Rural life in China town steady as rock
Updated: 2006-02-05 17:01
STONE CITY, China - It's been nine years since Mu Qiu Yue, 80, last left her
village in China's rural northern Yunnan province.
After a lifetime of
farm work, she's now retired and can't think of anything to justify the
mile-long hike uphill to the bus stop or the 90-mile, five-hour bus ride to
Lijiang, the nearest city.
Hewn from a rock on a ridge above steep,
terraced rice fields and the Upper Yangtze River, Baoshan Stone City is nearly
as isolated as it was 700 to 800 years ago when it was built as a fortification
during the Yuan dynasty.
Its residents, 100 families who belong to the
Naxi ethnic minority group, maintain their own language and traditions, rooted
in the culture of nearby Tibet. They survive mainly by growing rice and
pumpkins, raising pigs, and, lately, welcoming a few tourists.
accessible only by foot, the construction of a new road has made it possible to
reach the village from Lijiang by bus, but unless you're on an organized trek,
the best way to go is to arrange a trip with a driver with a SUV and a local
guide who speaks Naxi.
We found Lily Zhang, 26, who was trained through a
program sponsored by the Nature Conservancy to preserve minority culture and
promote ecotourism in parts of the Yunnan province threatened by
Lily grew up in a Naxi family in a small village about
30 minutes from Lijiang, whose historic Old Town, rebuilt after a 1996
earthquake, attracts thousands of visitors each year. With a day's notice, she
arranged for a driver willing to make the journey, assuming we would spend the
night so he wouldn't have to make the round trip in the same day.
or so out of Lijiang, just past a cable-car ride that takes visitors halfway up
the snow-covered Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the paved road turned to dirt as it
wound through farm villages.
Our driver stopped several times to let
herds of mountain goats pass. He averaged 8-10 miles per hour as we climbed
higher on a one-lane road of rocks and red clay through alpine forests in
foothills of the Jade Dragon range, the start of the Himalayas.
at a roadside restaurant with three tables covered in oil cloth decorated in a
pattern of apples and oranges. The view was of the terraced rice fields
carpeting every hill and valley.
When we reached Baoshan around 3 p.m., a
man wearing a baseball cap, baggy blue trousers and black dress shoes grabbed
our overnight bags and led us on a half-hour's hike down a steep path. He was Xu
Shi Hao, the town's self-appointed greeter and unofficial tour guide.
Green Food Restaurant Tea and Coffee, a guesthouse run by the Mu family in a
newer settlement just outside the village gate, had basic but clean rooms for
rent on the floor above the family's living quarters.
Our guidebook made
much of the fact that the homes in Baoshan were cut from stone -- some at one
time even had stone sinks and beds -- but many of the structures have been
modernized with clay bricks and wood, and we found the architecture was less
impressive than the chance to observe life without roads, mechanization or
"Streets" were rocky paths slick with donkey dung. Pigs
and chickens roamed about like members of the family.
Anything that goes
into or out of the village -- lumber, sacks of rice, pumpkins the size of
beachballs -- must be carried on the backs of humans or by
Children can go to school in Baoshan through grade six.
Middle-schoolers hike to the parking lot and catch a bus to a neighboring
village. Those who go on to high school have to leave Baoshan and live in
Dinner with the Mu family was a simple meal of eggs and
tomatoes, tofu, steamed pumpkin, pork and beer. Afterward, with Lily as our
interpreter, we talked with Mu Qiu Yue.
Older women wear a type of
costume that's almost like a uniform. Hers was a black smock with blue sleeves
and a quilted cape with a pouch in front for carrying a baby. She has 10
grandchildren. Jade earrings dangled from her ears, and her hair was wrapped in
a black turban.
Baoshan was too remote to be of much notice to Red Guards
during the Cultural Revolution, she told us. The village suffered, but not as
much as some others.
Guards burned books belonging to her uncle, a shaman
in the Naxi Dongba religion whose traditions were largely destroyed after the
She remembers working hard, even at night after
dinner. Now, with six children, all of whom still live in the village, she says
her life is perfect.
Roosters and braying donkeys woke us before dawn. Mu
Zhu Chang, the owner of our guesthouse, was up early mixing eggs, butter, salt
and walnuts in a wooden churn for yak-butter tea. Breakfast was sun-dried
mushrooms, pickled vegetables and baba, a type of pita bread made from wheat
flour and fried in a wok.
We paid the bill -- $16.50 for the three rooms
and meals for four -- and then started the 45-minute uphill climb back up the
path to the car. A woman, coming the other way, passed us, carrying three long
boards strapped to her back.
It was 8 a.m. There were 100 or so boards
piled up in the parking lot.
The workday in Baoshan had
City of Stone Lodging
Several families offer homestays.
Inquire at the village or check with a travel agency in Lijiang. The Mu family
operates the Old Stone City Inn with four rooms (shared toilet and shower). Some
English is spoken.
Xintuo Ecotourism Co. in Lijiang can
arrange transportation, a guide and lodging. Contact Lily Zhang at
lilyxian163.com or visit www.ecotourism.com.cn.
Baoshan Stone City is about 90 miles northeast of Lijiang in
China's Yunnan province, near Tibet. It was built on an outcrop of rock above
the Yangtze River in the Yuan Dynasty between 1277 and 1294. About 100 Naxi
families live there today.