Over­seas Walk: Hik­ing in the Long­sheng rice ter­races in snow and ice

Hik­ing in ter­races

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By Wendy Wil­son -Jenks

To our sur­prise, For­est our driver, ar­rived at 6am as re­quested. It had rained in the night so we were de­lighted with a crisp, clear win­ter’s morn­ing to em­bark on our 35 kilo­me­tre hike over the steep ter­raced hills of Long­sheng, in China, bet­ter known as the Dragon’s Back­bone or Longji Rice Ter­races.

These re­mark­able, man-made ter­races are over 700 years old and re­ceived their name be­cause the ter­races re­sem­ble a dragon’s scales, while the sum­mit ridge of the moun­tain range looks like the back­bone of the dragon.

Our ad­ven­ture be­gan with an event­ful 100km drive (For­est used what ap­peared to be fake po­lice ID to avoid pay­ing tolls and speed­ing tick­ets!) from Guilin to the re­mote vil­lage of Pin­gan, home to the Zhuang mi­nori­ties who live there in wooden stilt huts.

A long cov­ered bridge, amassed with red Chi­nese New Year lanterns, led us to the start of the“Nine Dragons and Five Tigers’ Trail which as­cends di­rectly up­wards, mean­ing we were im­me­di­ately en­gulfed in rice pad­dies blan­keted in snow and ice.

We climbed up cob­bled path­ways, sur­rounded by the frozen fields, puff­ing our way to the top where the view was spec­tac­u­lar, pad­dy­fields shrouded in mist tra­versed the hori­zon for miles, lit­tered with rus­tic huts draped with elon­gated ici­cles.

Soon, we were slip­ping and slid­ing through frozen forests of bam­boo bent into horseshoes by heavy lay­ers of hoar frost, won­der­ing what on earth we were do­ing here in the mid­dle of win­ter es­pe­cially with­out a guide or even a read­able map.

We did not lay eyes on any other brave soul all day, prob­a­bly as most tourists visit in the lush green summer, the wa­ter­logged spring or when the pad­dies turn golden yel­low just be­fore har­vest in Au­tumn.

Af­ter three hours of hik­ing im­mersed in silent still­ness, weav­ing up and down, snaking through the im­pres­sive frozen ter­races on paved paths and muddy

trails, we fi­nally sighted Tiantouzai vil­lage. Our very steep climb was re­warded with rows of colour­ful, loud street ven­dors, strangely all sell­ing the same welcome snack of dry roasted sweet pota­toes.

Af­ter a well-earned break and wan­der around the an­cient al­ley­ways and his­toric stone bridges, we scaled to an even higher view­point aptly named ‘A Thou­sand Lay­ers of Heaven’ with its 360 de­gree view of the daz­zling white ter­races that looked like gi­ant am­phithe­atres or rib­bons as they coiled around the moun­tain con­tours in tiered bands.

Un­for­tu­nately while de­scend­ing from the sum­mit, I took a bad tum­ble, badly graz­ing my knee. With me bloody and limp­ing, we took a wrong turn­ing and won­dered aim­lessly for what seemed like for­ever, pray­ing that we would stum­ble across some­one who knew the lay of the land. Luck­ily, we turned yet an­other cor­ner and there in the mid­dle of a mil­lion rice fields was a lone woman walk­ing to­wards us.

Even af­ter a year of liv­ing in China, we spoke lim­ited Manadrin but had de­vel­oped tremen­dous mim­ing skills and were soon pointed in the right di­rec­tion.

The woman was from the Yao mi­nor­ity famed for wear­ing bright red and black clothes and never cut­ting their

Hik­ing in the Long­sheng rice ter­races in snow and ice

hair. She un­coiled her long black tassle with de­light; ex­tended to its full length, her hair was as al­most as long as she was tall. About 200 hun­dred Yao fam­i­lies live at the foot of the moun­tain in the Dazhai Vil­lage where we hoped For­est was wait­ing pa­tiently for us.

It seemed a long two hours to fi­nally reach the vil­lage; night was fall­ing and lights twin­kled from the Yao peo­ple’s two-story huts nes­tled against the breath­tak­ing man-made won­der. The lay­out of their vil­lage seemed the mimic the ter­races sym­me­try, giv­ing the ap­pear­ance that the wooden houses were stacked on top of one an­other as an in­te­grated part of this land­scape.

We were hun­gry, sore and tired but elated to have hiked 35 kilo­me­tres in an an­cient pris­tine par­adise that we con­sider one of China’s top ten high­lights.

And yes, For­est was in the carpark, sound asleep!

Right: The ter­raced hills of Long­shen.

Above:: What is known as the Dragon’s Back­bone.

Be­low: Walk­ing through a for­est with tree cov­ered ici­cles.

Above right: The women in the area are famed for not cut­ting their hair. Be­low right: A track left wan­ders up the hill­side.

Above left: The man made ter­races are over 700 years old.

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