(What to see, where to stay and how to get there)
There are few places like Nuodeng 诺邓 remaining in China. Local tourist propaganda calls it the ‘thousand – year – old village’ and while this may be an exaggeration, there is no denying that this spectacular hamlet of ancient Ming and Qing dynasty houses and flagstone streets is unique.
Not a single modern eyesore blights picture perfect Nuodeng. Add to this the fact that hordes of screaming tourists and tacky souvenir stalls are conspicuous by their absence, and you get the China of your dreams.
Like Heijing 黑井 and Shaxi 沙溪, Nuodeng was once an important stopover on the salt route, but those glory days have long passed, and only a few salt wells at the entrance to the village are a sign of times gone by. Today, Nuodeng’s residents, members of the Bai ethnic group, earn their livelihoods tilling the fields on the steep slopes of the surrounding hills.
Although during our visit it seemed most residents preferred to while away their time chatting and smoking pipes in small groups on the steps of the two main squares, contributing to sleepy Nuodeng´s atmosphere of a time forgotten place.
The only thing you need to explore Nuodeng is a strong pair of lungs: so steep are the mountain sides that from below the houses seem to have been built on top of each other.
Locals use donkeys to carry their supplies up the near- vertical alleys.
However, all that energy spent is worthwhile. Among the crumbling houses, which range from humble cottages to once-grand mansions, remnants of classic gates, beautiful courtyards, stunning roofs, and vibrantly decorated pavilions vie for the visitor’s attention.
The icing on the cake is the Confucius Temple set at the apex of the village. Today, the temple functions as the local school, but its grand gates and exquisitely decorated wooden ceiling point to a grander epoch.
Nuodeng’s inhabitants seem proud of their houses and you may find yourself invited in for tea and the opportunity to mosey around. While some of the houses are quite impressive on the outside, they tend to be quite Spartan, not to say primitive, inside.
We popped into an ancient mansion that once belonged to a Jinshi scholar , (scholars who had passed the highest exams in the Ming and Qing dynasties and became high ranking officials). The house, now inhabited by a frail- looking old man only possessed a decrepit bed and the sad, crumbling remains of the scholar’s wooden desk.
Try to find the five- roofed courtyards that create an almost cubist effect, a unique style used in Bai courtyard houses.
There are no souvenir stalls as such. But if you happen to be in Nuodeng at the time of the torch festival, one or two shops sell miniature ethnic ghost costumes (sets of clothing made of paper and cloth and meant for the ghosts in their afterlife) which make quite a novel keepsake. We’d never seen them before.
There are one or two basic accommodation options in Nuodeng. The most inviting is the Fujia Liufangyuan 复甲留房源, a traditional Bai courtyard house with a wonderful garden and gorgeous surroundings, located near the top of the village. The bougainvillea is spectacular when in flower.
Rooms are around 20 yuan and are pretty basic. The toilets are out at the back, next to the pigsty (Margie has just reminded me). In spite of the lack of creature comforts, it seems some travellers end up staying for quite a while. The owner proudly told us of a Spanish girl who had spent a few weeks there.
If you speak Chinese, the friendly owners will treat you like a king, which can be a bit overbearing at times, but they mean well. They also have a little museum with some interesting local objects they will gladly show and explain to you.
We saw another small inn at the bottom of the village, near the entrance, but it seemed to be closed.
If you are looking for more comfort, stay in Yunlong 云龙 a mere 7 kilometres away (see Yunlong article).
For more recent information click on this blog: http://ksine.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/nuodeng-going-back-in-time-for-a-long-weekend/
The Fujia Liufangyuan is also the best (possibly the only) eating option in town. The owners understand vegetarianism and have a good selection of local produce they can wok up at a moment’s notice.
The few shops sell luke-warm beer. It’s still worth getting a bottle and finding one of the many vantage points to lie back and take in the peaceful surroundings.
Nuodeng is reached from the town of Yunlong云龙 (see getting to Yunlong). From there you can take a motor rickshaw for around 10 yuan for the 7- kilometre ride; though you may find it more difficult to arrange a ride back. Not to worry; you can either wait patiently, or walk. It’s a lovely rural road that winds through Bai villages and green countryside. You actually walk past Taijitu, though you won’t notice it from ground level.