Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Western Sichuan 5 Danba: Jiaju Tower and hilltop shrine

Jiaju, July 2007. All photos ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

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

On our two days of walks around Jiaju we found many things: small shrines and watermills, running rivers and stunning views, even a vein of garnet stones and large crystals. One day we hiked up to the temple shrine and large fortification tower situated on the ridge to the north of Jiaju. We had packed a picnic lunch of nuts, corn cakes, chocolate and fruit and walked through apple orchards and brambles to get up to the shrine high up on the mountain. It consisted of several stupas (or chörtens as the Tibetans call them) bedecked with prayer flags, tsa-tsas, incense and butter offerings. A local family had the same idea in mind and visited with us, the older women making numerous circumambulations of the shrine, counterclockwise in local Bön fashion. 

After this we parted ways and continued on through the brush to the tower and abandoned building further up. Along the way we encountered a man who was the "appointed caretaker" of the tower. He asked for 5 yuan "entrance fee" which we gave him, he looked as if he had very little money to his name. His coming along turned out to be a great benefit. We met other locals on the way and we all had a long chat near the tower, facilitated by the old man's presence. A lady passed by and paused for a visit. She was very hard of hearing, but the old man knew her and could tell us a little of her story: It turned out she was well over 80 and our guide himself was not much younger. 

Asking these people about the tower in front of us was quite futile. Like most people that live near the towers, they haven't a clue to how old they are or what they were used for, only guesses and hearsay. The tower here was connected to a fort-like structure. We asked to be let in but our "guardian" said he didn’t have the key. He could go get it if we wanted but it would take several hours so we unfortunately declined and made our return to Jiaju below. Later we would visit more towers in Zhonglu and Suopo. (See posting nr 6, Feb 19).

Western Sichuan 4 Danba: Tibetan vernacular architecture of the Gyarong Area

All photos Jiaju, July 2007 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

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

The houses of the Jiaju area are particularly interesting and beautiful with coloured stripes that remind me of Sakya in Southern Tibet. But whereas Sakya has slate grey, painted walls the houses of Danba are striped and the towers have horns capped with prayer flags. The colouring has special meaning: symbolizing the sky, moon, sun, earth and stars and it is believed to bring luck and protection to the house and its dwellers. Doors can also be elaborate affairs, brightly painted with religious iconography and sometimes topped with a yak skull and garuda bird like the picture above. Most houses are quite massive, built of wood and stone with several stories and flat roofs used to dry corn, chilis and grain, and for the family to soak up sun in the daytime. Individual logs serve as ladders with small steps cut out in a single row up the tree trunk. Windows are multi-paned and made of latticed wood, painted in distinct Tibetan fashion with a black trapezoid border around. The interior of the dininghall/meetinghall where we ate our meals was extremely elaborate with numerous built-in painted cabinets and niches, small low-standing tables and belt-in benches and beds around the edges. Every surface was painted in a kaleidescope of brilliant colours, making every meal a bit of a psychedelic affair!

Western Sichuan 3 Danba: Travel routes and general info

All photos July 2007 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn
Click on images to enlarge!

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

Travel routes to get to Danba:
We took the Chengdu - Dujiangyan - Wolong - Siguniangshan - Xiaojin - Danba route, about 390 km, one day of hard travel. Public transportation from Chengdu Chadianzi Bus Station or hired vehicle.

Danba can also be reached the "other way around" via Kangding, ca 520 km, takes two days with recommended overnight in Kangding to adjust to altitude. Public buses leave from Xinnanmen Bus Station or from in front of Kangding Hotel on Wuhou Hengjie everyday. You will have to change buses in Kangding: Chengdu - Ya'an - Kangding - Xinduqiao - Tagong - Bamei - Danba

My suggestion is to make a loop from Chengdu via Wolong to Danba through Hongshi/Bamei and Balangshan to Tagong and then down through Kangding, visiting villages and staying at homestays or hostels along the way and never needing to backtrack.

Very easy to get in numerous homestays or with Tibetan or Qiang families in the more remote villages. Towns like Danba, Kangding, Tagong have numerous hotels, small guesthouses and hostels, varying in quality and price. The entire Danba - Kangding - Tagong area is very affordable. If you'd like to stay at Baosheng's Homestay in Jiaju contact him at this number (Chinese/Gyarong Tibetan speakers only): +86-13684498350.

Climate and time of year to travel:
When the sun shines the whole world smiles! Don't expect the sun to shine every day but the Danba area exists in a kind of subtropical microclimate, blessed with huge amounts of sunlight all year round, thus making it a place you can visit any time of the year. What must be taken into account though is the weather and road conditions getting to and from Danba. It is important that you check this out before leaving and understand that you will be climbing over passes 4500 meters in height, with very changeable weather conditions. Otherwise one of the most wonderful things about Danba is that you are in a totally Tibetan world but without the problems of high altitude. Danba itself is only around 1700 meters and is an excellent place to acclaimatize for higher destinations. 

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.

# 20 Today's picture 090217

Rauks on the island of Fårö, Sweden 1996 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

You know you are from Sweden when...

Helsingborg, Sweden 2006 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

My children are preparing for next week's International Week at their school. The Swedish blue and yellow soccer t-shirts are already laid out, I'm preparing to bake kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) and the Dala Horse is parked by the door, ready to make his journey to school again like every year when my family "represents Sweden". All this nationalistic hubris made me feel like posting something Swedish today. I belong to a Facebook group called "You know you are from Sweden when...". There are currently almost 40,000 members (should be 9 million, that's how many Swedes they/we are) and I laugh myself silly whenever I look at the list of postings that members have written, it's so completely true!!! And even though I'm only half Swedish and moved there when I was 18 I seem to have morphed into the perfect Swede because I recognize myself in much of this "typically Swedish behavior". Drives my husband crazy...

Here's a sample of what's on the list of over 500 entries. You don't have to join Facebook to read the list, visit the "Sweden of course" website

1. You don’t rely on weather forecasts unless presented by John Pohlman.
2. You know it’s a sin lifting the top layer in the Aladdin chocolate box before it’s empty.
3. You find people from other cultures generally being rather loud. With the exception of the Finish.
4. You wouldn’t even consider buying electrical items unless they are “S”-marked.
5. You get guilty conscience from throwing things in the dustbin that could have been recycled.
6. You don’t consider a congregation of trees being a “real” forest unless it takes at least 20 minutes to drive through it.
7. You use the metric system and really don’t get why there are people out there who don’t.
8. You consider Denmark and the Danish “pretty continental”.
9. You are obsessed with health issues.
10. You find the idea of carpets in bathrooms and toilets simply appalling.
11. You thought carpets was a concept of the past or the ferrys to Finland/Estonia/Germany/Denmark. Then you went abroad and realized that you were wrong.
12. You consider yourself as Scandinavian, not European.
13. A good nights sleep only counts if it consists of 8 consecutive hours. 10 hours would be considered too much.
14. You don’t really consider silence a problem in social situations.
15. The question “how are you?” is a question that needs to be answered with a honest and thorough explanation of your mental health. Therefore, you don’t understand why Non-Swedes give you one word answers.
16. You think people that don’t send their kids to nursery school (”dagis”) are strange.
17. You feel bad if you’re not outside on a sunny day.
18. You know that individuality vs. conformity is the eternal Swedish conflict.
19. You unfortunately find it embarrassing and a bit uncool to be “too” Swedish.
20. You find it normal that the most serious debates between the political leaders of the country broadcasted on TV are held in charming and homey milieus, including flowered curtains, blond wood, colorful pillows, pastries and coffee.
21. You consider Volvo and Saab the ultimate family cars.
22. You ONLY eat sweets on Saturdays.
23. You think it’s a BIG THING to have a drivers license before you’re approaching your thirties.
24. You can actually see the logic of “klämdagar”.
25. You think thats its ridiculous to build houses from bricks. Wood is the real deal!
26. You refuse to believe that snuff or “snus” is harmful.
Since snuff “isn’t harmful”, you can’t understand why no one except the Scandinavians use it.
27. You don’t think a farmhouse is actually a farmhouse unless it is red or yellow with white trim.
28. You don’t find “bananer i pyjamas” to be a bit sexual.
29. You realize that five ants are more than four elephants
30. You hate keyboards without “å, ä, ö” with a passion.
31. You think it’s perfectly normal and not offending at all when Frank Zappa’s song “Bobby Brown goes down” is played at a disco for 9-year olds
32. You know they are the same, but you just don’t trust ibuprofen and paracetamol the way you trust Ipren and Alvedon
33. You, in pure disgust try to tell your fellow peers that it’s basic human behavior to shower after PE and they look at you like you come from a different planet.
34. You can’t believe that you have to pay for your disgusting school lunch.
35. You don’t consider Starbucks a proper café, since a real cafe is a atmospheric, groovy, cosy place not at all as brightly lit and multi national as Starbucks.