The bus to Baishuitai doesn’t leave for a few hours, so we decided to walk up to the to of the ridge line. We missed it yesterday as we went straight to Tina’s (Not Sean’s, but it could be better, we don’t know).
The high path comes down to the guesthouse, so it is easy to go in the opposite direction. The path is very steep and goes up the mountain. We wanted to make our way across to the top of the waterfall but although this is possible, it meant making our own path. Normally this would be fine, but as we are under time constraints (we have to be back in time to catch the bus on to Baishuitai) we were not willing to try striking out on our own. We will just follow the path.
The path took us up hill. A long way up hill. After an hour or so, Anna decided to turn back, as the walk was not that interesting, and Andrew continued on.
Past old water canals that have been dug into the hillside to divert spring water and rain water from streams to abandoned crop lands, some in original chiseled condition, some now made from cement or stone, past valleys and ever upwards. I started passing groups of people that were doing the descent after staying somewhere up top last night. The mountain kept climbing. At each turn I said I would see what the next corner brings, at each turn it was the same thing. The mountain kept going. I did divert to explore a valley full of scree. Hard to climb and reaching the cliff wall, there was nowhere else to go but back down. Another section I scrambled up to a cave, but without a torch, there was not much i could see.
Reaching a point where I could see that the path just continued on upwards, I too gave up and turned around and headed back. We never did make it to the top of the mountain range. A pity, but then again, other things await us.
Back at the guesthouse we waited for the bus. It eventually came, and turned out to be a mini van. There were a couple of people in already, so we piled in and set off. The scenery was spectacular. We followed the canyon through to the other side, where the area opens up. The river doesn’t get any wider, as it is already carving deep sections out of an ancient flood plain. The plain is now totally irrigated, and starting to be built up with a few small towns spread out over it. Then the mountains rising up above it. Mostly untouched, but a few trails through it.
Our path took us over the northern mountains, and we wound our way up. The snow that we had seen on the peaks got closer and closer, to the extent that it was only a couple of hundred feet above us in (very) small patches. Mostly in shadowy places as it was starting to get warmer.
As we wound up we could see the development in between the mountains. Mostly the inverted Y’s of valleys. Larger terraces getting smaller and smaller as the two mountain sides joined up to block any further agriculture. Higher still and fences started appearing. We have not seen many fences at all in Yunan before now, but here entire fields were being fenced off with brambles, cacti or wooden railing. There were not many animals in sight, so we were not sure if the fences were made to keep stock in or wild animals out. There was the occasional person around with a few goats, but these were few and far between.
After a few hours the driver stopped the van and we could stretch our legs for a bit. This was the top of the main pass over the mountains. You would expect wide open vistas looking down on the rolling countryside as the mountains stretched away into the distance. You would see a few pine trees blocking any attempt at a view, and a road that goes around a bend and disappears. There were goats.
A lot later still a massive plateau came into view. This was all developed and a major town. The town was at the top and fields worked their way along the plateau and then down the mountain side. A stunning view from the road. Driving through we went a bit further on, and then were greeted at a building on the side of the road.
Apparently it had been all worked out, and we were to stay here. I like that this was done (sometimes) but it would have been nice if they had let us know.
Anyway, we had a lovely lady taking us under her wing. The room was substandard to say the least, but it was better than the Frenchmans dorm room (even if no one else was staying there, and we were all paying the same price per person). It was that much better that he ended up using our bathroom, as his was outside, around the buildings and not working anyway!
The lady we were staying with was a school teacher, and taught the children Naxi culture and language. Her father was also a respected shaman but we never got to meet him.
We had a great time going through a side room with her that contained all sorts of goodies from Naxi divinity cards to weaving equipment as well as photos of her father meeting important people and performing ceremonies. The twin Yak skulls decorating the doorway were very impressive.
After we had settled in and gotten to know each other, she took us up to the terraces. The conversation had been a bit confusing about it being free tomorrow, and dawn is the best time to see it, so we thought we would just be shown where it was. Apparently we were expected to do the site today, and then use the ticket again in the morning. As said, the conversation was a bit confusing, but we got there.
The ticket wasn’t too bad at 60 yuan. This was due to it only being a AAA site. They didn’t have enough tourist stalls, toilets and other crap to warrant a AAAA or AAAAA rating (Chinese style: A – Nothing is there but we may charge entry. E.G a patch of Grass. AA – There was something there, but it has been taken away or is being rebuilt, again may charge entry. E.G. A pagoda. AAA – There is something there, but it hasn’t been rebuilt yet, or the tourist infrastructure is not in place. E.G Here or a temple. AAAA – Has been mostly rebuilt. Entrance building, toilets and at least 5 tourist shops. May contain Pandas. E.G. Monastery or Mountain. AAAAA – Entrance Hall, Side buildings, many tourist shops, multiple toilets, some old things and a lot of rebuilt period buildings over a larger area with lots of shopping opportunities)
The front complex was still under construction, and we walked around the side to the path that would take us up. Here we could get a donkey ride to the top if we wanted to. We didn’t.
The terraces are a large area of limestone pools. As the water runs down the hill, the limestone separates out forming small ridges. These ridges hold the water causing more limestone to accrete around the edges making the pools to grow. Over time they can become massive dams of multi tiered water. Think rice terraces made out of stone. There are a few examples around the world. New Zealand has some (That are being slowly rebuilt after they were destroyed), Turkey has the best example that we know of, and China has two lots. There is the famous one, and there is this one. There are probably lots more of them around, we just haven’t been there.
The first thing you see (after the entrance construction site) is a massive concrete wall in the shape of the terraces. They are also trying to artificially grow them. Walking up the side it became clear that this was being done on a huge scale and half the hill was now this concrete monstrosity. To be fair, if you come back in about 200 years you may not be able to tell they are fake, but at the moment, nearly all the pools are empty. The ones that aren’t are filled with garbage and only one or two have water in them. I hope we have not come all this way just to see this.
The path continues on though, so we continued as well. Mumbling about destroying the things people have come to see to replace them with inferior copies. Higher up there were natural pools. They had water in them, and from some angles it looked quite extensive. The water disappears over the edge like an infinity pool, and small sections are very impressive. Unfortunately they are playing too much with the water systems. Any limestone formation dies if it dries out, and there are sections here filled with dust and dirt that haven’t seen water for years. The entire top area has canals and concrete barriers carved into and on it to control the water directions. Mainly to keep these few pools running. Higher still, you can see where the water gushes out of a hole in the ground. It is a great spot that has been turned into a well, with the water being funneled straight off and most of it going directly into channels down the side of the hill. This area was also one massive constructions site. With the boardwalk being finished, they were now putting in the picnic grounds and sections for your fires. We wont complain about this, as it is a nice touch, and needs to be done, as there is evidence of camp fires all over the area, with people carving out huge slabs of limestone to use as their cook tops or fire pits.
The top section had a pool of water so stagnant it was growing gunk. This is very interesting for us, as the rich mineral water grows some interesting algae. There were yellows, greens, some red and black, but mostly yellow. The tadpoles loved it as well, as they were there in large numbers. Some of our best photos came from that! It was either take photos of the algae, or the Chinese tourists clambering all over the few remaining pools to get their selfies as they jumped up and down on the ridges.
In all it was very disappointing that there was more money and effort being put into building buildings around the site as well as the fake section than looking after the site itself. These white terraces wont last long if this keeps up. Heading down the other side of the hill we did come across another beautiful section. The sky was reflected so well that the pools were a vivid turquoise colour and these pools made it worth while.
There was just enough time to explore some of the alleys around town before it was time for dinner. Our hostess cooked a lovely meal for us, and then it was time for bed. Given that there was no power in the town tonight there was not much else to do. We did walk up to see if we could find an open shop to get some water, and saw that everyone had their oil lanterns and candles out, so it must be a fairly regular thing around these parts.