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A tough journey to find the original Miao culture

Miao people are well versed in finding a good place to live, or hide, to be more precise. A track into a Miao village in the deep mountains of Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in northwestern part of Hunan province has proved the conclusion positively true.

“Miao People’s Valley”, or “Miao Ren Gu” in Chinese, is situated some 18 kilometers from Phoenix town, but the difference between the two tourist sites is striking.

While Phoenix town is easily accessible and bears obvious marks of modernization, Miao People’s Valley probably wouldn’t be shown on a regional map and more than one third of its inhabitants don’t have a television.

According to local villagers, their ancestors settled here to stay away from the bandits using the mountains and the rivers as cover. They never thought that what used to protect them would hinder the development of the village now.

But in recent years, travel buses began to transport packs of tourists to the village. Although it is one hour’s bumpy ride from Phoenix town, they consider it worthwhile to experience the unspoiled Miao ethnic culture and breathtaking natural scenery.

We were struck speechless by the idyllic sight when we arrived at the village gateway. Squares of rice swayed simultaneously with the wind, the tips of the plants beginning to turn golden. Stone houses with gray roofs scattered in the open field. Hardly any people, dogs and hens roam about indolently while strings of red chili and corn hang on the walls to dry.

However, we are not in the center of the village yet. You have to take a bamboo raft and flow down to a huge cave before taking another boat to the other side of the mountain. The cave belonged to the head of the Miao village in ancient times. There is a buffalo skull hung on the banner of the cave gate to show the dominance of the leader.

The cave is dark and damp, the channel is narrow. Water drips from overhead and occasionally we encounter waterfalls pouring down from high up on the stone walls.

When we emerge into the sunlight again, we see an open lake, like a gem embedded in the mountains. After around five minutes of rowing on the lake, we arrive at the small Miao village.

Girls and boys dressed in Miao costumes wait at the entrance, singing a folk song to welcome us. It is a tradition for the Miao people to welcome their guests with a song and in return, the guests should also sing back. They offer us homemade rice wine before we step into their homes. Low in alcohol and rich in fruit flavor, the rice wine tastes sweet and sour.

They also show us their unique stunt – playing tunes using tree leaves. Our guide says that in Miao villages, girls and boys are free to choose their own partners when they are 16 years old. And a boy would show his affection for his girl by playing tree leaves tunes to her. So the feat is actually part of the matchmaking ritual for young lovers of the Miao ethnic minority and most men know how to play.

To outsiders like us, the skill is incomprehensible, just like the lyrics of the Miao ethnic songs and dances that they perform for tourists. A large number of young people in the village are working as performers under a local travel company. Long Faqiu’s son is one of them.

Long Faqiu, a local villager, serves homemade Miao cuisines to tourists. Although he mainly works on his farmland, he is receiving more and more benefit from the emerging travel in Miao People’s Valley. His annual income has doubled from years before the village was opened to travelers.

On asking about whether he would go to live in big cities when he earned enough money, the middle aged man answered honestly that he wouldn’t. What has drawn those city people here is something that you can’t buy with money, as Long explained.

Indeed, the pristine lifestyles of Miao people here is admired by travelers and their loyalty to tradition is something city dwellers do not possess.

My wish upon leaving the village is not that I could stay longer, but that our visit, or any other tourist’s visit in the future, does not taint the originality of Miao People’s Valley and its residents.

The pristine vistas of the Miao People’s Valley.

A buffalo skull is hung on the banner of the stone cave gate to show the dominance of the Miao leader.

Tourists have to get on a bamboo raft and flow to the entrance of the stone cave before entering the village.

Water drips down from the stone walls of the cave.

Girls dressed in Miao costumes offer us homemade rice wine to welcome us.

A woman with her small child in the wooden basket on her back, walks down the cobble stone path in Miao People’s Village.

Source from China.com.cn arranged by Aileen