Archive for the ‘Danba’ Category

Jiarong Tibetan Ancient Watchtowers

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015
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Jiarong Tibetans are one of branches of the ethnic Tibetans, and now living mainly in Danba area. There are two origins for the word “Jiarong”(嘉绒). One means “Jia Mo Cha Wa Rong” (嘉莫察瓦绒), or simplified as “Jiarong”, an old administrative region referring to the area surrounding the sacred mountain known as Moerduo Sacred Mountain (墨尔多神山), where Jiarong Tibetans now largely live ; the other means “the Queen of the Valley” referring to the lost Danba Eastern Kingdom of Women (丹巴东女国) that once existed in Danba area.

On the afternoon of October 19, 2015, with much curiosity we drive along the east bank of Dadu River from the downtown of Danba and get to Suopo Township (梭坡乡), about 5km southeast of the downtown Danba. Suopo Township is composed of several villages perched on the mountain slopes facing west by the east side of Dadu River Valley.

The legend goes that Suopo Township was part of the Eastern Kingdom of Women that once existed during Sui and Tang dynasties (518- 907 AD ). In the Eastern Kingdom, ruled by a queen, men had a secondary rule. The queen lived in a high stone square tower. The kingdom was governed by all women, and men only did the farming or went to war. The Eastern Kingdom of Women was later conquered by Tubo Empire.

Getting to the foot of the village in Suopo, we pay 10 yuan to park our Highlander at the parking lot at the foot of the village. A Jiarong Tibetan girl comes up to collect the 10 yuan. We understand she is in charge of the parking lot. Having heard a lot about the beauty of the women in Danba, the descendants of the Eastern Kingdom of Women, I fancy taking a picture of a local Jiarong girl.

With her permit, I take a photo of the parking lot caretaker. She keeps her long hairs with tired braids covered in her fascinator from her back to the top of her head. Her fascinator is varicolored with beads and pendents.

A Jiarong Tibetan girl

A Jiarong Tibetan girl

A Jiarong Tibetan man at the parking lot actively introduces himself as an owner of one of the most magnificent ancient watchtower in the village, eagerly guiding us to walk up the village for a glimpse of the towers. He says he works as a security guide in a bank in the downtown Danba. On the weekends or in spare time, he helps his wife introduce tourists to his home for paid visits.

We agree on the 50 yuan entrance fee for his home watchtower, and we follow him walking up along stone steps to his home. On the way, he says that there are totally about 562 stone watchtowers in Danba, scattered around 15 townships including Suopo Township. There are 175 ancient watchtowers in Suopo Township, scattered around 13 villages. Most of the watchtowers belong to private families.

He continues to say the original building of the towers was used to suppress demons, later they became fortresses to protect families from aggressive enemies. It also served as warning beacons to help protect local villages from potential attackers. People placed valuable things, jewelry, money inside the watchtowers. He deliberately mentions that Suopo was once part of the Danba Eastern Kingdom of Women. The watchtowers were also the symbols of worshipping a male sex organ during the rule of Eastern Kingdom of Women.

Getting to his home perched high on the mountain slope, he points to the potted flowers in front of his main room in the compound, saying Jiarong Tibetans love flowers, Gasang flowers.

A Jiarong Tibetan man

Jiarong Tibetans love flowers, Gasang flowers

The kitchen room is on the first floor.

kitchen

The kitchen room is on the first floor.

We use an exterior ladder to climb up on to the second floor, the living place for his family.

living place for his family

The second floor, the living place for his family

On the rooftop of the second floor, he introduces his watchtower attached to his blockhouse and encourages us to climb up the tower. A ladder takes you to a window in the tower meters high above the rooftop. Inside the tower, there are wooden ladders carved with steps easy for  visitors to climb up. The inside levels of the tower are accessible through the several wooden ladders.

Suopo Watchtower

A window on the tower meters high above the rooftop

Mr. Chen takes the risk of climbing up step by step along the wooden ladders leading to the top.

Climb the watchtower in Suopo

Mr. Chen takes the risk of climbing up step by step along the wooden ladders

Standing on the rooftop of the second floor, he points to the neighbouring blockhouses attached with four watchtowers.

four watchtowers

Neighbouring blockhouses attached with four watchtowers

The rooftop on the third floor is for storing grain. Taking a picture of the watchtowers nearby from the third floor rooftop.

Suopo Watchtowers

The rooftop on the third floor is for staring grain

More ancient watchtowers in Suopo Town.  The ancient watchtowers here remind me of the Kaiping Diaolou (watchtowers) im Kaiping County, 130km southwest of Guangzhou.

Suopo Ancient watchtowers

More ancient watchtowers in Suopo Town

Any questions on Suopo Watchtowers,  just drop a line.

Add-on:

Jiarong Tibetan Blockhouses

Chengdu tour

 

Jiarong Tibetan Blockhouses

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015
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Jiarong Tibetans ( Gyarong Tibetans 嘉绒藏族) are one of the branches of the ethnic Tibetans in Kham. Kham is one of the four Tibetan traditional regions 1) Ngari in the far west region of Tibet 2) U-Tsang in the central region of Tibet 3) Kham in the west of Sichuan 4) Amdo in Qinghai.

Today most of the Jiarong Tibetans live in Danba (Rongtrak), Jinchuan, Xiaojin (Tsenlha), Heshui (Trochu), Ma’erkang (Barkham), Wenchuan (Lunggu) and Kangding (Dartsedo). Except for a small number of Jiarong Tibetans living nomadic lifestyle on the high plateau  ( over 2500m ), most Jiarong Tibetans are farmers doing barley farming between 1800m and 2500m with fertile land and much more temperate climate.

Jiarong Tibetans are the descendants of the locals mixed with the frontier soldiers and migrators from Tubo Kingdom (618-842 A.D.).  Over its 200 hundred years of rule, the Tubo Kingdom was engaged in expanding its territory towards the east and took up large parts of the Tang Empire. But after the collapse of Tubo Kingdom, these soldiers were unable to return home and remained in regions now known as Qinghai and Sichuan including Danba.

They have some unique ways as a separate branch of the Tibetan ethnic group distinct from other Tibetans in the aspects of  their origin, housing, clothing, dining, custom, festivals,culture and a dialect of their own.

On October 19, we visit Jiaju Tibetan Village, a typical Jiarong Tibetan village, about 10 km north of the downtown Danba. There are a slew of Jiarong Tibetan villages in the surrounding mountainous areas. Jiaju Tibetan Village (甲居藏寨) with 270 Tibetan houses is oft-lauded as the the most grandeur and beautiful.

Jiaju Tibetan Village

The village cascading from the hillside of the Kapama Mountains

When first see the village cascading from the hillsides of the Kapama Mountains down to the bottom of the Dajin River, we are still shocked at its beauty though we already have had some anticipation of the much hyped village in advance.

Some houses are clustered and some are perched separately in the green forested hillslopes with terraced agricultural fields.

Jiarong Tibetan Stone Houses

Some houses are clustered on the hillslope.

some are perched separately on the green forested hillsides.

Jiarong Tibetan Blockhouses

some are perched separately in the green forested

The stone houses clinging to the forested mountain slopes, tier above tier

Tibetan Block Houses

The stone houses clinging to the forested mountain slopes, tier above tier

These Tibetan fortress-like houses are mainly made of stone and wood. These stone houses are built using the quarried stones with a tradition of Qiang people.

The stone houses once served as a defensive strong point against any enemy,  a kind of blockhouses popular in Jianrong Tibetan villages. The traditional Tibetan blockhouse has three floors.

Jiaju Tibetan Blockhouses

The traditional Tibetan blockhouse has three floors.

The top floor is often used for storing grain, corn and hanging clothes; the middle floor are the living rooms for human beings, and the first floor is the place for livestock and fodder.

Jiarong stone houses

The top floor is often used for storing grain

Jiarong typical blockhouses are square in shape with narrow upper side and broader lower side,  a style of quadrangle dwelling houses.

The walls are made by stones, enhanced by glutinous rice and slaked lime with white and black colors.

Jiatong Tibetan homes

The walls are piled up by stones, inserted by polished glutinous rice and slaked lime.

The Jiarong Tibetan blockhouses are flat-roofed except for glorious parapets in the four corners that are sometimes adorned with prayer flags.

The four upturned eaves are representative of the four sacred mountains in Tibet.

Jiarong house parapets

The spectacular parapets of Jiarong blockhouses

The massive stone houses have upper floors accessible by ladders, the only way into the vertical construction in the past.

Jiarong male Tibetan

The massive stone houses have upper floors accessible by ladders

Jiarong Tibetan homes  are all decorated with flowers. Galsang Flower is a must for local villagers. As the legend goes, no matter who you are , if you can find the eight-petal Galsang flower, then you can find happiness.

the eight-petal Galsang flower Jiarong Tibetan Village

The eight-petal Galsang flower

Our unnamed host of the Jiarong Tibetan home we have just visited poses for us to take a picture of him who is sitting by his house overlooking the mountain slope, smoking and enjoying his bucolic life.

smoking and enjoying his bucolic life

Smoking and enjoying his bucolic life

Any questions about Danba County and Jiaju Tibetan Village, just drop a line.

Add-on:
Jiarong Tibetan Ancient Watchtowers
Chengdu Tour

Drive from Xinduqiao to Danba

Monday, November 30th, 2015
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Yesterday we traveled all the way from Daocheng back to Xinduqiao (358km) via Litang (148km) and Yajiang (286km), getting over Rabbit Mountain Pass (4696m), Kazila Mountain Pass (4718m), Jianziwan Mountain Pass (4659m) and Gaoersi Mountain Pass (4412m). Last time we entered Xinduqiao Town around 2:00pm on October 09, 2015 for the first time, driving from Kangding to Xinduqiao, and spending 2 hours photographing the bucolic landscape along the National Highway G318 in the town; two hours later we continued to get from Xinduqiao to Yajiang.

Xinduqiao has become a buzzword in the past 20 years. The big increase of photography enthusiasts around China thrusts the place into the limelight. Yesterday afternoon we saw the one-street town was peppered with camera-toting tourists looking for lights and colors. The influx into the town of tourists and photography aficionados had greatly developed the local economy, especially in the hotel and catering fields. At nightfall, the hotels and restaurants colorfully lit garnished the far-flung town with a layer of  modernity.

We stayed at Muya Se’e  Hotel (木雅色俄酒店). The hotel was also used as an army service station ( a guesthouse for transit servicemen). The staff at the front desk were nice and very helpful. The room was up to the 3 star standard with basic modern facilities, comfy and clean with wifi service.

Xinduqiao Muya Se'e Hotel

We stayed at Muya Se’e Hotel at Xinduqiao Town

Before we went to our respective rooms for sleep, Mr.Chen and I planned to get up at 6:30am the next morning, trying to find a spot along Yingjiu Road (营九路) which branched off the G318 to catch the sunrise at 7:30am when it had its mesmerizing side lighting on the Tibetan villages and golden poplar trees by the roadside.

Today at 6:30am (October 18, 2015) my iphone alarm wakes me up. After having brushed my teeth and washed my face, I heave my backpack onto my back, laden with a long-range-lens and one camera with a standard lens. Getting out of my room and I wait for Mr. Chen for a few minutes before he comes out next door and go to the parking lot together.

This morning bad luck follows us – the fresh sunrise is totally hiding behind the grey clouds which resemble a huge canopy cutting off the beautiful morning side lights. Mr. Chen came up to me with off the cuff to suggest we should give up the sunrise shooting. Driving back to our hotel for breakfast and packing.

We leave Xinduquao Town at 9:00am and start up our long-expected self-drive trip from Xinduqiao at 3450m to Danba at 1860m. It is a wonderful 150 km drive morphing from Muya Tibeten area (木雅藏族聚居区) to Jiarong Tibetan area (嘉绒藏族聚居区).

Xinduqiao Town

We are leaving Xinduqiao Town around 9:00am

We are supposed to drive on the provincial level Highway S303, linking Xinduqiao to the National Highway G317 in the north and passing by Tagong (33km) and Bamei (60km); at Bamei, turn to the northeast direction on the S303 for Danba County (87km).

Drive from Xinduqiao to Danba

Drive from Xinduqiao to Danba (150km).

Muya, aka Minyak (木雅) and Jiarong, aka Gyarong (嘉绒) are two branches of the ethnic Tibetans living in Kham. Kham is one of the four Tibetan traditional regions – 1) Ngari: in the far west region of Tibet; 2) U-Tsang: in the central region of Tibet; 3) Kham in the southeast of Tibetand 4) Amdo: in the northeast of Tibet.

Muya Tibetans and Jiarong Tibetans speak the Tibetic languages which are mutually unintelligible to a large extent. The languages have no script, but the oral languages are very much alive. They both speak Mandarin Chinese when they need to communicate with outsiders.

Muya Tibetans (aka Minyak Tibetans) live in the area between Zheduo Mountain and Yajiang ( including Xinduqiao), south of Danba and north of Jiulong County, a historically regarded by Tibetans as “Muya” (or Minyak) territory. They are half farmers, and half nomads.

Jiarong Tibetans ( aka Gyarong Tibetans ) live in Danba (Rongtrak), Jinchuan, Xiaojin (Tsenlha), Heshui (Trochu), Ma’erkang (Barkham), Wenchuan (Lunggu) and Kangding (Dartsedo) in Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture and Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The Jiarong area is very fertile at relatively low elevations between 1800m and 2500m. Most people work in farming thanks to the much more temperate climate than the nearby Amdo and Kham regions.

Muya Tibetans and Jiarong Tibetans are different in the aspects of clothing, housing, customs and festivals. We drive gradually from the 3450m Xinduqiao down to the 1800m Danba, detecting the smooth transition from the mixed Pastoral and settled farming to settled farming and agriculture.

Xinduqiao  – Tagong  (33km)  新都桥至塔公
Driving 7km westwards through the one street town for about 10 minutes and turn north at the first intersection on the provincial level Highway S303, we will pass by Tagong (33km), Bamei (60km) and Danba (143km).

S313 from Xinduqiao to Tagong Temple

S313 from Xinduqiao to Tagong and on to Bamei.

Again it is a sightseeing asphalt avenue on a flat valley lined with golden meadows, crystal-clear streams, yellow poplar trees and Tibetan stone houses against the meandering mountains under the canopy of the blue sky and white clouds.

S313 from Xinduqiao to Tagong

A sightseeing asphalt avenue on a flat valley.

Yaks and horses grazing on the expansive roadside meadows on the valley between the undulating mountains.

S313 Roadside Meadows

Yaks and horses grazing on the expansive roadside meadows

Some local Tibetan villagers here are scattered on the mountain slopes surrounded by fields instead of being in  a clustered  settlement. Most of the Muya Tibetan houses are made of bricks or stones.

The stone houses have flat roofs and many windows with a compound like a castle with defensive purposes. They are cool in summer and warm in winter. The first floor is often used to store livestock and fodder; second floor for human living.

Muya Tibetan houses

The Muya Tibetan stone houses have flat roofs and many windows

Some local Tibetan villagers live in a clustered community on the hillside.

Muya Tibetan Village

Some local Tibetan villagers live in a clustered community on the hillside.

Rural Tibetans usually live in hillside houses facing the sun and not far from brooks. The golden poplar trees, limpid stream, Tibetan village and the undulating mountains, a typical bucolic landscape.

Xinduqiao Tagong sightseeing

A bucolic landscape

A piece of peaceful land like an earthly paradise. Xinduqiuao area is a magical place with fascinating lights and colors.

Muya Tibetan countryside

A piece of peaceful land like an earthly paradise

A local Muya Tibetan is working on her pastoral fields. Yaks, horses, sheep are grazing in the tall grasses in the golden meadow.

A Muya Tibetan

A local Muya Tibetan is working on her pastoral fields

Moving on and we see a larger Muya community skirting on the hillside surrounded by an expansive meadow. I take a photo of the Muya settlement through roadside fluttering prayer flags.

Prayer flags and Muya Village

We see a large Muya community skirting on the hillside surrounded by an expansive meadow.

We are driving through Tagong Town (aka Lhagang ) at 3700m, a booming town developed from a small village due to the influx of more and more tourists.

Tagong Town is well known for the same name Tagong Monastery and its surrounding Tagong Grassland that offer great views against the sacred Yala Mountain at 5820m.

Tagong Town

We are driving through Tagong Town (aka Lhagang ) at 3700m

Very soon the famous Tagong Monastery is in sight. “Tagong” literally means “A place favored by Buddha”. The legend goes that when Princess Wencheng, the Chinese would-be bride of Tibetan king of Songtsen Gampo, was on her way to Lhasa passing by this place, the precious statue of Jowo Sakymuni Buddha on the cart suddenly refused to go further on her caravan and people found the Buddha liked the place.

Later a replica of the original statue was made on the place the Buddha liked and a temple was built around it.  The original Buddha is now in Jokhang Temle in Lhasa and the replica in Tagong Temple which is often regarded as “Little Jokhang Temple”.

Tagong Monastery

Very soon the famous Tagong Monastery is in sight

We don’t  go inside Tagong Temple, driving a bit further and get off at the parking lot in Tagong Grassaland nearby.  The Tagong Grassland is centered on the Muya Golden Pagoda circled by the red wall compound.

The Muya Goden Pagoda (木雅金塔) was built 1997 with the fund donated by a Living Buddha of Zhuqing Monastery, a Nyingmapa or Red Sect temple.

Tagong Monastery Pagoda Forest

Tagong Monastery Pagoda Forest

A close-up view of the Muya Golden Pagoda with the backdrop of Yala Snow Mountain. It is said that over 100kg pure gold was used to build the pagoda to commemorate the Living Buddha 10th Panchan.

Tagong Temple Pagoda Forest

A close-up view of the Muya Golden Pagoda

Numerous white pagodas atop the one section of the compound walls with the backdrop of Yala Mountain.

Muya Golden Pagaoda

Numerous white pagodas atop the one section of the compound walls

Behind Tagong Monastery there are three meadow hills that are decorated with colorful prayer flags formed in triangle or quadrangle fluttering in the wind, adding much mystery and grandness to the hills.

colorful prayer flags

three meadow hills that are decorated with colorful prayer flags

Tagong  – Bamei (30km) 塔公至八美
Back to our Highlander and leaving Tagong Grassland, we continue our self-drive trip along the Highway S303. At Bamei Town, the Highway S303 divides into two “303” roads – one to the north and the other to the east leading to Danba.  At Bamei we choose the east S303 going to Danba.

The view along the 30km road from Tagong to Bamei is a bit dull and monotonous unlike the bucolic countryside from Xinduqiao to Tagong. But we do see the spectacular views of huge mantra painted on the hillslope and colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind on the mountains.

the spetacular views of colorful prayer flags

The spetacular views of colorful prayer flags

The mantra “om mani padme hum”,  the most mysterious and yet ubiquitous mantra of Tibet. We often see the mantra painted on pebbles, rocks, stone slabs, doors, walls and even hill slopes!

We drive by a mountain with a huge mantra painted on the slope with colorful prayer flags.

a huge mantra painted on the slope

A huge mantra painted on the slope

Now we are at the intersection of Bamei Town – Following our nose is the north direction passing through Bamei Town; turning right (right side) will be on the S303 leading to Danba County.

Bamei is a town under the jurisdiction of Dawu County (道孚县) in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

Bamei Town

Now we are at the intersection of Bamei Town

On the left side of the intersection is a Sichuan restaurant.  If you are going from here to Danba,  we suggest you have lunch here because for the next 87km from Bamei to Danba there will be restaurants on the way.

Restaurant in Bamei

Bamei Town- Danba  (87km) 八美至丹巴
We decide to skip the sit-down lunch and continue our journey east along the S313 for Danba. We eat some snacks stored in our vehicle for lunch and agree to have a big dinner this evening when we arrive Danba.

For the 87km overland trip, there are two impressive sights – Huiyuan Monastery in Xie De Town 协德乡 ( formerly the ancient Tai Ning City ) of Dawu County (道孚县) in Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and the majestic Yala Snow Mountain at the elevation of 5820m.

Xie De Town

Xie De Town

The formerly Tai Ning City (  泰宁城 ) was established in 1725 during Qing Dynasty ( 1644 – 1911). The well-known general – Nian Genyao led his army stationed in the city for the defense against the aggressive Junggar tribes.

In 1728, Qing government allocated the money to build a temple by the Tai Ning City. The temple was known as Huiyuan Monastery (惠远寺) used to accommodate the 7th Dalai Lama Kelzang Gyatso in order to keep him from the threat posed by Junggar tribes.

Huiyuan Temple and Xie De Town

Huiyuan Temple and Xie De Town (Formerly Tai Ning City)

Later on with the building of Huiyuan Temple, Tai Ning City flourished with the influx of religious pilgrims, traders from  Sichuan and Shanxi, which also enhaned the culture exchanges.

Khedrup Gyatso, the 11th Dalai Lama of Tibet was born in Xia Village near Tai Ning City in 1892.

A close look at Huiyuan Temple

A close look at Huiyuan Temple

Yala Mountain at 5820m is located on among the border area of Kangding, Daofu and Danba of Ganzi Zang Autonomous Prefecture.

The summit of Yala Mountain is shrouded with snow all year round. It is a fanous holy mountain Kham area. There are ten gullies in Yala Mountain Range.

Yala Mountain

Yala Mountain

We get to the downtown of Danba at 3:30pm and stay at Danba Xingji Hotel (丹巴兴吉大酒店) by Dadu River.

Any questions on the drive from Xinduqiao to Danba, just drop a line.

Add-on:

Drive from Xinduqiao to Yajiang

Drive from Kangding to Xinduqiao

Chengdu Tour