Famed throughout China for being one of the great ancient battlegrounds, this 700-year-old fortress is perched on top of a 300m-tall hill at a bend in the Jialing River. The Yangzi Basin was the last stand of the Southern Song dynasty and famously, in the 13th century, the fortress withstood the mighty Mongol armies for an incredible 36 years, during which time an estimated 200 battles were fought here.
The fortress was protected by an 8km-long, 30m-tall double wall, punctuated with eight gate towers. Much of the outer wall and all the main gates remain today; some partly restored, others crumbling away. There is little here in terms of facilities apart from a noodle vendor or two, but it’s a fascinating and peaceful place to walk around. Narrow stone pathways lead you through the forest, past Buddhist rock carvings, temples, engraved poems, bamboo groves, the wall and its gateways and some fabulous lookout points. Sights not to miss include the serene, 11m-long, 1000-year-old Sleeping Buddha (卧佛, Wòfó), cut into the overhang of a cliff; Huguo Temple (护国寺, Hùguó Sì), dating from the Tang dynasty, although largely rebuilt; and the Imperial Cave (黄洞, Huángdòng), an ancient drainage passage with steps leading down to it, clinging to the outside of the fort wall.
Three high-speed trains running to Hechuan from Chongqing North train station (from ¥20, 25 minutes, 7.17am, 7.58am, 8.54am) are the best way to get here, but they often sell out – book ahead. Alternatively, you can take the much longer bus ride from Caiyuanba station (¥29, 1½ to two hours, half-hourly, 8.10am to 6.10pm).
Once in Hechuan, you'll need to take a taxi to the fortress. It's about ¥25 from the train station and ¥10 from the bus station. The last train back to Chongqing is at 9.43pm; the last bus is at 7pm.