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