Yuanyang terraces, a wonder of man and nature
Yuanyang terraces, a wonder of man and nature
In short: Man’s centuries-old interaction with nature has created one of China’s most beautiful landscapes and the country’s most spectacular human work.
The terraces of Yuanyang are one of the most spectacular human creations in southern China. Throughout centuries of continuous rice cultivation, the Hani minority has been modifying the slopes of the mountains between which their villages are located to allow the cultivation of rice, which requires flat surfaces, resulting in an amazing landscape that leaves no one indifferent.
The region of terraced fields extends over 24,000 hectares. Rising from the banks of the Honghe River through the Ailaoshan Mountains, they rise from 100 meters above sea level where the river is, to the 2,000 meters of the highest terraces. Exploration of the terraces begins in Xinjie, the ancient capital of the district, a town nestled in the mountains to which the Yi and Hani women provide original color. Xinjie is about an hour from the new capital, called Yuanyang on maps, and Nansha on some bus signs.
Shortly after leaving Xinjie there is already the Tuguocai Terrace, considered recent, but a prologue to the already spectacular visit, then one can continue to Qingkou village, stopping to take pictures on some small terraces. An interesting tour will consist in going down to Qingkou, the Hani village famous for the mushroom-shaped houses, most of them newly arranged. One can stroll a bit through its streets, but although there are Hani women dressed in their traditional clothes, they are a bit bored with the tourists’ photos. There one can get a guide who will drive along the paths through the paddy fields to the Hani village of Jinfucun (a walk of just over an hour on a road suitable for all ages) or to the terraces of Bada (almost two hours). It is a really nice experience to be walking right on the terraces. Arriving at Jinfucun, a collection of several Hani villages, curiously much less visited but more interesting than Qingkou, it is possible to go up the road to enjoy the spectacular views of Bada.
Really the wonderful landscapes that are enjoyed arriving at Qingkou and strolling among the terraces, are nothing compared to the view of the immensity of the terraces of Bada. For from there one can see the entire mountainside, including some of the terraces seen along the way, completely worked in terraces that go down to the deepest part of the valley. It is a unique view. The curves are merging, bifurcating, blending or separating, creating unimaginable landscapes that defy reason. In the middle of them, in the distance, some Hani working alone, reminds us that it is a product of the work of their ancestors. One must linger to observe the terraces, to let the challenge of the curve completely possess one, trying to unravel the mysteries of this contemporary marvel.
The next terrace to visit is Douyishu, not far from Bada. It is worth taking a break before plunging back into the world of water and curves. This terrace is a bit smaller, but the observation point, built with an ingenious system of wooden terraces on poles on the mountainside, allows visitors to view the terraces from different angles and enjoy absolutely wonderful views over the flooded fields. There is even a glassed-in lookout, already prepared with armchairs in front of the terraces for those who wish to really relax and let the hours pass by watching this marvel.
The Terrace of the Tiger’s Mouth (Laohuzui), a little further away, is possibly the most spectacular. There is a road connecting Douyishu to this terrace, so there is no need to return to Xinjie. At Tiger’s Mouth Terrace the mountains descend on both sides in terraces to a wide valley, the rounded bottom of which looks like a tiger’s mouth. The seemingly whimsical curves that shape these terraces and the ever-changing views afforded from different positions, times of day and seasons of the year, possibly make these terraces the most beautiful in China. When flooded, the sun at sunset is reflected in the water creating a unique landscape, so a visit at sunset is recommended.
It has two observation paths: the upper one, from the height of the road, provides magnificent general views; the lower one, descends the mountainside to viewpoints that seem to hang over the rice terraces, and are well conditioned to allow contemplating them with all the time in the world. To the lowest part, almost on the terraces, you have to go down 510 steps, which you will have to climb on your way back.
The terraces were built by the Hani minority. In fact, their villages are seen higher up the terraces, usually in the middle of the mountain. Above their villages there is invariably the forest that protects them. According to their legends they live on the mountainside because at the time of the creation of mankind, they emerged from the navel of the great ancestral mother Taporang. In reality, these magnificent terraces are the result of the Hani ancestors’ adaptation to the harsh local conditions, where only through the continuous work of modifying the mountain, and its conservation, did they manage to scratch the land with the resources to survive.
It is normal to complement the visit to the terraces with a visit to one of the markets that are held regularly in the area. They usually rotate every 5 days, so the local population always knows where the market is held every day.
The most spectacular time to visit the terraces is when they are flooded, that is, from October to early May. Other times, with the water that creates such beautiful reflections replaced by the uniform green of the rice plants, are not so striking, but still interesting,
The terraces are in the mountains, in winter it can be cold despite being in the tropics. Fogs are frequent and the weather changes from one minute to the next.
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