Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces, China

Besides the legendary karst peaks in the Yangshuo and Guilin areas, northeast Guangxi province also contains another tourist gem--the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces. This man-made agricultural wonder looms over several villages of the Yao minority.

Myself and two Canadian backpackers, Alicia and Jelena, decided to stay at an inviting guesthouse in the traditional Yao village of Dazhai. Dazhai contains wooden homes with gray Chinese-style roofs, all nestled in a valley filled with yellow wildflowers and a stream. The surrounding cliffs contain step-like rice terraces.

We embarked on a hike up the mountains, past the village of Tiantouzhai and to viewing platform #1. This place gave us a panoramic and commanding view of several rice terraces and villages. Despite the lack of greenness (it was the dry season), I enjoyed observing the undulating edges of the rice terraces and their enormity.

The most exhilarating part of the hike was getting lost. In fact, if one doesn’t speak Chinese, one will definitely get lost as there are no signs; I had to constantly ask locals for directions. After we passed viewing platform #1, we decided to hike to the summit to catch the sunset at viewing platform #3. We did see the sun setting, but not over any rice terraces, so we did not reach viewing platform #3. We then decided to head down the mountain as it was getting dark. At around dusk, we arrived at a miners’ compound, unsure of where we were. The miners told us that the only way back to Dazhai village was to go back the way we came, which would take 3 hours. This was not going to be possible because it was getting dark. The miners told us the only option would be to hire a van to take us to the nearest city of Longsheng, where we would have to spend the night and head to Dazhai the next morning to retrieve our luggage. We did just that, splitting the RMB200 van ride.

Despite the initial fear of getting lost and having to pay a “penalty” in the form of a van and an extra hotel room, chatting with the miners proved to be one of my highlights in China thus far. The miners were there to extract gold and worked long hours (in shifts around the clock). It turns out that we were not the first “lost” tourists. There have been a handful of foreigners in the past. I was lucky in that I could communicate with them in Chinese. The miners were extremely hospitable and I saw a side of the Chinese (from strangers, that is) that I have never experienced. They served as several types of tea, all brewed and poured from a traditional tea set and apologized several times for not having food for us. Furthermore, they gave us tea leaves as gifts. This experience has given me an even more positive view of rural China.

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