I first learnt about the town from a travel blog. Ever since I've been itching to get a closer look at its extraordinary beauty.
After an approximately one-hour drive from Shanghai, I arrive at Xitang train station. I am surprised to see the area dominated by hotels, residential buildings as well as large squares, just like those in the city I'm trying to escape.
"This is not the place you are planning to visit. That lies beyond the end of the road," says a pedicab driver at the station. After some bargaining, he takes me through long, narrow lanes, until I find myself in the small and mystical water town with a 1,000-year history.
This has to be a photographer's dream destination.
Every turn throws up an amazing vista that makes for quite an extraordinary photograph, by even the most clumsy shutterbug.
Stone-paved trails lead to old houses with carved wooden windows, tiled roofs, and lines of red lanterns, that line the water's edge. The whole town seems untouched by modern life. Residents, unfazed by the sight of tourists like me, go about their everyday business, starting up fires for their cooking and doing their laundry by the river running through the town.
The town is crisscrossed by lanes - 122 in all - which have their own hierarchy of importance. The most famous is Shipi lane, paved with just 216 slab stones, and a mere 1-m-wide. At its narrowest, it is barely 0.8 m, so that I can hardly even extend my arms all the way. But it is a good place to strike a pose, holding yourself between the walls, just like Spiderman.
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