The early morning mist and heavy cloud cover bestowed an eerie atmosphere over Chong’an 重安. The river was motionless and silky smooth like a millpond. The town and the surrounding scenery seemed as if suspended in a landscape painting. Silence reigned.
Then there was a shout, a curse and the haggling began. Chong’an Market was open for business.
The huge market held in Chong’an every five days is one of the best and most colourful in Guizhou. The local Miao 苗族 and Gejia 革家 ethnic groups swamp the small scruffy town in a frenzy of buying and selling that lasts the entire morning and carries on into the early afternoon.
The Road from Feilai Si near Deqin winds its way to the bottom of the Langcang Valley (Mekong River Valley) in a series of dramatic hairpin bends. On the right the mystical mountain of Meili Xueshan teases and torments the traveller with rare glimpses of its summit and glaciers in a game of hide and seek in the monsoon summer months.
For one second it’s there in all its majestic glory and then the next it’s gone, hidden behind swirling clouds or an impenetrable mist.
As the road reaches the river at the bottom of the valley, the barren rock faces on the left that threatened to come crashing down on our puny vehicle give way to fertile green fields dotted by white villages and prayer flags.
Welcome to one of the most romantic places in China; the tiny village of Cizhong in China’s South West Yunnan province.
While there are many other beautiful villages in the area, Cizhong stands out because of the lovely Catholic church that dominates the centre of the village and its surrounding vineyards.
Xiding Market 西定市场 in Yunnan`s Xishuangbanna Region is one of the best. In the previous post we put up we hadn’t got the photos ready. So here is a second post with the photos. Some things will have changed. But travellers still report that it continues to be an authentic rural market that attracts a number of different minorities including Bulang, Hani, and Dai.
We abandoned our driver, his car buried deep in the mud, and mounted a motorbike. Ironically, the previously treacherous mud bath soon became a reasonably smooth, semi-asphalted road. The drive was stunning:
we passed Dai villages with their traditional raised wooden houses, thick jungle and vistas of mist-covered hills and valleys flashed by, and just when it seemed that the scenery couldn’t get better, we arrived in Xiding, looking like an island floating above the clouds. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the town revealed itself as a bit of a dump.
The small, grubby market town of Xiding may seem a strange destination, especially if you have to spend so much time and effort trying to get there, but its Thursday market is one of the most authentic ethnic markets in Xishuangbanna.
A hive of activity from dawn to midday, the market attracts nearby Dai, Hani (Aini or Akha), and Bulang minorities. It is said that Lahu also drop in, but we didn’t see or recognize any. The only real sign of Han-Chinese presence are the huge military barracks overlooking the town, a reminder that the Myanmar border is only a few kilometres away.
CITS (China’s official travel agency’s description of an L Train 临客)
“L – Temporary Train In Chinese: LinKe (临客) L trains operate only during the peak travel season, such as the Chinese Spring Festival and the National Holiday. These trains are not listed in the official fixed train schedule. It is not advised to take L-trains if you have other options as they are known to be relatively slow and regularly subject to delays”.
“46 hours”. I doubted my Chinese at that moment, but the ticket seller repeated the departure and arrival times, there was no mistake. Bagging next day hard sleeper tickets from Beijing to Chengdu can be a taxing experience at the best of times, but in early August, you’ve got about as much chance as winning the lottery. Unless … unless, of course, you are willing to take the slow train 临客 , or L Train as it is known in China!
We got two middle berths, which are the best, as during the day you can escape the crowded lower berths, where everyone sits, and they have more space than the often claustrophobic upper berths.
Pandemonium broke out when the gates were opened at Beijing West Station 北京西站 to allow the passengers on. Those without reservation ran frantically, pushing and shoving the old and weak out of the way, to grab one of those precious seats. It was a simple case of survival of the fittest; get a seat or stand for 46 hours.
This is the final part of our travel report on Xiahe and the Labrang Monastery in China’s Gansu Province. The article is an unedited extract from the diary that Margie kept during our two year trip around Asia and the Middle East. The trip began in Lahore, Pakistan in early October 1990. By late November 1990 we had reached Xiahe. Though we have now visited Xiahe 3 times (see previous articles), it was our first visit that really stood out, probably because we hadn’t really experienced Tibetan culture before.
Wednesday 21/11/ 1990 (Lanzhou to Xiahe)
We have to get up early to catch the 7.30 bus to Xiahe; the only one of the day. The scenery gradually becomes more and more interesting. The whole morning we have been driving through a winter landscape of soft brown, reddish and yellowish shades. Every available scrap of land is being used: all the mountains have been terraced and divided into tiny vegetable plots, while the fields are used to grow potatoes, cereals and barley. There are haystacks everywhere and corns on the cob on every roof, drying. The villages, of a pinkish-brown hue, form an indistinguishable part of the landscape.
Looking out of the bus window, we can see many non-Chinese people, walking along the road. Most of them closely resemble Uyghur people, and they are wearing greatcoats, animal skins and furs, as well as heavy leather boots. The majority seem to be Muslims, judging by the white skull caps of the men and the black velvet and lace headscarves of the women. Many of the men also wear the large, round, horn-rimmed sunglasses that seem to be typical around here.
This photo was taken at Chengyang Wind and Rain Bridge, near Sanjiang 三江 in Northern Guangxi Province. It is one of the best examples of a Dong Minority Wind and Rain Bridge. Built in 1912, it’s 64 meters long and reported not to have a single nail. This photo was taken after scrambling up a steep path to find an ideal spot to get an overview of the bridge. A pity about the crappy camara I had at the time.
The area around Chengyang Bridge is stunning. Beautiful Dong Minority villages are set amongst electric green paddy fields. In the lazy meandering rivers, huge water wheels turn slowly as they have done for centuries, tipping water into bamboo irrigation pipes. And above all there is the Chengyang Bridge. Sounds like paradise doesn’t it?
In 2003, the only place to stay near the bridge was the lovely rambling Chengyang Bridge National Hostel, a funky wooden guest house with a great veranda for chilling, reading and knocking back a few beers right next to the Bridge. Unfortunately for Margie, it was also home to some of the biggest and fastest moving 8 legged monsters you’ll ever meet.
Spiders, big long-legged, hairy spiders scuttling across wooden beams from room to room, hiding behind the bedhead or hovering above you in the shower; Margie’s nightmare; my hassle. Travelling in Northern Guangxi and Guizhou Provinces with an arachnophobic can be quite a testing experience. The old wooden houses in the minority villages provide perfect abodes for these arthropods. And my job, as always, is to make the rooms safe before Margie will go in them. Given the spaces between the wooden slats; an impossible task.
Getting there from Lanzhou: 18/9/2011
When we emerge from our hotel at 6.00am to catch the 7.30 bus, it’s still pitch-black and still pouring with rain. Yet, we are lucky because for once there’s a taxi waiting by the gates, and we don’t even hit one of those infernal Lanzhou traffic jams! At the station, we find a handful of shivering passengers huddled in the spartan hall. The toilet is in a little shack to the right of the waiting room, with a gorgeous, but miserable-looking, soaking-wet Husky tied up out front.
The bus leaves on time, half-full and with only a couple of tourists on board, none of them Westerners. Our driver moves slowly and carefully down the brand-new, almost deserted, motorway. Adam starts reminiscing about how this ride once took 10 hours … back in 1990. For this is not our first visit to Xiahe, or even second, but our third!
We whizz through Linxia; now a large, bland, Chinese city, but then an exotic market town with a distinctly Muslim feel to it.
This small town, with a big history, is situated on the banks of the Jialing River, some 225 kilometres from Chengdu (Sichuan Province). It is all at once the burial place of the Three Kingdoms general, Zhang Fei, birthplace of the Han dynasty inventor of the Chinese Calendar, Luo Xiahong, and home to a wealth of traditional Sichuan architecture.
In short, Langzhong has plenty of things to see and do to keep a visitor busy for two days.
It’s a beautiful sunny autumn morning. We wake to the sounds of monks chanting and bells jingling in the faint breeze. We stumble out of our room and onto the roof top terrace of the Samye Monastery Hotel. The sunlight is blinding. We sit for a while, sipping hot tea, taking in the views over the monastery and postponing the packing for as long as possible.
We’d have loved to have spent another day, but eventually we peel ourselves away and go in search of a truck that will take us and the locals to the ferry quay to cross the Yalung Tsampa (the Brahmaputra River). Today we are heading to the Yumbulagang Palace.
Even in 2007, when Tibet was somewhat more open than now to foreigners travelling without organized tours, it was still difficult to travel on public transport outside Lhasa. One exception was the Ganden Monastery bus. It left from the west side of Barkhor Square at 6.00 in the morning and returned in the early afternoon.
The night before our excursion, the taxi driver had rung at 11.00 pm to say that he had been offered a more lucrative trip to the Everest Base Camp and the Nepalese Border and he wouldn’t be taking us to the Ganden Monastery in the morning as previously arranged. “It’s the pilgrim bus then.” Margie and I decided, and set our alarm for 5.00 am.
Going to Ganden
Approaching the bus in the pitch black we could make out the shape of a large group of people standing silently in front of its closed doors. The only other sign of life at this time in the morning were the mysterious, hazy figures of pilgrims on the Barkhor Circuit, mumbling prayers and twirling their prayer wheels, the personification of piety.