Jiarong Tibetan Ancient Watchtowers

The Origin of “Jiarong (Gyarong རྒྱལ་རོང་)”

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) , also go by “Gyarong རྒྱལ་རོང་”.

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.

Suopoxiang & the Eastern Kingdom

On the afternoon of October 19, with much curiosity we drive along the east bank of Dadu River from Zhangguzhen ( the seat of Danba County) and get to Suopoxiang (Suopo Township 梭坡乡), further to the Muluo Village (Moluocun), about 7km drive.

Suopo Township is composed of several villages perched on the mountain slopes facing west by the east side of Dadu River Valley, including the village known as “Moluocun (Moluo Village 莫洛村)” we are going to visit.

Drive from Zhangguzhen (Danba) to Moluocun (village) Google Map

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.

Moluocun (Moluo Village) 莫洛村

Getting to the foot of the Moluo 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

Home Visit to a Jiarong Family

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.

The original building of the towers

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.

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


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Jiarong Tibetan Ancient Watchtowers
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Hassle-free Chengdu & Sichuan Guided Tours

If you don’t want to go the do-it-yourself route and prefer the hassle-free escorted tours, here are some options for Chengdu and Sichuan guided tours:

Chengdu tour
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Jiuzhaigou Tour
Sichuan Tour

Further Readings

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Best Time to Visit Chengdu
Chengdu Airport
Railway stations in Chengdu
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How to visit Wuhou Shrine
How to visit Du Fu Thatched Cottage
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Top 10 Places to Visit in Sichuan
Ruoergai Grassland, my first trip to Ruoergai Grassland

Any questions,  just drop a line.

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