SEA CLOUD & RICE TERRACESBy
YUNNAN – SOUTH CHINA
In Duoyishu the early morning air is deathly still, scented with vegetation and slightly thin at 1,700 metres. The sun is not yet up, but over the ridges of the valley, the sky is a deep mauve. Today will be a warm & sunny day – like every other day that bathes this region in crystal clear sunlight.
The walk from the tidy, family-run hotel to the viewing area overlooking these famous rice terraces is 7 minutes along the quiet, paved road. Quiet now. But in an hour, will be transformed into the vital artery that it is, supplying villages with goods, ferrying people about and the only route to move water buffaloes from one valley to the next. This road connects the villages, families and cultures and is about the only way to get around in this vast rice terraced region of Yuanyang.
The viewing area overlooking this valley is quite new. Sitting on the western rim of the valley, one looks down over thousands of water-filled rice paddies that make up this area’s terraces. Come early in the season (December – March), and the mornings greet you with low fog in the valley which the locals call sea cloud – and it’s not hard to see why the fog is named as such. The fog, like waves on the ocean, roll into the valley and retreat, only to roll in again, next time higher. I arrived to the region in late April and was lucky to see the sea cloud one morning. The fog lent a layer of magical depth to the landscape. And like the wind – it disappeared leaving a lasting image in my mind.
The viewing area is made of large decks that can comfortably hold many hundreds of visitors. During the sea cloud season, getting to, and holding your position at the edge of one of the terraced platforms is a blood sport! It is said that years ago, two Chinese tourists fought over the same piece of ground from which to photograph the valley. This was before the viewing area was built. The two got into quite the row and sadly, both fell down the steep valley edge to their death!
Now, in later March, the sea fog is basically gone, and also is the crush of tourists vying for a viewing spot. However, once I got my own spot next to a hut and facing over from the upper-most platform, I still needed to spread my elbows to defend my few well-earned square metre of space! If you are like me, a Westerner, this sort of defensive behavior is both foreign and does not come easily. But believe me – if you don’t protect your spot, you risk being squeezed out by other aggressive visitors. If that happens, you will have the backs of dozens of heads in your photographs obscuring the beauty you have come to see.
Once the sun crests the opposite valley wall and spills sunlight throughout the valley, the paddies take on a bit of a flatter colour and loose their magic. It’s at this point that photographers pack away their gear, tourists head toward waiting buses and everyone leaves. If you are here for a while and know the area, you are smart to head back to your hotel for a nap so you can pace yourself through the rest of a busy shooting day.