Days Like These - Part III

Trip Start Sep 08, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Tibet Autonomous Region,
Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dangmu is a habitation that would not be out of place in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. It is a truly bizarre, truly wondrous human settlement perched precariously on one side of this unknown, un-named gorge. It exists purely along the jack-knifed length of one continuous road that winds again and again back under itself so that the shops and houses are stacked one on top of the other. There are no side streets, no town halls or small cul-de-sacs for such appendages would have nowhere to go other than straight up or straight down. The only off-shoot is a spur that leads down to a great terrace, a giant forecourt, presumably tarmaced that hangs from the side of the valley like a peculiarly colourful window box. I say presumably because the actual surface of this terrace can never be seen, hidden as it is under the mass of clashing fluorescents and ornate metal trims that are Indian lorries. These goods trucks, hauling their cargos from the sub-continent, up over the Himalayas toward China are so tightly packed that the poor fellow in the corner probably arrived months before and has no prospect of getting out for many, many months perhaps even seasons to come. But the whole forecourt, on closer inspection, is a slowly writhing mass, like a ball of ants, made up of minute shunts backward and forward in a desperate effort to create more space - the one thing will never afford them, the one thing the river below is constantly taking away. And this endless jostling, this colossal traffic jam, this unparalleled congestion, accompanied as it is with the endless chorus of multi-tonal horns, extends the full length of the town as vans and jeeps, trucks and lorries edge passed each other, inch forward and backward as they try to negotiate the width of two vehicles on a road resolutely attached to just one.
But somehow the noise of the revving engines, the blaring tunes of the horns and the screams of the jostling drivers are washed out, lost in the sound of falling water. At first it seems that all the buildings of the town must be cursed with faulty plumbing and water is showering from leaking pipes all around. But the water stains on the facades are no better or worse than anywhere else and the road itself is dry. Water surrounds and yet it does not make itself visible. And then, in a moment of revelation, it becomes apparent that the settlement is built above a series of great waterfalls that cascade down the side of the gorge. Waterfalls that tumble and drop between the shops, under the houses, beneath the surface of the road, down to the welcoming arms of the swelling river below. And whilst the caravan of lorries painstakingly struggle up the valley, their engines strained, working overtime to earn every hair-pin gained, the surges of invisible water fall with free abandon, jostling playfully, blessed by gravity, as they dance beneath this clinging finger hold of humanity.
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