Staying in one place for two days is luxury on this trip around Western Sichuan. The pace was slower and I was able to take in a lot of local sites. Danba is a town nestled deep in a lush valley. Encircling this town are souring mountains limiting the amount of sunlight. Evenings come early down in Danba, but staggered along the etched roads on the mountain sides, Tibetan villages bask in the late day sun of longer days.
This is a small piece of paradise, I’m told there was a German who lived a few years in one of those small Tibetan villages. He lived in a traditional-style house and was seen reading and writing on his balcony each day. Sounds pretty idyllic if you want to get away and compose your novel.
Su and I drove up to visit one of the villages. Here, the locals turned their lifestyle into a bit of a cottage industry. The visit, one must pay at a booth and pick up a guide. Our guide, a young Tibetan woman wore beautiful and colourful traditional clothing of the area.
Pulling over to the side of the narrow road and stopping gives you a full view of the bottom of the deep valley, the lush green mountains sides and the tiered crops and homes. It is still quite high here, 2,900 metres and walking the steep roads and paths is a bit of a chore if you wish to scramble to find the perfect spot to compose a photo.
On the other side of the valley, a huge portion of the mountain slid down about 100 metres. The exposed mountain looked like an open wound. At the bottom, about 20 homes were destroyed, but nobody was injured or killed. This is something that one lives with when living here.
If you come to Danba, and I strongly suggest you do, you need to visit this Tibetan village. It will give you a real sense of what a traditional village looks like. Knocking on a door, our guide asks the woman if we might come in and look around her house. A small fee is paid for the privilege! The house is perched on the mountain side and offers amazing vies from almost every window! This is a large house with many rooms.
The woman who is showing us around is older, she is a grandmother to a cute toddler here and the mother of one of the couple who’s house this is. Like the home I stayed in, in Yajiang, the house is beautifully painted and ornate. A bedroom has the short (for me!) beds that when the covers are folded back, look more life a hard-sided sofa. The Sitting room is huge and light pours through the open windows. The kitchen is well-equipped and large. Everything about this home is well tended and cared for.
After the kitchen, I begin to feel hungry and soon we make our way down to Danba for a quick lunch. There is still much to do today!
The food is quite varied in this area with many cultural influences coming together. For breakfast, I have found a place with amazing dumplings in a savory broth. Lunch was Tibetan fragrant pig. This is pulled pork, served cold and very, as the name suggests, fragrant. These pigs are the small kind one sees around here a lot, cute, speedy and grey. Perfect for a pet! Also for lunch was a bowl of soup with and egg mixed in and tomato. The most western looking item was a pancake-like baked dish with, in my case, beef inside. It was amazing – and spicy too! Su, the Tibetan driver of course, has his filled with yak butter!
After a hearty lunch, we decided to check out another village on the other side of the valley. This one was strictly a working village, no tourism here, just a lot of farming and planting. Walking through these villages requires great endurance and agility, the former, was more difficult, as I stopped to catch my breath many times, and praised Dr. Wong’s great work mending my leg after an accident almost a year ago.
Out of the growing shadows, a family emerged carrying huge loads of soy plants, mom, 7-year old son and 10-year old daughter.
Cleaned up, this would be a family that could be on a magazine cover. With stunning good looks they break into welcoming smiles and chat away, not caring at all that we could not understand each other. In fact, it didn’t really matter. It was just friendship. After a while, they climbed higher and disappeared around a corner. I decided to follow and see what was up there.
Panting, I reached the top of the cut path and the family had vanished,
but there was a group of women, about 15, and one man, getting ready to strap huge sacks of corn on their backs and slog them further up the mountain side. The division of labour was interesting. The women were the strong ones and carried the heavy loads while the man helped them position and balance each of their loads. Putting down my cameras, I grabbed one of the sacks and tested it’s weight. It had to weigh close to 40 kilos! I was very impressed!
The villages in the hills, are high and picturesque. Like a painting, they are quiet, and inviting. Just standing and looking at the towering mountain walls, the senses tingle. The eyes take in the warm colours or the rows of corn, soy bean, and red painted homes. The ears pick up distant roosters competing with their calls, low mooing of cows offer a bass track and the laughter of scurrying children come from every direction. Breath deep and the town village comes to life. Rich soil, light peppery trees that offer the tiny lip-numbing peppers found in almost every meal, sweet manure scent from the lumbering path-hogging cows and fragrant pigs, fresh savory sawdust from villagers constantly upgrading their homes. It is a perfect spot to come indeed for solitude. Too bad I must return to Danba. Even worse will be the harrowing road zig-zagging along the side of the cliffs!
The hotel is a large one that sees a lot of tourists. Many are Asian tourists, like the large group of Japanese I saw checking in the day before. Still others are western. Sitting on the steps of the hotel, enjoying the last of the daylight, I watch as a group of teenagers play basketball.
Tomorrow will be a lazy day of driving, only 175 km, and back to Kangding before saying good-by to Mr. Su, the driver who has been my shadow for the last while. I will then take a bus the next day back to Chengdu and there, begin a different kind of journey.