Looking back on the photos we took from spending almost a month in Nepal, I’m drawn by how vivid the colours of this country are. I remember the day we crossed the land border from Zhangmu in Tibet, China to Kodari in Nepal and were immediately struck by the chaos, noise and colours of this landlocked country. It was a feast for our senses.
We had such an enjoyable experience in this country, mostly helped by the friendly locals, festivals and beautiful mountains. These pictures offer a glimpse of our time in Nepal.
Dragon’s backbone or Longsheng rice terraces in the province of Guangxi, China was nothing short of impressive. The sheer height and complexity of these 650 year old terraces is an engineering feat that has withstood the test of time. We were amazed by the convoluted layers of rice terraces, said to resemble the backbone of a dragon hence its catchy name. During our short stay in the small ethnic Yao village we saw the most amazing sunrise over the terraces. I’ve never seen a more beautiful shade of golden green. We also tasted the local delicacy of rice and mushroom cooked in bamboo which was fragrant and utterly delicious. Ethnic Yao women are known for their long hair, some grown up to their waist or hips. They only cut their hair once or twice in their lifetime and save the tresses to tie to their existing hair, something I found a bit morbid.
These rice terraces are beautiful all year round. I can only imagine what it could look like in the winter covered with snow, in spring when it’s flooded with water and in autumn when it turns golden.
Yading was one of the those places we heard about only after traveling through China and doing some extensive research about the region. It does not get mentioned in the same sentence as the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Jiuzhaigou or Huangshan when you talk about China’s big ticket items. It has however been touted as the real Shangri-la of China by locals, deemed a beautiful untouched paradise likened to utopia. Yading is for travelers looking to go a bit off the beaten path. Best of all, Yading is less touristy and crowded due to its location in the remote parts of Western Sichuan. We were game.
A lot of research and digging led us to more information about this paradise. It is hard to reach (averaging 10-12 hour bus rides on unpaved mountainous roads) and the towns close to Yading have poor amenities. Unless we were willing to spend a bomb on flight tickets or private drivers, public buses were the only way to go. A little bit daunted, we went ahead with our planning into Western Sichuan. We braced ourselves for the horrendous bus rides and sure enough, they delivered. I swore never to take another long bus ride again in China after three 10 hour bus rides to get into and out of the region. Did I mention that the roads were bumpy and winding and that passengers smoked and puked onboard? *shudder*
But the payoffs? There was so much we saw that could last us a lifetime. This region is rich in Tibetan culture and it proffered us a taste of Tibet before we ventured further west of China. Yading was definitely one of the highlights. At an altitude of 4400 meters, Yading’s scenery was breathtaking. Snow dusted mountains, lush green pastures and the clearest lakes and rivers you can possibly imagine. Add to that colourful prayer flags strung haphazardly around rocks and stupas, you get Yading in all its glory and exoticism.
Though the hike was strenuous due to thin air, we managed to see one of the many lakes in the reserve. The clouds were also kind enough to part a few times during the day to reveal majestic peaks.
Yading is fast becoming the chinese tourists’ premier holiday destination. When we were there we could see hotels being built and roads being developed. It will no doubt be more accessible in the future, but like all the other major sights, once developed, Yading will become touristy and crowded. I’m only thankful I got to see it now while it is still considerably ‘untouched’.
Suzhou is all about its gardens and canals. A visit to Suzhou would not be complete if you missed either. The gardens are plenty and if you pick the right one at the right time, you might be lucky enough to dodge all the tourist crowds. A moment of peace and relative quietness in the gardens and you will see begin to appreciate the masterpiece that it is. Its use of rock, stone, water and pavilions are typical of classical chinese gardens and there’s no better place to see them all than in Suzhou.
The canals were another highlight of Suzhou. In the less touristy parts of town where the canals can be found, you can see locals going about their daily life centering around these canals.
Not much can be said about Suzhou as a city, save that it is fast becoming another one of China’s overpopulated and fast developing concrete jungles. But the gardens and the canals are what differentiates Suzhou from any of its other counterparts.
Huangshan or Yellow Mountain is an incredibly popular scenic spot amongst the mainland chinese tourists. If you’ve seen the movies ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ by Ang Lee or ‘Avatar’ by James Cameron and wondered if that bizzare landscape exists in real life, there you go. Huangshan deserves its fame, and its had it for years before movie makers even thought up their scripts. Huangshan had often been depicted in paintings by Chinese artists for centuries. It’s no wonder why throngs of chinese tourists visit every summer holiday.
The rocks have been described as grotesque with some resembling human faces or body parts. The type of trees found in Huangshan are unique and exclusive to this region, called the Pinus Hwangshanensis!! I kid you not, that the name even bears the location of where it was first found. These pine trees complement the grotesque rocks and make for beautiful silhouette shots.
As for the experience itself, I would reconsider going during the peak holiday season if we were to do it again. Though special and deserving of a visit, the mountains were brimming with chinese tourists so there were long lines to go up the cable cars and even a queue to walk down the steps when we went. Overall it was an experience that could have been improved but hey, that’s part of traveling after all. We can’t get it right all the time ;)
Finally, a blog post after more than two months!! We are well and still traveling in case you’re wondering. A combination of factors have left this blog somewhat stranded, mainly the great firewall of China blocking key sites like Flickr and WordPress, and our fast paced traveling which does leave little time for blogging.
I wanted to write about the ancient Hui villages of Hongcun and Xidi that were some of my highlights of our travels in China. I was especially taken by the architecture which is a photographer’s dream really. Well preserved, charming and still inhabited by local folk, ambling down the many narrow alleyways and lanes transports you back to a time where life was simpler and stress free. Such a contrast to the huge modern cities where smog, traffic and high rises abound.
Hongcun and Xidi were the first of many villages that we have since come across in the last few months. It still stands that the villages of China are where you find the real gems. The friendly folk, architecture and often amazing scenery will leave you wanting more.