In a drizzling afternoon we arrive at the entrance to the village of Dazhai to see the famous Longji Rice Terraces. Nestled between mountains and hills with small, rocky rivers carving their way through the deep valleys, this place is a perfect escape from the busy cities of China. When we get out of our taxi, a number of local Yao women surround us and speak Mandarin very loudly. Of course I have to rely on James’ Mandarin skill to understand what is going on. Apparently they are offering to carry our bags because to get to the nearest place to stay we have to hike for 45 minutes. After constantly saying no to the women using my very limited Mandarin, I change my mind after seeing James who eventually hands his carry-on to one of the porters. Most of them seem to be my mother’s age, which makes me quite hesitant to give them my backpack which weighs about the same as James’ suitcase. But the drizzle turns into a real rain. Hence I decide to do what James does, though with a guilty feeling.
The hike turns out to be harder than I thought. I need to stop frequently along the way just to catch my breath. Even though the path is fairly well-paved with a little dirt here and there, it is the thin air which makes me struggle to complete the hike. Or maybe it is simply caused by my lack of physical exercise. Periodically I check the women who carry our bags, but from their faces I know that I have underestimated their strength and health. On our way up, I try to see things from a different perspective. It does feel bad letting those women carry our bags, but on the other hand I would not make it if I decided to carry the backpack myself. Moreover it’s one of their main sources of income to make ends meet in this relatively remote part of China.
Just before sunset, we arrive at our inn which is very basic. Nevertheless, I am glad to have picked this place because it offers the best view of the rice terraces around Viewpoint No. 3 – there are two other viewpoints at nearby mountaintops. But on this occasion the mist has covered pretty much everything, hiding the rice terraces from our sight. Slightly disappointed, we decide to have a dinner which is basically the only thing we can do in this place. With only one cook working in the kitchen and a hungry party of at least 10 people ahead of us, it takes a long time for our meal to come.
At the next table there sits a group of Chinese tourists playing cards and drinking beer before their dinner. Then all of a sudden one of them shouts very loudly and the rest of the group runs outside the house. Curious with what is happening, we rush to the windows and seek out the cause of all the commotion. Below us the rice terraces are emerging from the mist. I instantly grab my camera, running out the door and following in pursuit. There are also rice terraces in Indonesia but I have never seen anything on this scale before. It doesn’t take too long for the mist to hide the verdant landscape, turning it into a white, swirling mass all over again.
The next morning we wake up with a little disappointment due to the lingering mist. Seeing the rice terraces is the main reason for us to visit this place. So if we cannot see them then the whole trip would be such a waste. But fortunately that is not the case. We get out of the house and walk around, climbing up and going down almost every path we see. After snapping some pictures and checking how they look on our cameras, I realize that the mist actually adds a cool ambiance instead of ruining the landscape. When the sun eventually breaks through and the mist thins out, we end up missing its mysterious appeal.
The Longji (Dragon’s backbone) Rice Terraces are a magnificent man-made landscape which stretches over hills and mountains. We are told of its utmost beauty during harvest season when ripe yellow paddies set a stark contrast against the blue sky above.
Just before taking our last pictures of this place, we meet Tommy – a Chinese student – with his friend from Switzerland at a hut. After having some conversations we tell them the location of our inn from which they can have the best view of the rice terraces. Little do we know that Tommy would soon become our savior in Guilin.
During our short stay at this secluded place, we make friends with one of the porters who carried our bags the day before. She is such a warm and energetic person. Despite her strength in carrying tourists’ heavy bags, I happen to notice her gentle side when she uses her sewing skills to mend some loose parts of her colorful outfit. Of course I never make any direct communication with her but I am excited enough seeing how lighthearted she is when she talks to James. One of the most interesting things is when we learn how to say hello in the local Yao language. I am not sure if there is any perfect way to write it in Latin but it sounds like “Ng ng” or “E e” with normal e in French, only the sound is produced in the throat instead of the mouth.
It is time for us to leave, and once again she is the one who carries my bag. On our way down under the bright sun I begin to comprehend why the hike was such a hard one. Endless steps along the pathway make my feet tremble when I finally arrive at the main entrance. On our first day in this place it was clear just how strong and hardy the local women were. Meeting the Yao, I realize, is a truly humbling experience.
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