Dragon’s Backbone

Perfect playground...The minivan hurtled along a dirt road, it’s occupants cramped and eager to escape into the terraced hills above the narrow river gorge. A huge landslide marked the terminal point for vehicular travel and an opportunity to stretch the legs a little…

Like almost every river in China, the Herping has not escaped from the enthusiastic reach of Chinese engineers. A weir across the flow provided an interesting slide for my hot, sweating body to relieve itself.

The track passed by a number of powerful waterfalls chundering down the valley walls along the way. Soon, under Tommy’s guidance, we found ourselves scrambling up a forested slope towards the rice paddy fields above. Somewhere above, logs could be heard tumbling down the hill from the axe of workers. A machine could be heard clearing the hillside too; we saw boulders pouring down the slope before the snarling beast came into view (a large orange digger, complete with over-enthusiastic driver, grinning and flishing a thumbs up while he tears open the hillside)

The terraces themselves are said to be 80 generations old, giving them an age of around 2000 years! As far as the eye can see, they pave the Trails through paddieshillsides. Workers in their bright clothing and headgear popped out of the vegetation as they laboured for the fruits of the land. One small girl stretched to the ends of the smallest branches of a plum tree which hung precariously over the edge of a large drop. She seemed happy to hand out a couple of her precious fruits to Tommy though.

Following the pork as it moved from hand to hand, we soon found ourselves climbing through the last of several small villages to a large wooden structure on the hillside (our shelter for the night) just as the sun was dipping below the horizon. Earlier in the day, the small van had pulled up to a table of fresh cut meat on the roadside in a small village. The driver yelled out the window and, without any money changing hands, a large chunk of pork arrived on the dash, to wobble its way through the rest of the journey. Some local man along the way took the pork in his basket and we followed him for a way up the trail. He seemed a little lost, but in a rice field the pork was handed to another local man in straw hat, who seemed happy to carry it in his hands. We then followed his lead until our paths split and it was not until later after we arrived that he was seen again. Apparently that pork was our dinner! And a mighty feast it was…

Sunlight reflecting off rice-paddies cut through the morning mist to create a special atmosphere in the valley. The cooler climate at this altitude gave a welcome respite from the relentless heat and humidity of Yangshuo. It is a good place to sit in peace and do little stretching before a day of hiking.

The trail meandered uphill rising to the top of the rice fields and into a scrubby bush layer before breaking into an open grass area above the winter snowline. The peaks were dotted with occasional boulders of dark volcanic rock, enough to get the attention of a our small group of keen climbers. We soon had a little bouldering session going on one of the boulders, with several great little problems.

Descending into the next valley off the peak, small creeks pouring down the bedrock grew into a torrent, cascading off the many drops down Terraces everywherethe steep mountainside. All along the way, small channels provided gravity-fed water supply to the rice terraces as they would have for hundreds of years! The biggest obstacle to walking along this trail was the distraction of the stunning scenery. It would be equally difficult to take a bad photo here as it is to take the whole package in.

In a village, kids crowd around for High 5’s and to learn new phrases, before we pile into the back of a truck which bounces us back to civilisation and a road…

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