hutongs which are of special interest to people.
The most practical way to visit a hutong is to hire a pedicab with the help of tour guides. They will take you through narrow streets and certain landmark points which are of great interest. The package may include Drum Tower, courtyard and Prince Gong’s mansion. The hutongs also have restaurants and bars. Quite a few hutongs have been turned into shopping zone. Bell Tower should also be visited. As from its topmost point you can see all the activities and culture of hutong. “Pipe Tobacco Alley” should also be visited.
Hutongs are in danger of being demolished and being replaced by some modern architecure. Though some efforts are being taken to preserve Hutongs, quite a few have been destroyed. Places as Hutongs, which preserve ancient history and culture of a place are a must visit and should be preseved.
While visiting Hutongs one needs to be careful as the tourists there usually allege of being mislead (if one isn’t familiar). Thus, while visiting to famous hutongs, one must have a pre planned tourist guides who will manage everything for a hassle free ride through culture. Also, while walking through them, one must take care that he/she is not lost.
Hutongs are a must place to visit for those who are keenly interested to study a place’s history and its architecture. For others it provides a glimpse into ancient era in these modern times and experience the life of the time.