The Peace Beauty Offers: Yuanyang

Douyishu Sunrise


As I wrote in the previous post, this stop of the trip was dedicated to my grandmother. Thanks to wifi and technology, I was able to stay in communication with my family through my grandma’s final hours. She loved travel and she loved beauty, so I felt like I was in the right place to say goodbye to her spirit.

Traveling to Yuanyang County from Kunming was arduous, confusing, and more costly than expected…but all that is forgotten the moment one steps onto the terraces. Hewn out of the steep mountainsides and fed by diverted springs, these terraces have been constructed over the centuries by the Hani people, an ethnic minority found in Yunnan. I was struck immediately by the gender equality of the Hani culture…women and men took it in turns to do everything from hauling bricks to feeding the children.


Hani grandmother at workAfter school harvesting.Ducklings.

We stayed in Pu Gao Lao Zhai village, a hamlet where most houses were without electricity and pigs, chickens, and dogs roamed free in the paths (the “street” is above the village, not in it).  The handful of tourists that do straggle out this far tend to only visit the main Douyishu viewing platform and then whip off in their chartered minibus. So we had the village and its snaking pathways down to the terraces pretty much to ourselves. And the ducklings…one of these little guys fell off the terrace and panicked because he couldn’t find his friends. He was crying and whistling for them…so I climbed above in the terraces and started to whistle back. It took 5 minutes and a few wrong turns, but we got him reunited with the others. Sometimes it is the little things that make you feel really good.

Overwhelmed.Reflective wandering.image

The ridges between each terrace are narrow, dropping off several feet on one side, and often unnervingly squishy. Still, it was on these hikes that we got to see the locals working and really appreciate the massive scale of these terraces, which does not exactly translate through a camera lens. Douyishu is rightly famous for its sunrises, when mist swirls around in the cup of the deep valley below and the sun peeks over the eastern mountaun, highlighting each terrace one at a time, looking for all the world like the sun is playing a scale on a glass-keyed piano. As the sun heats it, the mist boils over, wisping over the glowing terraces.


After two days, we headed back to the main town that acts like the base camp for all the fantastic rice terraces, Xinjie. Most of the women in town still wear some or all of the traditional dress, and the central market area is a bit like a kaleidoscope with all the geometric embroidery and bright colors.

Embroidering.From the the complex.

We loved wandering the markets and the streets, where life went on thoroughly unbothered by the semi-fame of the nearby tourist attractions. Most of the folks were a bit shy and more than a bit nonplussed as to why we were wandering through the town.

Alleys.Laundry.Chop chop.

And of course, we had to sample some backstreet noodle stall fare to tide us over for the bus ride ahead…

Choosing our toppings.Soup.


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