August 15, 2018

A curvy river flowing in the lethargy of dawn. Large rocky hills on both sides carpeted in green. A thin veil of fog left behind by previous night’s rain. A boat ride on the brimming river as the sun wakes up from sleep. Xingping is a Chinese valley that allures travellers to behold these real essence of its unspoilt natural splendour. The locals here calls this place as ‘the valley of heaven’.


                                                     The nearest airport and railway station are in Guilin, located 120 km away from Xingping. Yangsho town lies between the two and most of the tourists book their hotels here. Thara and I also did the same. The visual feast offered by Xingping can be relished to the best only if you witness the sunrise and sunsets from the banks of the river or from the rounded pinnacles of the green rolling hills. There were only two hills that you can hike on foot. That’s how we finalised upon the dawn from Xianggong hill, dusk from Laozhai hill and a boat trip on Li river between the two.


                                                    Next day, we were ready at 4 AM to witness the sunrise. Our driver was already waiting outside. The driver who woke up at 4am and drove all this way to show us the sunrise was a lady – Amy lianfeng. Chinese women are usually very brave and courageous. She manged to speak to us in the broken English she knew. It is hard to find people in China who are well versed in English. Our destination, xianggong hill is a remote and isolated location. In the stark darkness, somewhere she missed a turn and we had to backtrack a bit. Xianggong is not a place so easy to reach. They have made fenced pathway for the tourists to climb to the top. In the pitch-dark morning, we scrambled up to the top with the mobile flashlight. There were a small bunch of people already there before us. Some among them were famous Chinese photographers.


                           The place was still covered in darkness. The street lights of xingping village far below could be seen through the mist. Moonlight was reflecting on the quaint surface of Li rivier. Small cloud clusters were floating near our eye level. The hills and river seemed to be sleeping under the blanket of fog. The darkness, the fog and the sheer magnitude of the scenery made it difficult for me to capture the beauty properly in camera. We were wondering whether we would be able to see the sunset through the thick fog. Sun soon appeared splashing different hues across the sky. The view was indeed little dull due to the descending fog. But still, the frame really was mesmerizing.



                 We left after an hour. Amy was waiting for us. Straight to Yangdi boat jetty. The cruise on River Lee was to begin from Yangdi. This was the perfect way to experience the wooing beauty of this Chinese river in the company of the mist. It was quite crowded in Yangdi jetty. There was a slight drizzle and the chill of fog. The best ambience possible for Li river boating. It was time for Amy to return. Before returning, she beckoned us near her and clicked a group selfie on her phone.

                       Most of the boats are small 4 seaters. Before we started, our boat driver gave us an offer. If we pay him extra cash he will drive his boat slower than normal, so that we will get more time on the river. But since we are budget travelers and we don’t have a lot of cash for unforeseen circumstances, we refused and opted for the normal ride. The ride started. Soon we realized that our boat was actually going slower than other boats. Eventually we came to know that the guy’s boat in fact had a damaged engine. Even though at a disadvantage, the driver trying to turn that problem to his benefit by spinning it in a different perspective. Even though he was trying to con us, he indirectly taught us a valuable lesson. If you have presence of mind, you sometimes can turn your adversities into opportunities for you !


                           We passed a couple of small villages on way. Rain had stopped and sunshine was warming up. Some tourists were having fried fish and corn near the riverbanks. We reached xingping sooner than we wished for. Even though xingping is suffixed with the term village, this place can be called a small town rather than a village. Hunger had blinded us. We too bought grilled corn and fried fish from a road-side vendor and satisfied our tummies.


                       Behind Xingping, there is a small fishing village. The fish of Li River is their only source of income. They use a really amusing and innovative method of fishing.  Every fisherman nurture his own cormorants. They tie a rope to the legs of these birds and let them out to the river. The birds swim and catch fish. But they wouldn’t be able to swallow as there would be a string tied over their throat. The cormorants will be pulled back and the fishes will be taken by the fishermen. It is a pity when you think about those birds. However, such a practice of fishing seemed better than the crude methods using explosives, poisons etc to catch fish. The number of cormorant fishermen in xingping is dwindling though. People are turning to faster and more efficient methods of fishing. We were lucky to meet a grandpa fisherman who was on his way to Li river with his two cormorants on his shoulder. Innocent smile. Smiles don’t have language barriers to communicate, right !



                      It was almost 3 PM by the time we finished a walk around Xingping. We had to climb Laozhai mountain. It is one not preferred even by the natives, the struggle to get to the top being the main reason. It is tougher and steeper than Xianggong. The skies were gathering dark clouds. It is risky to climb down when there is no light. Fog, rain and darkness is a deadly combination in these kind of situations. So the quicker we reach the top, the better. We were the lone wolves doing the trek. The stairs kept becoming narrower as the climb progressed. The wet stones were slippery too. Call it a high-graded version of ‘dangerous’. A couple of times we did contemplate turning back. We pushed that thought aside remembering the effort we took to reach till this point. Finally after long stretches of climbing and crawling we neared the summit.

                    At the end of the long climb, you would reach a very wide open space. The view down was zillion times more gorgeous than what we saw in the morning. All around, we saw tall mountains standing like hefty bulls. One side was the mating of River Li with a small stream. The muddy stream water was flowing into the clear waters of Li river. Their joining point had nice contrast of colors. A very curious blending of water bodies. The other side showed up with the most alluring face of River Li with boats looking like small matchboxes. There were few hills standing tall near the rivers. Fluffy white clouds rested on the laps of those peaks. And the tiny Xingping lay in the centre as the cherry on the cake.



                       The view was indeed like a huge painted canvas with mountains, rivers, clouds, fog and the beautiful Xingping town. Indeed, it is moments like these that reminds us that we are living and that we need to keep on living. Every nature lover should add xingping to their travel bucket list. We didn’t want to leave at all. It was the fear of falling down in darkness that made us return back. Return bus to yangshuo can be caught from xingping bus stand. While walking to the bus stand, we turned back and looked up to the hilltop we climbed sometime back. Even though we experience and enjoyed everything we wanted to experience, a sort of void was growing in our minds. End of all good journeys are like that, indeed !




September 13, 2018