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19th May 13 at 06:05pm

Zhaji in April

To celebrate Mate's birthday we had a wonderful weekend in a tiny but charming village called Zhaji in neighbouring Anhui province. Zhaji is about a 6 hour drive east of Shanghai with about  2,000 inhabitants, primarily known for its Ming Dynasty styled houses, virtually unspoilt since.

It is in the popular Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) area, smaller and less well known than the UNESCO status villages of similar fame - Hong Cun and Xidi. You can read more about these villages here.

To me, to us, we do not care about the UNESCO status nor its popularity. It only meant more people, bus loads of tourists, not our scene. Zhaji is quieter, less to do, less to see certainly not any less beautiful.

Like Hong Xun and Xidi, Zhaji is also popular spot for art students to sit and paint or draw all day. There are bus loads of tourists but it takes them less than an hour to see the entire village so many don't stay and it's just a quick stop among the many other places to see.

Zhaji is so lovely and quaint. Little lanes, old houses. Although, give it another year or so, commercialisation will soon set in as many many houses are being renovated and probably turned into brick a brack shops, guests houses, restaurants and stuff for tourists. For now, it's still a good balance, there is enough for the tourists to see but not yet over run.

There is only place to stay in Zhaji - in Chawu guest house. For now. Julien Minet, owner of Chawu, bought the Ming Dynasty house 10 years ago when he fell in love with the village and its people. He originally bought it to live in it himself. He took a couple of years to restore and renovate it but decided to turn it into a guest house a few years ago.

It is tastefully decorated as authentically Chinese as possible, except for the big fire place in the living room. There are 3 bedrooms, a bathroom and a toilet upstairs, another bedroom with an ensuite downstairs, a dining room, kitchen and sitting area in front of the fire place. Throw in a lovely garden, a tiny pool, mountain views, old lanes and Chinese styled roof tops. It's a formula for success.

For us, it's the entire experience. Firstly the guest house itself; quaint, comfortable and modern (he had electric heating  as it was still cold when we went). Julien himself. It takes a certain type of character to do what he does. He was interesting, engaging, hospitable, friendly without being too intrusive and has many stories to tell from his years of living in China. The meals, 3 X a day, home style Chinese food, no frills nor fancies but tasty and simple, cooked by Julien's neighbour. Included in our stay was a complimentary guided tour to the hillside. We followed our guide Shan Xing up and down hills, across paddy fields, passed Ming and Ching Dynasty grave stones and tombs, learnt about plants that he and the villagers were familiar with as food, medicine, poison. We saw an old pagado dated even earlier than Ming Dynasty. 

Rural China. Beautiful, raw, somewhat still messy and dirty but authentic and unspoilt. Best of all, no crowds!! 

This was China at its best. A gem yet undiscovered. 

 
   

An old grave from Ching dynasty. The side of this hill was dotted with numerous graves and some have been opened like above probably due to roads being carved into the hills. 

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