The Nujiang Valley 怒江大峡谷
In the following weeks (months) we will be putting up information about travelling in the Nujiang Valley. This article will quickly look at Liuku六库, the town at the entrance to the valley and Gongshan贡山, the last town before you arrive at Bingzhongluo 丙中洛, the beautiful one- street village at the end of the valley.
The Nujiang River, one of China’s last remaining undammed rivers, begins high on the Tibetan plateau before roaring down through the deep valleys and towering mountains of Yunnan province and then swinging into Burma and finally emptying out into the Andaman Sea at Mawlamyine. The Nujiang Valley is a home to a number of ethnic groups.
The villages that dot the slopes of the mountains above the river are populated by Lisu, Nu (a Tibetan sub-group) Drung and Tibetans. There is also a smattering of Hui (Chinese Muslims) and Burmese traders.
Christianity has made deep inroads into this area. In the 19th and early 20th century French missionaries found local ethnic groups more receptive to Biblical teachings than the rather suspicious Han Chinese.
You’ll see the ubiquitous churches dotting the hillsides in nearly every village on your way up the valley, most are simple buildings with a cross on the top, but the churches near Bingzhongluo and Qiunatong 秋那通 are well worth visiting.
Qiunatong Church / 秋那通教堂
Many of the villages between Liuku and Gongshan are new model- villages in which the old wooden structures have been replaced by grey concrete blocks. While the local people may think them more comfortable (though many looked damp and were already somewhat run-down), the squat blocks do tend to mar the spectacular panorama.
Alcohol is a problem in the Nujiang Valley. Don’t be surprised to see a lorry careering round a bend, the driver with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a large bottle of beer. Drunks lie in the streets in most of the towns and villages and while we are not adverse to over- indulging in beer or other alcoholic beverages for that matter, there is obviously a serious drink problem among the ethnic minorities in the valley. Not surprisingly, accidents do happen. While we were in Bingzhongluo丙中洛, a local guy on a motorbike was knocked off the road and killed, allegedly by a drunk driver.
Visiting the Nujiang Valley means travelling 320 kilometres up the valley and 320 back down again… The only alternative to backtracking is a hefty 2 or 3 day trek over the high passes of the Gaoligong Shan mountain range to Cizhong in the Lancang Valley near Deqin (see article…).
In summer, when we were there, travel is highly unpredictable, rockslides, landslides and mudslides are a daily occurrence. We found ourselves trapped in Bingzhongluo for three days after the tragic mudslide that totally wiped out the village of Puladi some 40 kilometres back down the valley. It took a mammoth clean- up effort by the Army to get us out.
You’ll have to pass through and probably stay in Liuku if you are planning on travelling up the Nujiang Valley. It’s the transport hub for traffic entering and leaving the valley. Liuku is an unremarkable place with very little to see or do. If you are stuck with time on your hands you could try taking a mini bus to the frontier town of Pianma to peer over into Myanmar (you can’t cross). Other than that, buy your onward bus ticket, wander the mildly interesting market, and sit down on the terrace of one of the pleasant bars facing the river, have a beer and read a book.
New hotel options other than those mentioned in the regular guide books might well be worth trying. We stayed in the recommended Shengbaolu Dajiudian, a block down from the bus station next to the bridge. It’s a classic case of a rapidly disintegrating hotel. What might have been new and shiny a few years ago is now grimy and musty, toilets had to be flushed by dipping your hand into the cistern and pulling a piece of string and the carpets were pretty shocking. We paid 120 Yuan for a double. If you are going to stay in Liuku for more than one night find something else.
Eating, drinking and entertainment:
Fine dining has yet to make its mark in Liuku, but there is a very good small restaurant on the main street near the bus station, The Sanjiang Gu next to the posh looking Jinmeng Hotel. It’s cheap and serves great veggie dishes. The spicy eel clay pot (shaguo) is a treat and the red kidney beans have jumped straightout of mexico!
There is a night market almost next to the Shengbaolu hotel where Uighurs grill Xinjiang kebabs.
Down by the bridge crossing the Nujiang locals gather to sing and dance to local folk music.
To the right of the bridge, a riverside walk takes you to a packed, atmospheric teahouse, a real classic by any standards, and then on to a number of bars. The locals have the habit of ordering a crate of 6 beers and downing them in record time, before moving on to the next bar. However, it’s all good fun and probably the closest thing you’ll find to entertainment in Liuku. The river and the lights on the hills provide a romantic back drop.
Coming and Going:
There are two bus stations in Liuku. The station in the centre of town serves Yunnan’s major destinations (Kunming, Dali etc.), while the bus station across the river and then one kilometre to the left of the bridge serves destinations up the Nujiang Valley including Fugong福贡, Gongshan贡山, and Bingzhongluo丙中洛.
To get to Liuku, there are direct buses from many of Yunnan’s major towns including Kunming, Dali (Xiaguan), Baoshan and Tengchong. We arrived from Yunlong, a 5- hour journey that involves a change in Caojian漕涧; basically, you get off at the intersection and flag down any passing bus.
To get back to Dali should take you 6 or 7 hours, provided nothing goes wrong. It took us nearly16 hours, as first the motorway collapsed under a mudslide, and then a lorry overturned on the back road onto which all traffic had been diverted. This is, after all, a wild mountain region.
Heading up the valley:
There is one direct bus to Bingzhongluo at 8.00 am (the base for exploring the wilder areas of the valley). It’s often booked out the day before, but there are plenty of options for Fugong 福贡 and Gongshan贡山 running throughout the day.
It should take about 7 hours to get to Gongshan, but again that depends on how many rockslides, accidents or any other mishaps you might meet on the way. Remember, there is only the one road up and down the valley.
If there is a landslide or crash you’re in trouble. We were held up by two rock falls and a crash and it took us 12 hours to get to Gongshan.
On your way up you’ll see Locals crossing the Nujiang river on various types of bridges, including sliding across the raging torrents on precarious cables.
Gongshan 贡山 lies high above the Nujiang River. It’s a grimy boom town with little to entertain the weary traveller, but if you arrive late and can’t find onward travel to Bingzhongluo you may have to spend the night here.
We stayed in the Xiagu Dajiudian 峡谷大酒店, a new hotel already gone to seed. It is situated close to the entrance of the, basically one-street, town. We paid 100 Yuan for our double. The carpets (how I hate carpets!) looked as if they had been dragged through a cesspit and back. At least the staff was friendly and the attached restaurant served up some decent, if slightly expensive food. The speciality here is pork, served up in various ways. There was a whole hog – recently cooked- hanging off the wall of the restaurant. We stuck to the veggie dishes.
Mini buses run regularly between Gongshan and Bingzhongluo丙中洛. They stop just side the discreet tourist office on the main street. It’s a stunning ride with the Nujiang raging below and enormous mountain ranges looming above. The villages are much more traditional here. Solid wooden structures set among fertile fields of corn and fruit trees. If you’re lucky, your friendly bus driver will stop (much to the amusement of the locals) to let you get out and take photos at various scenic spots. Fantastic!
The only drawback is the obligatory 100 Yuan entry fee to the Bingzhongluo nature area (if you stay several days it’s well worth it). And then you are in Bingzhongluo, the end of the valley, or pretty close to it…
See next Article.