DANBA – LUDINGBy
OK, lied, I thought I’d end up back in Kangding today, but Luding is a town closer to my destination of Chengdu, plus it is different and a new place to explore. The town of Luding is very sweet and it is steeped in a violent past.
In relative terms, Danba has become home! I spent an entire day there with sleeps at each end! There was so much to see in Danba that I may just keep this town open for another visit.
Quiet was the drive leaving Danba. The town tugged away at me the further we went. There is something magical about that place. It felt like home. The day was another river epic and this one, the Da Du River is one very dear to the hearts of Chinese. Chairman Mao wrote about this river in one of his poems and it is pretty much a national treasure and essential reading for all school children.
This mighty river slices through mountains, cuts through towns, and nourishes lush valleys as has many of the rivers we have followed. I fear when I get back to Toronto, I shall not be able to sleep unless I have a roaring river to accompany me to sleep!
Around the world, rivers are the lifeblood of a community, and the Da Du is no exception. In many places, there are homes on both sides of the river, but no way to cross, essentially alienating people, so close, and yet so far. However, in many places, high-tension, thick steel cables are the threads that join each river bank – and a small broom handle seat – the way to cross.
On this day, after seeing so many unused cable crossings, I had Su come to a sudden screeching stop. A woman was half way across the river with a toddler clutching her in a h0-hum, I-do-this-all-the-time way!
Below, the Da Du, giving life to families, would tear this one apart if this mom and child were to fall. My heart was racing to see this and my palms were damp with worry. The crossing was long and the river noise deafening. But it was no problem. In fact, mom was all smiles and once across, dusted herself off, smoothed out her dress and went about their business.
The cable- I have no idea how they get it from one side to the other! But inspecting the cable, I see it is clearly under a lot of tension, and it’s weight must be considerable. There are many loops of secondary cable attached to what literally was a broom handle of a seat. The loops were there so that as one crosses, the seat could then be retracted from the opposite bank with yet another , much smaller and lighter, cable. Simple, low-tech, ingenious! As is all life along the river.
The Da Du carves through the valleys and its power is not wasted. All along the river, on the opposite bank, is an intricate and choreographed dance of candy-coloured earth movers, dump trucks and backhoes. From our side of the river, the vehicles look more like tiny children’s toys with towering, belching clouds of dust racing to catch up with them.
There is actually something quite beautiful about the huge building projects going on! Really! You have a canvas of sun-bleached limestone pulverized by blasting, long graphic roads etching at angles up and down, bright red & yellow & blue trucks racing along the roads like a pinball machine – and all the while, the river is all you hear. Poetry in motion!
The guy-stuff activities over on the other side are more mountain-boring tunnels, roads and hydro-electric dams. This is an area of China that is currently underserved in terms of access and power. Not for long though, as with the pace of construction here and an unlimited workforce, things get done, seemingly overnight.
After a fairly short day of driving, only about five hours, Luding, a picturesque town squirts into view as we round another valley. Looking very much like a European river city, the buildings hug the river and are brightly coloured and impressive. One side is much more built up than the other, lined with tea houses, hotels and a tree-lined esplanade where parents walk with children and kits fly high over the Da Du.
Today is a bit of a sad day, as this is when Su and I part. He will drive back to his family in Ya’an, no doubt calling out those familiar Buddhist prayers with every mountain crossing along the way! I will head back to Chengdu and beyond.
The Da Du River Bridge at Luding was the site of a 1935 military challenge for the Red Army on the Long March. Having marched thousands of kilometers, the Army arrived at Luding and could not advance any further. They were held back by the government army of the time on the other side of the river. What separated them was a foot bridge and the location of a huge number of deaths.
The Red Army sacrificed scores of men by having them crawl on bended knee, placing missing boards, advancing ever so slowly as the lead men were systematically shot, only to be replaced by more.
Rumor has it that the government army was just following orders, and were not as lethal as they could have been due to internal ideological conflicts on their own side.
Today, the bridge stands as a 10 RMB attraction, inviting one to walk the swaying 300 metre march to the other side. It must have been terrifying back in the day. Today, you may even feel a bit of that sensation as you gaze down between the boards to the rushing river below.
A large square enhances the town centre as in many of the towns along this route. At 7 pm, the music begins and the festivities get underway. Just as in Kangding, the square comes alive with a huge circle of dancers, old and young alike. The music alternates here between traditional Tibetan folk songs and Yi music. The latter is another ethnic group, living in southern Sichuan or Northern Yunan.
After 16 days of hard travel, the best thing do before turning in is to climb the three flights of a back alley to get a foot massage before bed. I did. The young woman giving me my massage asked, in admirable English where I was from. I said Canada. She stopped, looked up with wide eyes – I knew what was coming – a reference to Dr. Norman Bethune! No!
“Justin Bieber”! How things have changed!