Ping 'An, Longji Rice Terraces and the luggage por

Trip Start Sep 01, 2007
Trip End Oct 22, 2007

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The drive to the Rice Terraces was through scenery that got more spectacular by the minute. We left the Karst Mountains behind and traded them for the hill and mountainsides that were carved into terraces some 700 years ago. Our first stop for tickets gave us the first chance to see what turned out to be one of the (many) highlights of our trip, a terrace of rice fields up close. Shortly after that we walked a short pathway between two suspension bridges to see a bit of local village life.
Then it was back in the car and climbing up a mountainside of many hairpin bends, it felt a bit like a driving version of what we walked up through Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Along the way our guide, Rosa, had told us there would be local people who we could pay to carry our luggage up the many many many stairs to our guest house which turned out to be the second highest one on the mountainside. What she did not tell us was that our luggage porters would be ladies the same age as our mothers! These little, weathered ladies put our bags, weighing between 18 and 19 kilograms each, into baskets which they hoisted onto their backs and went off walking up the hill without any complaint (that we could understand anyway!). Needless to say we, as I am sure must be the case with many other travellers, gave them more money than they asked for. All the way up the hill and stairs Annie was saying, "how can they manage such heavy loads" and "I hope they don't injure themselves!". They were obviously happy to carry our bags as, once they had dumped them in our room on the 3rd floor (more stairs), they wanted to know what time they should fetch them for the walk down.
After a short relax with a cup of tea it was time to see what we had come for, these ancient rice terraces known as "The Dragons Backbone". We set off for the view points - there are two main viewpoints, viewpoint 2 was above where we were staying and where all the day-tripper's walked up to and viewpoint 1 was about an hour's walk in a much quieter area.
On the way up to viewpoint 2 we passed lots of places where we were offered the opportunity to have a cup of tea or coffee or, even better, the opportunity of having our photo with a lady in traditional dress of whichever minority group they belonged to, the "Yao" or "Zhuang" people. We enjoyed the banter and joked with them but turned all offers down in favour of the amazing views.
It is easy to see why the day-trippers are all taken to viewpoint 2; it is not a difficult climb and the views are quite spectacular. From here you can see "The Seven Stars accompanying The Moon" terraces. After spending some time there we set off on our walk through the terraces and a real treat to the eyes.
We were followed along this walk by a group of Yao ladies trying to peddle their wares to us. Their tradition is that the ladies only ever have their hair cut once in their lives at the age of 18. They keep this hair as an extension and continue to grow their hair for the rest of their lives. It is then wound up onto and around their heads and wrapped with a cloth, the colour of which denotes whether they are single or married and whether they have any children. They have also discovered that tourists will pay them money to let down their hair for photographs. Again we declined all offers of purchases and photographs as the view just got better and better with each rounding of a corner showing off even more spectacular views.
The real treat was viewpoint 1, completely quiet without any shops or buildings, just a few stones on which to sit and marvel at the views. From here you can see the "Nine Dragons Backbone" along with "Five Tigers". This takes a bit of imagination but, aside from whatever you can or cannot make out, the views of these 700 year old rice terraces rising around 800 metres from the bottom to the top are truly quite awesome! It is also amazing that the farmers from so many generations ago could have created such a brilliant farming technique, it makes you wander about progress and what happened to all of these brilliant people of the ancient civilizations (Greek, Roman, Turkish, Chinese, etc)?
We were joined by four more Yao ladies who again tried to sell us a photo of them with their hair down so this time I offered the same with my long hair. These ladies had lovely natures and great sense of humour so spent lots of time just having fun. To Annie and Rosa's amusement, they all gathered around me and were stroking my hair, head and arms saying "beuuutiful". It was a really special way to spend some time in such an ancient and amazing environment.
Rosa also realised what I meant about having fun and that, regardless of language and culture, it only takes three things to be able to communicate and have fun - the ability to smile, being able to say "hello" and "thank you" in their language, and being able to laugh at yourself as you will certainly be laughed at by the locals. We have often used this form of communication on our Chinese and other travels and always had the most wonderful time as we did on this occasion.
Our walk down from viewpoint 1 took us into and through the terraces where we watched a farmer beating the grains out of the rice plants in the same way that they have been doing for the last 700 years. Then into a small village where we watched a really old lady sweeping her rice. Between her deafness and her concentration on the task at hand, there was nothing and nobody that would distract her from this task. We also heard the village school at play with a very happy sounding bunch of children.
In-between the golden terraces and drying rice we came across the occasional splash of red of drying chillies. Some were on the roofs of houses, others on the floor next to them but in all cases the aroma was clearly that of very strong spice and flavour. We took a few so we could carry on enjoying this smell, we'll dry then out when we get home and find out how strong they really are.
What is quite noticeable is how few young people there are learning these ancient trades as they have mostly been attracted away to the bright lights of the big cities. We asked Rosa about this and she said it is a concern of hers and people she has spoken to in the area, who will carry on the traditions? Hopefully the Government will become aware of this question soon and make sure that these ancient art forms from farming to Calligraphy and anything else are added to the education curriculum and kept as the rich heritage of this diverse country.
For supper we made our way down the VERY dark stairs and found a quiet restaurant, it seems there are very few tourists staying overnight in Ping'An. We had a lovely evening and a delicious veggie and rice cooked in the tradition method inside the bamboo sticks supper with local beer. Even though it was probably the coldest night we have experienced in China and slept in tracksuits, we slept really well after all the mountain air.
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