Yuanyang

On the way here we were stopped at a police checkpoint and I was asked for my passport. Apparently there has been some muslim extremist activity in Yunnan recently and they are monitoring foreigners movements. No problem, but I did think I was out of harm’s way as far as terrorism went!

The area around Yuanyang rises to 3000m and lies just 50km north of the Vietnam border. The steep sided mountains have been cultivated for hundreds of years by the Hani people, growing rice that is regarded as among the best in the world. Having had some for dinner I’d say it has a delicious nutty flavour, much more interesting than basmati, say. I also had a delicious dish with meat, garlic, scallions, ginger and chilli. Outrageously expensive meal at £2.50, but then it is a 4 star hotel. The other local minority are the Yi people, who wear gloriously colourful costumes. The rice terraces, now a world heritage site, look stunning at sunset and sunrise. I didn’t use filters or photoshop – these show exactly how it looked.

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Yi girl, age 3

Sunset at Yaohuzui (the tiger’s mouth)P1040309 P1040313 P1040320 P1040322

Sunrise at Daoyishu (a type of fruit tree)

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Commuting, Yunnan styleP1040364

We came back via a farmers market, where the locals can buy and sell vegetables, meat (on the hoof), herbs, household goods, fabric and agricultural equipment.

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Dragon’s Backbone (Long Ji)

Dad wanted an adventure and, having got over my initial worries about travelling in China, so did I. We drove into the mountains to visit the famous rice terraces. After buying a ticket at the base station, we headed up a winding mountain road to Ping’an village. Within a mile we came to a landslip that had completely blocked the road, just half an hour before.

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My guide, William, is very resourceful and suggested that we go back down, go up another road to Long Pu village and walk to Ping’an  village and the hotel. This turned out to be a massive blessing in disguise.

Zhuang people

Zhuang people

The delightful walk took us through Zhuang territory, mountain people who are also called Lou Yue (birds frogs) as they believe they are descended from birds and frogs. I am very much in favour of people who regard themselves as intimately connected to their surrounding ecosystem. I hope the Chinese will not lose it in their race for wealth. They start with a major advantage, having such poetic imagery to describe their surroundings and a written language still based on pictograms and ideograms, rather than phonetic symbols. Some describe China as newly developed but to me it is semi-developed: it is half super-sophisticated and half unchanged for centuries. It has many deep contrasts – city and country, cheerful ignoring of the rules in a forceful State, communist yet capitalist and still worshipping Mao like a god even though he was so destructive of Chinese culture.

Boundary bridge

Boundary bridge

The boundary between the Zhuang and the Yao people was marked with a bridge and with different traditional costume. The Yao women have hair down to the ground. It is only cut once in their lifetime, and they keep the cut hair and add it back in to their elaborately bunned hairstyle. These women were so deeply grounded it was like being hugged by two trees.

Yao ladies and me

Yao ladies and me

All the viewpoints and the village were blissfully peaceful as none of the tourist buses could get up the road. Bad news for the tat sellers though. More excitements followed as we had a thunderstorm overnight which blew the electricity for the whole village. Luckily my darling husband had insisted I bring a torch. Fortune was definitely on my side – the walk back to the car was sunlit on newly flooded fields, with wisps of mist puffing up the valleys, and the effect was breathtaking.

Rice terraces at Long Ji

Rice terraces at Long Ji