Only those that have actually visited understand the true meaning of this vast and quickly developing country of the far east. When people, especially westerners, think about China, images of The Great Wall, Shanghai, Hong Kong, The Forbidden City, or Tiananmen Square all come to mind. However, within this immense country of culture and diversity lies a secret lost world that time seems to have forgotten. The mountainous regions of Southeastern China is home to the Zhuang, Yao, Dong and Miao minorities that inhabit an area known as the Terraced Fields of Longji or more commonly known as The Dragon’s Backbone.
The terraced rice fields are situated about three and half hours just north of Guilin city within the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region of Southeast China. The fields have been carved out of the mountains and cultivated by the Zhuang, Yao, Dong and Miao people for centuries. Standing atop of the mountain one really gets a feeling of the peaceful, quiet and almost idyllic lifestyle that has been shared by the villagers for generations.
Getting to the fields is almost as big an adventure as spending time there. To get there our journey began in Guilin. We decided to take public transportation rather than be involved in an organized tour, which I should mention, can be obtained through local travel agencies and guide services, but, riding on a local bus with the local people definitely gives one a different flavor, if you will, and a better perspective and understanding of the lifestyle of the people. Anyone that has ever traveled throughout China understands that the transportation system is well, unique.
About two and half hours out of Guilin the bus suddenly stopped and the driver said that anyone that is going to Ping’an needs to get off here. So, we got off the bus and stood along side the road and watched the bus drive off towards Longshen, its final destination, wondering what to do next. A man with a small van approached us and asked if we needed a ride to the villages. We said “yes,” and after about ten minutes of bargaining about the price, we agreed that for twelve Yuan each, he would take us up to the village entrance gate. So, we all climbed into the small van and off we went. The road connecting the main highway and the villages is a small, narrow, winding road that follows along the river up the up the valley to the mountains.
As you drive along, the river is on one side and various houses and small villages are on the other side with the road at times seemingly cutting right though at peoples front doors. It is common to find doors opening up right onto the road. Kids playing in the middle of the road and occasionally a dog asleep. This time a group of men were butchering a pig right along side the road as we passed by. They didn’t even look up or move when the driver was honking the horn to let them know we were approaching. They seemed too preoccupied with the business at hand and very much accustomed to the traffic as the van went sailing by.
We finally reached what is known as the Entrance to Longji, all vehicles must stop here and pay an entrance fee in order to enter into the area, which is about fifty yuan each. Along the roadside there are various shops and booths selling all kinds of specialties of the local people, from spicy chili sauce to handmade embroidery. There was one booth selling dried rats on a stick,which I am sure are delicious, but, I had to pass this time. There are also many local people hawking photo albums and postcard of the area. It should be noted, that all the money collected in entrance fees goes to the county government, (Longshen) to maintain the roads and provide assistance to the villages of the surrounding area. Once we purchased our entrance tickets and some cold drinks we were back on our way. Just a short distance from the entrance, the road forks, you have a choice to go to The Zhuang village of Ping’an or continue to the top of the valley to the Yao village of Dazai, we chose to visit the Zhuang of Ping’an. When you make the turn off the main road, you cross the river and head up the mountain, zig zagging your way up the mountain for about half an hour before you finally reach the top and the entrance to Ping’an.
Once the van stopped and we got out we were instantly engulfed by the villagers trying to sell us some sort of local craft, picture, or offering to carry our luggage up to the top for us. There were also many people that were trying and entice us into staying at their hotel. Many of the villagers have found that with the opening of the road and increase tourist activity that hotel management and restaurant services can be very good. So, many have converted their homes into a kind of bed and breakfast type arrangement.
The village has a unique set of rules regarding which families, if you will, will meet the guests and have the opportunity to host the travelers for a visit. It is a method of taking turns depending on the day of the week. For example, if it is your day of the week then you are able to meet the guests, if not, you are then suppose to help the other families with the farming and construction work that is shared by all of the villagers. It is a rather simple but fair and effective method in getting all the farming done and giving the opportunity for each family to host guests.