With a background in history and psychology, Canadian landscape photographer Luke Gram travels the world to capture the physical environment of each nation, while also portraying the local culture.
The last leg of his recent journey took him on a cross-country exploration of China. In the following, he shares his impressions from his trip: “In the span of the previous 5 months I had covered 21 different countries, immersing myself in the European, Arabic, and Asian world. Coming to China, I was relatively desensitized to the emotional discoveries that one finds when they travel. I had seen the Burning Ghats of India, stood amongst the prayers in Jerusalem, rode motorbikes in the Sahara. I truthfully wasn’t expecting China to shock and enthrall me as much as it eventually did.
We kind of cheated the Chinese Visa application system, one which makes it mandatory to have hotels and transport pre-booked, so when we arrived on foot across the Hong Kong – China border we were free to roam in any which direction we pleased. Standing at the railway station in Shenzen, I hastily booked a ticket to Guilin; an old memory of a photograph with the towns name labeled on it drew me there.
Arriving in Guilin, our sensory systems went into overdrive. The smells of the hundreds of different meats and breads being cooked on the sidewalks wafted into our noses. Our eyes were constantly shifting to the chaos of the traffic and the assortment of cultural oddities. One that struck me in particular was the risky manor of their construction practices.
After a quick overnight pit stop we caught a bus down to Yangshuo. The driver barely came to a running stop, and we chucked our bags on and grabbed the metal bar to swing our bodies onto the moving machine. After a bumpy, hazardous drive south, we arrived in Yanghsuo and were blown away by what we saw. Cone-shaped mountains shot up in a jagged formation as far as the eye could see, allowing for a river to cut through them, fertilizing the land and producing vibrant fields of green and yellow crop. The next day we caught the sunrise on a bamboo raft down the Yulong River, one of the many that cut through the mountains. It was a place where words have, and will again fail me.
From there, based on a recommendation by a local, we boarded a crammed bus to the ancient city of Fenghuang, once again a city dominated by the magic of the river and hills that made up its location. We spent a few days exploring the stone streets in between the weathering wooden houses, indulging our taste buds with meats of all kinds, freshly ground spices, teas from all over and beer cheaper than water. I silently stood with a belly full of warm green tea and watched old men play Chinese checkers in the street. It was in that moment that I felt like I had stepped into one of the pages of my history books, the atmosphere of the snow-laden wooden buildings, the gushing river, and spiced meats blending into my idyllic image of China.
Eventually we made our way to Shanghai, exploring the streets which blend hyper-modern and old-colonialism in a delicate, beautiful twist. China is truly the land where the ancient and the new are two separate entities, yet friends in hands. From there we moved on to Beijing, and in turn the in-ruins part of the Great Wall in Huanghuacheng. For our second last night in China, we decided to spend it camping atop the Wall. Climbing delicately through the ruined wall, at times having to scale cliffs due to the erosion of the entire wall itself, we eventually got to the highest peak and set up camp for the night. We lit off fireworks, smoked a joint, drank a few beers and made a memory that will last within us all for a long, long time. Overall, I could not have asked for more from China, and I can not wait to discover more of it.”
All images © Luke Gram