We don’t have much planned for today, we will go to the KMT prison in the morning and see where the wind blows us.
The prison is called ZhaZiDong or Waste Refuse Hole. It is on the site of an old coal mine, and during the war was used to house Communist Party people.
Getting the bus number we walked over the street to the bus station. If only it was that easy. It is Chongqing after all. We were not allowed in the entrance near where we were staying and had to walk half way around the massive bus station to then go underground, work our way through badly lit corridors and shops finally guessing which exit to take as there are zero signs ton lead you out of the maze. By chance we came up within the bus terminal. Asking a worker here to confirm the bus number she gave us a different number. She works here so we went off her recommendation. We were supposed to go back down into the maze and take the exit four staircases away from where we currently were. Stuff that. We are already in the complex, so we ducked and weaved our way through the buses to get to the right place.
Catching the bus with confirmation from the driver we were going in the right direction. No one has seemed surprised that we want to go to Zhazidong, so it must be the right thing. Then it was an hour and a half working our way though the city from richer parts to poorer parts, up and down hills, over freeways and rivers until we were told we were there. It was at the base of a hill, and the road ended. Getting off the bus we watched in amusement and awe as the bus driver used all his skill to turn around while being blocked and honked at by another car. We were not sure we were in the right place as the buildings were run down, laundry was strewn all over the place and there wasn’t even a tourist shop in sight. Or any shops for that matter. We hoped we were, as it had taken almost 3 hours to get here! The 3 hour rule is still holding true. Only Fengdu was faster but we did take a high speed train (OK so that’s not true, but seriously, most things have taken us about three hours to get to them! 100Km? 3 hours. 43Km? 3 hours. Inner city trip? 3 Hours. Bus up the local hillside? 3 hours. If we had taken a car from where the bus dumped us at the bottom of the hill to the prison? Probably 3 hours!)
After a false start or two we walked up the hill. It is the foothills of Gele Mountain, and quickly the houses ended and we were walking along the road with forest on the sides. It would have been quite peaceful it not for all the cars stuck on the road beside us. Going down was clear, but going up was a traffic jam. They were not going anywhere. We must be heading in the right direction. Under a bridge for what looked like an old railway line and a lot further up we finally found out what all the commotion was about. The police were there directing traffic at the crossroads, but it was so tight and narrow that the tour buses couldn’t turn the corner without the traffic going in the other direction passing first and giving them some space. It was just that no one was giving them space, what with the car parks being full, and nowhere for anyone to go. Glad we were walking as it would have taken hours to drive up this little stretch.
The entrance to the prison was a bit further on and amazingly there was no entrance fee! After a quick walk along we passed a guard tower and barbed wire fence that looked as if it was electrified back in the day. The prison is nestled in a small depression and you can see the roofs of the buildings before you enter. It is a small complex that housed a maximum of 300 people. There were a few signs around in English, but not much. Mostly the typical headline in English then onto a Chinese description. There was a women’s barracks and two men’s barracks.
The most noticeable thing was that back in the day part of the wall collapsed and 130 people tried to escape. 115 of them were killed or executed afterwards with only 15 survivors (we could be wrong on all this as the information is not that clear. We could have taken an 8 yuan audio tour using WeChat app, but as my mobile data doesn’t work that well, we couldn’t get enough internet to use it!)
Then there was the entrance to the old mine. All walled off and filled with empty chip wrappers and drink bottles. Coming out it looked like there was another building that seemed to be built as a further exhibition area but was now full of tourist gift shops. All of this had been built or rebuilt in 2007.
Deciding to skip the next prison further along we walked back down the hill to the bridge. Climbing up, it did appear to be an abandoned railway line, and there was a long and dark tunnel that had been well built, but now basically abandoned. Going the other way we passed a few people out for a stroll in the forest.
Starting to worry that we were heading to nowhere, we were reassured to see the occasional person going in the opposite direction, so it must go somewhere. Even if it is just to reconnect with the roads leading to the prisons. Eventually we did come to a road. The path continued on the other side. This time with the rail lines intact, if somewhat overgrown. So it had been a railway line. Possibly taking the coal from the mine to a dock or at least into town. Now we were at the outskirts of one of the universities with a cable car going up in the distance. We made our way towards it, past a small park with communist style sculptures (you know the ones, a bit shapeless, bulky and roughly hewn. Doesn’t matter if it is Vietnam, Former Yugoslavia or even Bulgarian or Chinese, they all share this common style. Another larger park with modern stele in it, and then the base of Mount Gele. We had the choice of Cablecar or walking. As we had already walked a lot today, we cheated and got return tickets for the cable car. Told it would close at 5:30 and hustled us aboard. It was already after 4, but we could have a quick walk around up the top and hopefully see a few things. Wise choice in the cable car, if not in the timing. It took us at least 20 minutes to get up the hill. It just kept going and going! Watching the people below us trudging up and down the steep path that pretty much followed the route we were taking made us feel a bit spoiled. The further up the more the city opened out behind us, giving us a sense of the scale of the city. At the top we found another sign that the cable car stopped at 5pm? Asking we just got a yes. We don’t know if that was to our ticket and we would be allowed back down, or if it closed at 5 or 5:30. Every question got a yes. Even with the translator (To be honest, i don’t think the person we were asking could read the Chinese on the translator). That only left us with about half an hour up here. There are plenty of walks to do and things to see by the look of it, but to be safe we just went across a rickety old wooden cable bridge to the viewing platform above a defunct hotel and appreciated the vista in front of us. We were not game to try to make it to any of the other places as we had no idea how long it would take, and didn’t like the thought of walking all that way back down potentially in the dark as there didn’t seem to be any lighting.
Getting back to the cablecar just on 5, we went back down. A little disappointed, but relieved and happy we had made it up here. I think we were the last people to go down so it must have closed at 5, even if there were still lots of people up there. Getting to the subway we heard cracking in the distance. It sounded like a stockwhip so we went to investigate. There were two men at the top of a staircase over a massive square commemorating the fallen comrades from the prisons. They were cracking whips, but not as we had expected. They were cracking them onto spinning tops. These were large cylinders going to a point, and the more they were cracked the faster they went. While they span they also emitted a weird droning sound that resonated through the entire area. It took us a bit to work out that this sound we were hearing came from the tops themselves.
That was fun to watch for a bit before we headed the rest of the way down the hill to dinner in a place that had never seen white tourists (or at least any with dreads). The kids were curious and kept coming up to stare at us. The parents were good, and when they worked out that we had no issue with it, we had a great time talking with one of the mothers after dinner.