“Please speak Mandarin”. “I am speaking Mandarin”.
Zhangjiajie / Wulingyuan / Hunan Province
From Zhangjijie city 张家界市we boarded the bus for the half hour trip to Zhangjiajie Village 张家界村 and the Wulingyuan Scenic Area 武陵源风景区. We are in Hunan Province 湖南省, in central China, also the birthplace of China’s first communist leader, Mao Zedong毛泽东.
Joining us on the bus was a young Chinese backpacker from Guilin 桂林 (China’s other famous natural scenic area). We soon got talking in standard Mandarin. The ticket seller, a friendly- chubby- bumpkin type chap with a ruddy face, cottened on that the foreigners could speak Chinese and joined in our conversation. He seemed able to understand us, but we and the young backpacker from Guilin were, completely at a loss as to what the conductor was trying to say. His voice high pitched and squeaky, the tones all over the place, was just incomprehensible.
Once you have seen all there is to see in Xiahe, you should go and explore the grasslands. Though some of the areas nearest to town have become quite commercial, there is still plenty of scope for exploring.
We went on a great day trip, for which we hire a car through our hotel. At first, the price of 400 Yuan for half a day’s sightseeing seems a bit steep. However, when our vehicle appears, a shiny, brand-new black Sedan, driven by a sleek young Tibetan guy with shoulder- length hair, a golden tooth and lots of big rings, we are quick to appreciate the difference between this car, and any old taxi.
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.
Whether you are leaving Guizhou Province from the West, or entering it from Eastern Yunnan, you’ll probably end up passing through Xingyi (see Map), a small town undergoing rapid development. To be honest, Xingyi is not the prettiest of towns, though we didn’t find it quite as grim as it was depicted in our guidebook. It is true that the town is entirely lacking in sights and has lost all its old neighbourhoods to the rampant white-tile and concrete construction that continues to proliferate in China. However, it’s a pretty laid- back place and its major sight, the Maling Gorge, just a few kilometres out of town and easy to reach, is truly spectacular.
Locals also recommend visiting nearby Fenghuang Shan (Phoenix Mountain 凤凰山), which they claim is another natural wonder not to be missed. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to check this out.
We arrived in Xingyi on a bus from Anshun 安顺. The journey took around six hours and passes through some of the most dramatic limestone scenery you are likely to see.
As in the rest of China, rapid changes are underway even in this remote corner of the country. The future cross-China East to West Highway, currently in the initial phases of construction, will eventually pass close to Xingyi. For the moment, it’s giving China’s civil engineers and Continue reading “Xingyi 兴义 & Maling Gorge马岭河峡谷”
About 20 kilometres to the south of Yushu (玉树) lies the incredibly scenic Leba Gorge. The Leba Gorge is a magnificent valley full of rushing rivers, wild flowers and painted, sacred rocks. Its vast, open grasslands are inhabited by yaks and wild marmots and its changing, threatening skies are crossed by soaring eagles.
Visitors can access the gorge from a clearly marked entry point near the Yangtze River, drive all the way through and end up at the Princess Wencheng Temple(文成公主庙); which is precisely what we did:
A couple of kilometres down a bumpy track that precariously hugs the mountainside, with the rushing river beside and below us, our car is stopped at what seems to be a makeshift roadblock. Here, a dodgy ticket system is run by some rather shady- looking characters. We are charged Continue reading “Leba Gorge 勒巴沟”
We hadn’t seen anything like these people before in China: dressed in loose black clothes covered by red aprons, and carrying little wooden blocks decorated with dragon heads, these old men and women circumambulated and filed into every temple they passed. They were followed all the time by three young boys bearing colourful banners and carrying boxes full of religious regalia. When I asked them: “您们是什么民族?” (What minority are you?), they cheerfully replied: “汉族” (Hanzu), in other words, ordinary Chinese, from Hunan, the province where we found ourselves in. “您们为什么穿这秧的衣服” (And the clothes, why are you dressed like this?), I asked. “我们是道教人”(We are Taoists), an elderly man answered. I smiled, slightly embarrassed at my ignorance.
Chuandixia: a small stone village some 60 kilometres from Beijing. It is extremely photogenic and the surrounding countryside offers ample trekking possibilities. Villagers have cottoned on quickly to Chuandixia’s tourist potential and have started opening simple hostels and restaurants. As a result, there is now a 20 Yuan entrance ticket and a small coach park at the entrance.
However, it’s touch and go as to whether Beijing residents will take to this place. The ones we went with, couldn’t see what all the fuss was about: “Everything is old and like it was 20 years ago”, they complained.
The rusty old bus from Jiaxing in Zhejiang Province rumbled along the tree shaded road, swerving past frequent potholes and dodging wayward livestock. Rural scenes that hadn’t changed in a millennium flashed by the grime- incrusted windows. We secretly thought that we might be arriving in an undiscovered corner of Zhejiang and were about to enjoy a tourist- free canal town. How naive could we be? And our wishful thinking of exploring a hidden gem was promptly shattered, when our bus hit a huge, 4 lane highway that cut in front of our little country road, just as we were arriving in Wuzhen. The highway, built to facilitate the convoys of coaches that shunt tourists up and down from Hangzhou, ends in an enormous car park, from where microphone toting, flag waving tour guides harangue their cattle- like hordes through the main entrance.
Dating back to the Tang Dynasty, Wuzhen is a perfect example of a traditional Chinese canal town. Moreover, its location on waterways that feed into the Grand Canal takes visitors back to times gone by. Unfortunately, in some ways, Wuzhen may be too perfect for its own good. The preservation of its architecture, a mixture of Qing and Ming dynasty houses and mansions, is stunning. The time-worn narrow cobbled streets, huge ancient doorways and delicately arched bridges entice exploration. However, the problem with Wuzhen is that it can get swamped; not by water, but by humans. No self-respecting Chinese tour group visiting Hangzhou, of which there are thousands, can leave Wuzhen off its list. What’s more, many Western travel agencies have added the town to their itinerary. Even in mid-week, in the middle of September 2005, it was pretty crowded.
The hotel owner in Yuanyang had told us to get there early, as many of the hill tribe people have to walk all the way back and the market starts breaking up at around noon.
So we got to Laomeng at about 8:30, where we were among the first to arrive. We walked once round the town and had a look at the few stalls already set up by a small number of colourfully dressed Miao ladies and some older Yi women. Most of them seemed as curious about us, as we were about them. By the time we got back to our starting point, dozens of vans, carts and other vehicles had already arrived, unloading hundreds of passengers and all kinds of goods. They brought with them a kaleidoscopic mix of colours, as ladies from the Hani, Yao, Yi, Miao and Black Thai ethnic groups spilled out from the back and descended upon the market for a few hours of frenzied buying and selling.
For the next 3 hours we were treated to a visual feast that left us drained and out of film. Our driver had filled us in on some of the intricacies of the local costumes, so we were more or less able to distinguish between the women from the different ethnic groups…
For more go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China
We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived at Tunbao village, next to the larger town of Tianlong. We had heard that it was home to a special group of Han Chinese who still dressed in Ming clothes. Although we had wondered whether it was going to be some themed, Disney-style village to amuse Chinese tourists, we were actually pleasantly surprised.
The first thing we discovered came as a total shock: the women in Ming dress were the same ones we had seen haggling at Anshun market, or working the fields in nearby villages. We had previously mistaken them for Bouyi, but from our previous visit to Shitou Zhai we had learnt that they wear darker clothes, embroidered in the different way.
The ladies in Ming dynasty clothes were definitely authentic; there were not only old ladies, but many young girls too, who continued to sport these traditional garments. There seems to be an area of villages and towns around Anshun where this practice continues.
The Ming costume basically consists of long, calf- length blue tunics, black trousers, dark aprons and the embroidered cloth shoes that are common in this area of Guizhou. The tunics are usually bright blue, but can be turquoise, purple or pink as well. The ladies wear: For more go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China