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Riverside provides perfect setting for resort village

By HOU LIQIANG | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-12 09:39
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Peng Hongjuan makes tea in her home in Baojialou village in Chongqing. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Most of the permanent residents were seniors in their 70s and older, while children were rarely seen. That was the state of Baojialou village not long ago, according to local entrepreneur Peng Hongjuan. Now, however, tourists are flocking in, overwhelming the small village in Chongqing's Fengdu county at weekends and during holidays, she added.

The stark transformation has happened in no more than four years, following a 2019 national demonstration project for river management on the Longhe River, a major tributary of the Yangtze River, which runs next to Baojialou.

According to local authorities, almost 80 million yuan ($11 million) was invested in the project on the tributary's section in Fengdu. It aimed to cleanse the river, restore its ecosystem and improve the infrastructure required for the development of rural tourism.

A lot of farmland near the river was returned to nature, while many polluting businesses and livestock farms were shut down. Trees were planted in the areas once covered by farms and factories, and wetland parks and leisure facilities were built.

Completed in 2020, the project helped restore the continuous yearlong flow of the Longhe, something that had not happened for more than two decades, thus making it a popular destination for residents to enjoy leisure activities.

Peng accidentally came across Baojialou, about 30 minutes' drive from Fengdu's county seat, when she visited the river for a weekend with friends about four years ago. She quickly became fascinated by the well-preserved traditional houses and the beautiful riverside scenery.

The 43-year-old described the village as a place that had been forgotten and thus remained undisturbed. "It's really beautiful," she said.

What makes the village rare is that, thanks to the national demonstration project, the surrounding infrastructure and conditions have been greatly improved.

It is also close to some tourist attractions, such as the Snowy Jade Cave, a popular 4A-level scenic area that gets its name from its still-growing stalactites that are as white as snow.

When she first visited Baojialou, Peng was a civil servant with the Fengdu culture and tourism management committee. However, the Fengdu native quickly decided to quit her job and open a rural resort with her husband in Baojialou.

It needed great courage to give up the "iron rice bowl" — a phrase often used to describe a stable job in a government department or State-owned enterprise — but Peng made the decision mainly because of her deep love of rural life, she said.

She and her husband, who had previously run rural resorts in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and Guizhou province, rented three houses in the village. With a total investment of 4 million yuan, two of the properties were transformed into guesthouses and one was made into a restaurant.

The resort's 10 guest rooms, which cost from 258 to 358 yuan a night, seldom have vacancies, especially at weekends and holidays, she said. The restaurant is also often heavily packed.

On International Women's Day in 2019, the resort attracted so many visitors that "people could hardly turn round" in the restaurant's courtyard, she recalled.

Now, the resort's annual turnover has reached about 2 million yuan, Peng said. With her support, 14 families in the village have opened homestays, and two others have started catering businesses.

Local resident Liao Xiaocheng used to depend on farming to make a living. "Back then, 20,000 yuan was an extraordinary annual income for my family," the 56-year-old said.

After eyeing a business opportunity that emerged with the rise in visitor numbers, he started a catering business at his home about two years ago. He said he can now make 100,000 to 200,000 yuan a year from the business.

Peng plans to introduce more programs to attract even larger numbers of tourists to the village, making full use of what she called the "fabulous scenery" along the Longhe River. She said she wants to develop the riverside into a flower valley, where people can catch fish and crabs in small creeks, and also enjoy tea and food by the water's edge.

"I want to make it into a place where people can recover the original simplicity of life," she said.

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