August 26, 2011

Escape from Wuhan: Part Five

After a few days in Tagong we arranged a ride to our next stop, Danba. They didn't have anything big enough for our group, so all 8 of us had to squeeze into a little van. No problem though, right? The roads had all been in great shape so far.

Wrong. It turns out the government decided to rebuild the road between Tagong and Danba- all at once. So the entire 4 hour trip was taken in a shock-less van that left us all feeling shaken and nauseous. The ride otherwise could have been pretty pleasant. After leaving the grassland the road goes through thickly forested mountain valleys, with plenty of scenic views:

A stream running beside the road grew over the course of the trip:

Becoming a full fledged river by the time we reached Danba town:

About Danba- it's the biggest town in the Gyalrong region of Tibet. Known for mountain villages, beautiful ancient homes and tall stone towers, Gyalrong is also a lot lower than most of the rest of Tibet, leaving it much warmer and capable of growing tons of corn. Danba town was fairly lackluster, and our hostel was so awful that we all started plotting our return to Chengdu minutes after arriving.

Luckily, we stuck around for a day. The whole point of Danba is to get out of the town and into one of the many villages nearby, which constantly win awards as the most beautiful villages in China. Inhabited by Tibetans and the Qiang, a Tibetan-related minority in the region, we ended up seeing two of them. Suopo was the first.

Our driver took us about ten minutes out of town, then pulled onto a dirt road and stopped beside a bridge festooned with prayer flags:

As we got out the driver told me that we should cross the bridge, walk about twenty minutes uphill, and there we would find Suopo. Before we could make it that far a native of the village approached us and offered to show us one of the homes and one of the towers for ten yuan a person. Sure, why not?

The towers, though, were crazy. Built by the Tibetans and Qiang from 800 to 1200 years ago, these tall structures bewilder everyone who comes to study them. No one can figure out why there are so many- over 100 in little Suopo village alone, and thousands across Gyalrong and two other small regions. What were they for? Your first instinct is to say they were supposed to serve as watch towers, but if that's the case the vast majority of them are redundant. In some pictures I caught five towers all next to each other, not a quarter of a mile between the first and the fifth. Some might have been defensive, and others might have been for storing food, but that still doesn't really explain the sheer quantity of them. When we arrived at the house I took a picture of this tower, framed by one tower on the left and one tower on the right:

Another one:

The house he showed us hasn't been restored, and on the inside he pointed out what various rooms were used for:

This was the shrine room, with the paintings on the lower cabinets clocking in at over 600 years old:

Another house, this one restored and lived in by a local family:

On the way back down our guide was kind enough to give us some apples from his orchard:

From there we went to Zhonglu village, which ended up being one of the highlights of the entire trip. Pictures and details next time.

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