Longsheng Rice Terraces
Hands-down, our favorite part of our visit to Guilin was a day-trip several hours away to the Longsheng Rice Terraces. We shared transportation with four others from the hostel: a recent high-school grad from Peru studying in China, whose father is Chinese, a guy from Slovakia, and a couple from Holland, the girl originally from Hong Kong. It was a nice group, and we decided to stick together for our hike, opting against having a guide. We arrived at the Yao minority village of Dazhai by 11 am or so. We would be visiting the section of terraces called the Longji (Dragon’s Backbone) Terraced Rice Fields.
There is a tradition of long hair among the Yao women who live here, and most still keep it so, coiled up around their heads with a long, black cloth, mostly covered and out of the way, but with a sort of bun sticking out the front. These are stong, hard-working ladies, and we saw them throughout the day acting as porters with tourists’ bags in big baskets, walking up the steep, stone paths without seeming to exert any effort at all. Mind you, these ladies also averaged about 65 years old and were at least a foot shorter than either of us (and if you know us, you know that is SHORT).
Photo Credit: Xinhuanet
A feat of agricultural engineering
The terraces themselves are an awe-inspiring feat of agricultural engineering. Since the Yuan Dynasty at the end of the thirteenth century, layer upon layer of perfectly-formed terrace have been carved out and planted with rice, with a few other crops interspersed from time to time. Every square inch is utilized, and serves a clear purpose. Irrigation is a masterpiece, using gravity and bamboo poles to carry the water where it’s needed. Natural rainfall is the only source of water, so its care must be carefully planned and maintained. The terraces wind their way up the mountain, continuing as far as the eye can see. Looking back down from the top, the ridge does resemble a dragon’s back, with the terraces as scales.
The late summer rice plants were lush, full and the greenest of greens. Each season, the terraces change. In the fall, when the harvest is almost ready, they turn to gold. In winter, blanketed with snow, the layers are white on white. In the spring, when the terraces are flooded, pools of water create shining mirrors. For us, as the day’s hike went on, the light continued to change, casting new shadows and reflections. We covered a lot of ground, but it was hard not to keep stopping every few steps to try and capture the beauty on film (impossible). We DO have lots of photos, but as yet nary a cooperative hostel computer has been found to be able to upload even a sample.The first lookout we visited was aptly named Thousand Layers of Heaven.
Seeking the Golden Buddha
Tiantou village is at the top of one of the main hills, between two of the principal lookout spots. The views from here are especially spectacular. We enjoyed a tasty lunch and pot of tea while gazing out at the terraces. Donny’s pick was the most interesting…and maybe the most tasty: rice with corn cooked in bamboo. It was served in the bamboo stalk itself, and had a wonderful, smoke-charred flavor. After lunch, with renewed energy, we set out to find the Golden Buddha. The trails were generally marked quite well, but after visiting the Music from Heaven scenic spot, we tried to take a short cut. It looked doable on the map anyway. The climb seemed straight up, and the only sign we saw said “farm road.” There were some horses that looked like they’d carried too many loads of bricks (we saw several doing this) up to new construction sites. There were cows too. The path became more rough and overgrown, but we had invested too much time to turn back and we really wanted to see the view from the very top. A few more twists and turns and we were justly rewarded. We had discovered our own Golden Buddha. Deep green hills and valleys spread out on the backside of the mountain. The sun was getting lower, and everything seemed to glow. Back toward the terraces, the water on the rice paddies shimmered, while the only building in sight looked like a speck in the distance. We had two hours to get back down to Dazhai. Grudgingly we made it with a little time to spare, so we sat for a while above the covered bridge and soaked up the last rays of sun before the journey back to Guilin.
Kuriositas has put together a great collection of photos from the Longsheng Rice Terraces in different seasons and from different perspectives.