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Mountains with heart

By Tom Clifford | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-23 05:36

 Mountains with heart

Tea plantations flourish on the fertile soil of Guizhou's mountains. Photos by Feng Yongbin / China Daily

 Mountains with heart

A worker sifts through tea leaves in Meitan county, one of the major tea-producing areas in Guizhou province.

 Mountains with heart

A Bouyei woman serves local food to visitors in Wanggang village in Guiyang.

 Mountains with heart

Wicker baskets become canvases for these fair maidens.

 Mountains with heart

Red chilies are one of the best offerings of the province.

 Mountains with heart

The 600-year-old paper-making craft still thrives in Baishuihe village in Guiyang.

Guizhou offers tourists off the beaten track a sense of hospitality, tranquility - and a splendid cuppa, Tom Clifford reports.

Guilt is a terrible thing to bring to a table. For hours our small bus had been buffeted by nature's wrath, exposed on Guizhou's mountain passes, and only the dexterity and skill of our driver kept us this side of paradise.

Rain slashed our windows in a Hitchcockian shower-scene frenzy. Our schedule had been literally washed away. Up through gorges, down into valleys, tight bends, narrow roads and white knuckles. Then relief as we descended to the flatlands.

We were on Bouyei ethnic group land and stumbled upon the village of Yinzhai, still far from our eventual destination, but craving rest and nourishment.

"Can you feed us," shouted the driver to a woman in the village kitchen.

"How many?"


"Twenty minutes. Have a walk, see the village, relax," came the assured response.

Like us, the countryside was breathing a sigh of relief. Mountains looming over us appeared picturesque. The sky streaked with red hues, no longer in torment, seemed to be blushing with embarrassment at its previous behavior.

Wits gathered after a short walk, we headed for the meal but first acknowledged an old discolored poster in the main village home displaying the core principles of the Bouyei ethnic group.

"Heaven, Earth, Emperor, Ancestors, Teachers," it read. History was tapping us on the shoulder, a privilege before we sat down to eat.

Fried fish, pork, vegetables of blazing color were offered with joyous abandon to shouts of appreciative approval. And then came the guilt.

Had they enough food for the village, or were we eating them out of house and home? We were assured that the village stored its food for months in advance and had more than adequate supplies.

On hearing this, not a word was spoken for six minutes as stomachs were replenished.

Mountains with heart

Our thanks were accepted graciously as the plates were cleared. We had been recipients of a kindness to strangers. Outside, darkness had finally overcome its inhibitions and descended, ushering in a time for reflection.

For days we had been traveling through the highs and lows of Guizhou province. Its fertile soil struggles to produce on mountainous terrain, but when given a chance on the horizontal it can provide a vertical harvest for the imagination. Nothing, it seems, is beyond its capability. The usual suspects, broccoli and corn, are joined by delicate leaves for tea, tobacco and chilies to jump-start the synapses.

This is Guizhou tea country. If in doubt, look to the heavens where a laser beam cuts across the clouds from a giant teapot that dominates the skyline of Meitan town in Zunyi.

Tea, especially green tea, is growing in popularity; you could say it's a top pick.

China exported about 300,000 tons of tea last year, 30 percent of it green.

The art of picking tea is almost as sublime as its taste, and requires a surgeon's delicacy and optical prowess.

"You can never use your nail or sharp edge like a knife," one picker said. "If you do, you cauterize the cut and it turns black. Each leaf has to be torn, delicately, from the plant."


Tea Column

A pinch of Silver Needles

Finding poetry in a glass bowl

When white is right

Dragon's brew is the drink for spring

Get a noseful of that old black magic

Big red robe on the cliff

The key to tea

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