Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Western Sichuan 2 Danba: Homestay in "Jiaju, the most beautiful village in China"

All photos July 2007 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

This is a continuation of several postings about Western Sichuan and the Danba area. 

From the town of Danba to the village of Jiaju is a short distance by car (about 7 km). We had called ahead to the brother of our homestay owner Baosheng and arranged for him to come and pick us up in Danba Town. Already in Danba the scenery is spectacular but Danba itself is no more than a standard Chinese town of concrete buildings and bustle, albeit surrounded by stupendously high mountains capped with blue skies. 

Coming over the ridge above the village of Jiaju the view was breathtaking. In 2005 Chinese National Geographic Magazine voted this the "Most beautiful village in China", a statement that is now well-used in local tourism advertising. Of all the Danba villages, each with their own special charm, Jiaju stands out as probably the most picturesque, but also most clued up to what tourism likes and wants. For the moment this is not a negative thing.

Stone houses with earth-toned stripes dotted the green mountainside. Far below the Da Jinshan River raged and across its white waters more villages crept up the mountainside. However did people get to them? There seemed to be no way to approach them but we later learned that some were reached by coming over the mountain top and not from below. Surely it would be a long time before people living in those villages achieved the prosperity we were to witness in Jiaju which has opened itself to tourism. The Da Jinshan River is actually the Dadu River but it doesn't bear this name until it flows past Danba. The Dadu is a tributary of the mighty Yangtse and is one of the four great rivers of Sichuan. Here and there we could see tall, stone fortification towers which we were to explore the next day. High stalks of corn and well-tended vegetable plots were growing beside every house, each seemingly guarded by perking little dogs. Unattended mills powered by waterwheels from streams rushing down the mountainsides ground flour in small wooden huts. Prayer wheels were also constructed in this fashion, working away at better karma whilst the owner was busy somewhere else. Small paths paved with marble flagstones connected the houses and fields and we spent many an hour avoiding the watch dogs and poking about the area.

Our host Baosheng met us down a winding road where he introduced us to his very pleasant little homestay, double rooms with adjoining simple shower and toilet, colourful Tibetan beds, and 24-hr hot water powered by solar panels stored on the roof. Baosheng and his family took care of us for the two nights and two and one half days we spent there, feeding us mountains of food (all meals included in homestay price) and butter tea.  Our section of the house was fronted by a little courtyard shaded by apple trees. Other rooms were to be had in the big main house where the extended family lived.

Note: all visitors to Jiaju must pay an entrance fee to the village to get in, even if you're staying overnight. The money goes to pay for the paved road that runs from Danba to Jiaju. In the near future when the road is paid off the ticket proceeds will be shared collectively by the village.

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