Thursday, February 19, 2009

Western Sichuan 6 Danba: Zhonglu and Suopo

Zhonglu and Suopu July 26, 2007, Sichuan All photos ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn
This is a continuation of several postings about Western Sichuan and the Danba area. 

Twenty odd years ago when I first started travelling in Sichuan I became fascinated with the towers of northwestern Sichuan. I first saw them on trips through Maowen and Wenchuan County on the way up to Songpan or Maerkang. I never got close to one, however, as they were usually located on the other side of a river or other obstacle. Later in the mid-90s I encountered them again, with my husband, in the Kongpo area of Eastern Tibet TAR and could walk and climb inside a few. On this trip to Danba in 2007 we saw them in many places, some villages had only one or two, others like Suopo (last image above) several. In this area most are four-sided but there are a few rare ones that are eight-sided. All in all they total around 100 in the Danba area. According to historical research most were probably built before the 16th century, with many of the original towers being destroyed in the wars of the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty. There is much speculation as to what the original purpose of the towers actually was. A general conclusion is that they were used as both forts and defense towers, storehouses, beacons and landmarks (just like some Chinese pagodas) and also as status symbols (local tradition say they were sometimes built to commemorate the birth of a son).  

Some of the towers we visited had the first entrance window placed so high off the ground (several meters) that they could impossibly have been used as a storage area, it was just too impractical. This kind was maybe used as a place to escape to in times of trouble with a ladder up to the entrance that could be withdrawn into the interior of the tower when beseiged. Most of the towers in the area look locked up, surely both for protection of the tower and also for safety from accidents. 

Anyone wishing to know more about the towers can read Frederique Darragon’s Secret Towers of the Himalayas, which can be bought at the Foreign Language Bookstore in Chengdu. ISBN: 7-80709-043-X/K.2 Price 160 yuan. Darragon heads a drive to protect the towers under the Unesco World Heritage program.

Note: All of the pictures above are of the village of Zhonglu, located in a parallel valley to Jiaju. Zhonglu is famous for its Sichuan pepper (huajiao) which was being harvested when we visited. What a wonderful smell there was in the air around us! You can read more about my infatuation with huajiao on my posting from Feb 05, 2008: Red chilis and Sichuan Pepper: A match made in Heaven or Hell? The last image is from the village of Suopo. Both Zhonglu and Suopo have several towers but Suopo has a very old (700-800 yr old) star-shaped tower.

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The Sunday Bazaar, Kashgar, Xinjiang ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn