A spooky grey sky hangs heavily over the summit of Weibao Shan, the air laden with the threat of a summer storm that refuses to burst. We catch a glimpse of a fluorescent green snake, slithering through the eye socket of a charred Taoist deity; victim of a lightning strike that had reduced his temple to a ghostly shell.
Down below, deep forests cover the slopes of the mountain and ancient Yi villages pepper the bottom of the valley. The only other sign of life is a slightly dotty old caretaker and her dozens of cats.
Magnificent scenery, fierce canines, and laid-back locals await you on your visit to Qiunatong 秋那通, one of the last villages in Yunnan云南 before you enter Tibet西藏.
Barring a few hamlets, Yunnan province virtually ends at Qiunatong. At least all paved roads end here. If you walk or cycle west of here for a day or so, you’ll find end up in Tibet proper. That is if you don’t stumble upon a Chinese border security post!
The Tibetan Village of Dong Feng offers one of the easiest day trips from Bingzhongluo 丙中洛. Head north out of town along the main road and you’ll soon find yourself on a wide dirt tract with a river running below it.
Is this China?
Continue for a few meters and the path veers sharply left; all of a sudden, Bingzhongluo has disappeared and Dong Feng comes into view.
Unfortunately, distances around here are deceptive. The steepness of the mountain slopes makes everything look closer than it actually is, and the path to Dong Feng is no exception.
The beautiful road from Gongshan 贡山 (see previous article) ends at the one- street town of Bingzhongluo 丙中洛. It is difficult to find a town in a more remote place in China that is accessible by road on public transport. More than 350 kilometres separate this outpost from Liuku 六库, the town at the mouth of the Nujiang valley 怒江谷, from where there are connections to the rest of Yunnan Province 云南省.
Arrive on a sunny morning, and you will find Bingzhongluo bustling with ethnic minorities shopping for provisions or chatting with friends. Take in the town’s dramatic location, set below the magnificent slopes of the snow-capped mountains gleaming in their various shades of radiant green, and above the raging waters of the Nujiang River, seemingly in a frenetic rush to reach Myanmar and empty itself in the Bay of Bengal, and you can easily imagine you’ve arrived in the Shangri-La of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon.
On the other hand, should you arrive in Bingzhongluo late on a rainy, damp and misty evening, make your way past the flooded pot holes, dodge the mangy dogs fighting over scraps strewn across the street from the overturned bins, and you might ask yourself why you’d made the effort to get there.
As always, the truth about Bingzhongluo lies somewhere in the middle. It’s a kilometre long stretch of old wooden shacks, hastily built concrete shops, and China’s trademark white- tile administrative buildings. And yet, Continue reading “Bingzhongluo (Nujiang Valley 2)”
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.
Nujiang River Near Gongshan
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.
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.
Tweet China, Yunnan province, 150 Kilometres Northwest of Dali.
Every journey we made by bus in Yunnan 云南 this summer was plagued by problems.
This is the account from our dairy which describes the ride we took on the 12th of August 2010, from Xiaguan (Dali City) to Yunlong.
“… We have no trouble getting a taxi this early in the morning, thank God, so we arrive at the bus station nice and early. There, we make the mistake of asking how long it will take and they tell us 5 hours, instead of the 3½ we were expecting…… more road works apparently….. We’ll just have to resign ourselves.
The first 40kms or so we proceed smoothly, straight down the Dali大理– Baoshan保山 express way (an engineering marvel, hewn out of the rock face of towering mountains)，and we start wondering whether the people in the bus station have made a mistake, or whether we’ve simply misheard the times…. But no, as soon as we turn off the motorway the road basically vanishes. From now on we’ll be driving through thick red mud, along a rough track that is at times completely flooded by water running down the mountainsides. The whole area is just one great building site where we constantly have to dodge bulldozers, caterpillars and other heavy machinery, swerve around piles of construction materials, avoid the little shacks put up for the workers, and so on.
China, Yunnan, just over 100 kilometers Northwest of Kunming.
Imagine being the only guests in a Ming dynasty courtyard mansion in which little has changed since the days of its previous owners, several generations of a wealthy salt merchant’s family, the last unfortunate member of which – Wu Weiyang – was executed by the communists in 1949…
Wu Family in happier days in the Wujia Courtyard
Imaging strolling back to this mansion after dining on some of the world’s most delicious and expensive mushrooms in an atmospheric open-air restaurant where Chinese day-trippers squat down under the shady trees for the serious task of selecting and cleaning their own choice of ‘edible fungus’… Imagine being woken from your siesta by local residents singing traditional opera and performing folk dances to celebrate the 70th birthday of one of their neighbours…
By 6.00 o’clock the restaurant is packed and queues are beginning to line up in the waiting area. A palpable sense of expectation hovers in the air as customers mull over the huge menu, occasionally lifting their heads to glance at their fellow diners and nodding in approval as a dish is selected. The waiters stand around patiently, sometimes suggesting dishes to speed the indecisive along. As orders are taken to the kitchen, the carriers -whose job it is only to carry food to the tables on large trays – begin scurrying backwards and forwards between kitchen and dining area, delivering large plates of unfamiliar, yet delicious looking food. A veritable army of waiting staff in traditional uniforms then take the dishes from the trays and serve them to the suitably impressed diners. The noise level begins to rise as beer bottles are opened, or Chinese rice wine is tossed down gulping throats to the shouts of Ganbei/ Cheers!
This is Lao Fangzi in central Kunming where food doesn’t come much better and the ambience puts the icing on the cake. One of the few – maybe the last- remaining genuine old houses in central Kunming, Lao Fangzi (the Old House) is one of the city’s best dining spots. How it has escaped the guide books is a mystery.
Landslides, mudslides, traffic accidents, then more landslides, rock falls and even more traffic accidents. Every journey we made this summer in Yunnan seemed to involve at least one of those mishaps and sometimes several of them.
Watching the news in China during the rainy and typhoon season can be like watching a disaster movie that never ends. From landslides to floods, earthquakes to collapsing bridges, the whole country seems immersed in an ongoing state of calamities that sometimes verge on biblical proportions. Yet, until this year, we had always been lucky. We were either somewhere completely different, we had already been and gone, or we were about to go, but we were never actually there, on the spot. We were quite used to watching all those disasters from the comfort of our hotel room. Yet, this year it was all different.
The worst incident was the massive mudslide in Puladi near Gongshan along the Nujiang River, where a whole village was wiped off the face of the earth. Many people were killed and Continue reading “An Eventful Trip”