ot and spicy Chongqing is fast becoming one of China’s economic powerhouses. Situated at the confluence of two rivers – the famous Yangtze and not so famous Jialing River – the capital of this municipality, Chongqing, often only makes it onto the traveller’s itinerary because it is the start of the Three Gorges cruise, but it deserves a second look.

Chongqing city is made up of about 5 million people and the entire municipality holds 32 million, but the numbers keep on growing year upon year – indeed, the recent completion of the Three Gorges Dam project has only added to the city’s increasing population as millions had to be relocated. This sprawling metropolis, the largest in China, is the key to economic development in the central south-west. Construction is going 24/7 to create a modern, cosmopolitan city to serve the needs of this area of the country. Although it is not as westernised as Beijing or Shanghai, the city is beginning to accommodate more and more foreign companies and its links to the rest of the world continue to develop.

But the best reason to visit is surely the local culture: Chongqing people are known for their open, friendly nature and their at times ‘spicy’ temperaments! There is no better way to engage with this local appetite for life than through the shared meal of hotpot, a basin of spicy soup in which you can cook whatever vegetables and meats you like. Although this dish is available in other areas of China, no one does it quite like the Chongqing locals, who like their meals loud, hot, and filled with plenty of laughter. Chongqing cuisine is famous for its numbing heat as cooks are liberal with the Sichuan pepper and chillies.

It is a mountainous city and its geographical layout makes it one of the few cities in China where bicycles are not common. It also affects the climate: It is one of China’s ‘three furnace cities’, hot and humid in summer but bitingly cold in winter. Temperatures can range from 0 to 40 degrees Celsius throughout the year. Situated as it is in the south-west of China, Chongqing made a well secluded capital during the Second Sino-Japanese War, when many industries and universities were moved to the city for their protection. Chongqing’s industry today is geared more towards production of consumer goods for the domestic market and in particular it is noted for it production of motor vehicles.

There are a number of attractive tourist sites in the region. The Yangtze Three Gorges cruise is of course famous for its leisurely pace and grand sights. Although river levels have been raised since the completion of the Three Gorges Dam project, there is still beauty to be found in the mountains, the jade coloured streams, and the ragged cliffs. Some interesting temples and other sites can be easily visited while on the cruise, such as Fengdu Ghost city, full of macabre paintings and sculptures of the afterlife, and the hanging coffins of the ancient Ba people. The serene Buddhas of the Dazu Rock Carvings, first begun in the six hundreds A.D. and worked upon over the centuries, are also a popular tourist destination. Chongqing city is home to Ciqikou, a ‘Chongqing old town’ with refurbished Ming and Qing architecture and shops selling curios, the Stilwell Museum dedicated to the American General Joseph W. Stilwell, who had a large impact upon China during WW2, the impressive Three Gorges Museum which tells the story of the river peoples, and the Red Rock Village Museum, which saw negotiations between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-Shek. For those reasons and many others, the region of Chongqing is deserving of more than a passing glance from the Yangtse cruise ship.