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October 31, 2011

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Trips for solitude, discovery

MANY travelers want to get away from noisy tourist families and crowds and visit places of relative solitude where they can enjoy the scenery in peace, reflect and discover interesting people, places and customs.

Here are three places - Basha Village in Guizhou Province, Baiyu County, a Tibetan area of Sichuan Province, and Shuhe Ancient Town in Yunnan Province.

Basha Village

Guizhou Province

This is a remote and still unspoiled Miao ethnic minority village in the rugged mountains of southwest China. It's pretty primitive and armed villagers live as they have for hundreds of years.

In this hamlet of 300 households and 2,000 residents, women and men wear the same type of clothes worn for several hundred years. In an unusual custom, men shave their heads bald, except for topknot and maybe a Mohawk strip down the back. Their heads are shaved with curved razor-sharp knives that they carry around; they also carry shotguns. This is one of the few places in China where locals are allowed to carry guns.

The village, with ancient-style wooden architecture, looks like a set from a movie set about ancient China and its fierce and exotic minorities. Buildings are scattered on mountainsides.

All cloth for clothing is hand-dyed and woven.

Sticky rice is the staple of the diet.

Basha is 7 or 8 kilometers from Congjiang Town in Congjiang County. Though the Congjiang-Rongjiang Highway was built in the early 1970s, the place remains cut-off and villagers are wary of strangers. When the village is "open" for visitors, the residents, though friendly, are reserved.

During festivals and VIP visits, Basha people dress in traditional blue-purple clothing and men play traditional instruments at the gate. On those occasions, young women wear their most colorful clothes and silver jewelry - necklaces, bangles and decorations in their hair. There's lot of singing and dancing.

How to get there:

Basha is near Congjiang Town, around 400 kilometers from Guiyang, the provincial capital. From Guiyang, it's best to rent a car, take the 210 National Highway, then the 321 National Highway to Congjiang. Visitors can continue by car to Basha where they can rent a taxi, hire a tricycle or maybe hitch a ride on a local tractor or truck for a few yuan.

Baiyu (White Jade) County

Sichuan Province

This is a favorite with backpackers from all over the world who visit Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan. It's a place where Tibetan Buddhism flourishes and visitors meet chanting monks and learn about customs, such as tree burial of children.

Around 45,000 people, 95 percent of them ethnic Tibetan, live in the remote area of around 10,360 square kilometers. Road construction began in the 1970s but there's not a lot of traffic.

Baiyu (White Jade) is famous for its White Jade Temple, first constructed in 1675.

At sunrise and sunset the white stone structure is bathed in light, appearing like glowing white jade. Many people go there to pray and seek blessings.

There are many monks at the Baiyu monastery and it's common to see them reciting Buddhist scriptures and playing the suona (a trumpet-like traditional instrument).

Many young monks speak precise English and are quite helpful.

Tree burial is practiced, especially for children under 13, and it's common to see small coffins hanging in rows of trees 50 to 80 centimeters long. Some trees have as many as five coffins. The locations are special, along a river or at a road intersection where it is believed the child's spirit will be released.

An interesting tradition in Baiyu is the patrilineal clan in which an entire group is related by blood and they take the father's name and employment.

Typical clan houses are four stories high. The first floor is for livestock, the second floor is the kitchen, the third floor is the living area, and the fourth floor for storage.

Women are not allowed to take part in clan conferences, or inherit property from their fathers. They give birth on the ground floor, which belongs to livestock, because it is believed that the blood can bring misfortune to the family.

How to get there:

It's difficult to reach Baiyu County. Usually, people start from Chengdu and rent a car. It's a good idea to hire a local guide.

Shuhe Ancient Town

Lijiang, Yunnan Province

Compared with the hustle and bustle of Lijiang, nearby scenic Shuhe Ancient Town is far more appealing.

It's far less crowded and the scenery is beautiful. It's on the outskirts of Lijiang, just 4 kilometers from the ancient town in Lijiang, a 20-minute drive.

Shuhe at the foot of a mountain is the earliest habitation of the Naxi ethnic people. It was an important stop along the Ancient Tea and Horse Route, sometimes called the Southern Silk Road.

It was a network of trading links from Yunnan, one of the first tea-producing region, to India via Burma; to central China via Sichuan; and to what is now the Tibet Autonomous Region. Sturdy horses were necessary.

The peaceful village contains a notable, 400-year-old stone bridge, the Qinglong Bridge, which is 25 meters long and 4.5 meters wide.

The colorful market place in the center of town offers many leather goods, local products and souvenirs.

How to get there:

From Lijiang Ancient Town, take a shuttle bus or taxi; it's a 20-minute ride.


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