KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
The drive to Longshen to see the ‘Dragon’s Backbone’ Rice Terraces took us one and a half hours north of Yangshuo to Guilin and then another hour and a half further north again. The driver was very cautious and we had a comfortable and pleasant trip. After leaving Guilin, we found the land on either side of the road was dedicated to vegetable farming and then orange groves. We stopped alongside the road to buy some fresh oranges; our driver crossed to the left side of the road and parked the van along the shoulder facing the on-coming traffic. I should have said something because this meant that we had to get out of the sliding door and step out onto the highway – very unsafe.
The farmers had oranges in huge piles along the shoulder and we selected a couple of kilos to eat along the way. When we asked if they were fresh, one of the farmers pointed to a man coming from the fields with baskets of oranges with the leaves still attached. Can’t get much fresher than that. I got back into the van and Anil came along munching on a juicy orange. He gave me a bite and then stepped back from the van door to let me out, forgetting that this put him out on the highway. Just at that instant a huge transport truck whizzed by and I grabbed Anil’s shirt and hauled him into the van. I don’t think he would have been hit, but it sure scared me. I think in the future I will follow my instincts and speak up when I think we are in an unsafe situation.
The landscape changed dramatically as we climbed into mountainous terrain. We were struck by the fact that all the rice fields in Yangshuo were built on the flat land surrounding the karst mountains with their steep peaks, while here the mountains were sloped more gradually and the road could actually climb up and over the mountain crests.
As we neared the terraced area we came to a small town where we purchased tickets to tour. Esther explained that half the proceeds go to the townspeople and the other half to the government. This seemed like a fair split, as the government is responsible for all the roads and services in the region. Also, charging a fee meant that the people who were inconvenienced by all the traffic and pedestrians wandering through their ‘workplace’ were compensated as well.
After leaving the ticket office, we continued on for several kilometers on a very windy road, up and up till we were almost at the crest of the mountain range. We pulled into a parking lot in order to get down and walk the rest of the way. Esther mentioned that it would take us one and a half to two hours to visit the sights in the area and Audrey and David looked at us in dismay. They weren’t at all sure that they could hike up and down for that long, so we agreed to set out for a while till they had enough and then we could return to Guilin for the night.
Right from the parking lot we began to see the most amazing views looking out over the valley and across to the terraces all along the mountainsides. Small shops selling local handicrafts lined the path and sometimes made it difficult to see the terraces properly. Tourism has become a major source of income in addition to growing rice so it stands to reason that these shops would spring up but it does get a little tiresome when you have to pass so many of them everywhere you go. The upside of all this development at tourist sites is that there are usually nice toilets available and I can’t tell you how awful it is to have to use a bad one.
As we walked and climbed dozens of flights of steps, the valley opened up and we were treated to the most amazing scenery stretching into the distance. The terraces were created by hand over a period of eight hundred years and are considered an engineering marvel to this day. The 2,000-foot peaks have the most astounding terracing in all of China. All along the way we were followed by Yao women eager to sell us some of their handicrafts or to show us their extremely long hair (for a price). We fended them off for ages but one very persistent woman wore us down at last. After we settled on a price for a photo, she unwound her hair and we discovered she had two or three hairpieces attached to her own hair. I could see that she was no longer young, and that her hair had thinned considerably. No wonder she had to add pieces to get the full effect, I imagine she had saved all her long hair as it had thinned over the years, to make sure she could still earn some extra yuan.
There are other ethnic minorities here as well; the Miao, Zhuang, and Dong people still preserve many of their traditional ways of life and it is possible to see them wearing their traditional clothes. The traditional wooden houses built nestled in the valleys are interesting to see and we stopped at one that has become a guesthouse to house and feed the hungry travellers after their treks up and down the terrace steps. The food was fresh and tasty and we had a wonderful view out the window. We toured the guestrooms above the dining room in case we ever wanted to return for a longer stay during a different season. The owner spoke good English and we fantasized spending a week in Longshen relaxing and trekking to some of the other villages in the region.
Alas, all good things come to an end and it was time to head back to the parking lot to meet up with our driver. We were all startled to realize that we had been walking and climbing up and down for almost three hours, we never would have thought Audrey and David were up to it, but they were distracted from the effort by the fantastic rewards at every turn. We were all weary and ready to head back to Guilin. It was dark by the time we reached the city and we had to say goodbye to our terrific guide Esther. We had formed a great friendship and I’m sure the staff at the hotel was surprised to see us each hug her in turn as we said goodbye. No promises again soon this time, but we told not to count out seeing us again one day.