On March 11, 2011 the world watched in horror as wave after wave from the Pacific swept inexorably over the north-eastern coast of Japan’s Honshu island. Those videos and images of devastation gripped the world. A scant month or so after the 3/11 tsunami, I visited Japan and found a country bereft – the swarms of tourists had abandoned it with yet another tsunami of cancellations. Japan was grieving and still coming to terms with their losses. In July 2011, I visited the epicentre – Tohoku – and amidst the colour of the Tanabata festival, found a people rebuilding, stoic and resilient and hopeful. This time, in middle of the early summer rains, I went to Tohoku again.
Perched high above and deep within Wuyuan county is a little village. No bus can negotiate the multiple hairpin turns it takes to get here. As the narrow road winds ever higher, I started to feel mildly queasy, not being one for steep winding car rides. I looked out, the forests below falling away and in the distance, only blue hills and skies. Where were we going? We were searching for canola fields but up this high no one in their right mind could be planting anything. Where would they find enough flat land? How would they transport the crops? Clearly my doubts were misplaced. For the car came to a stop and my breath caught. This is what I saw. An impossible Eden as remote as you could place it. A flower garden in the eagles’ nest. This is the ancient, tiny hamlet of Zhapingtan.
Wuyuan in spring and in the thick of the canola blooming season is packed with tourists who chase the flower trail. The well-known villages of Little Likeng, Jiangwan, Xiaoqi etc are flooded with visitors at this time of the year. We didn’t want to do the conga with everyone else and so we headed for the villages which were not quite on the tourist radar yet. Not too difficult to do since the county is quite big and the villages are quite spread out. In fact, the same scenic beauty spreads beyond Wuyuan across the border to Anhui province as well. With wheels and a driver, it was a beautiful day out exploring the path less taken but equally beautiful. Continue reading
Yellow is the colour of spring in Wuyuan county. From small garden patches to sprawling fields, canola in bloom gives Wuyuan bursts of sunny yellow and its well deserved title of China’s most beautiful villages. The landscape is classic China – ancient stone against the softness of the yellow flowers and the occasional peach blossom. On my first visit to Wuyuan years ago, I did not manage to see this, having come in April when the season was already over. This time, I was determined to see it in all its glory. And so in mid March, I made my way back to Wuyuan county. Continue reading
A dreamy version of Hangzhou’s West Lake. But the reality is a lot less serene. The shores of West Lake, particularly nearer the city, are crowded and busy and great for people watching. After Huangshan, we took the 4-hour direct bus to Hangzhou and spent a day or two there before we flew home. It wasn’t our first time to Hangzhou or to the West Lake, but like all who visit Hangzhou, the West Lake is a natural magnet. On that humid early summer’s day that we visited, the roses were in full bloom and the lakeside promenade was teeming with people. Parents, babies, the elderly, young lovers, cyclists, kite enthusiasts, everyone was out for a walk. It was the Chinese version of the Italian passegiata at sunset. Continue reading
We were lucky. We got to see Huangshan’s magnificence despite her capricious nature. She was in a playful mood, generously eager to show off all her clothes. From grey dense fog and drizzle to the dawn’s mauve sea of clouds to clear blue skies and then ethereally misty puffy clouds that dropped us right in the middle of an ink painting. Huangshan is jaw-droppingly beautiful in all weather. She truly deserves all the accolades showered on her by poets and painters and travelers ancient and contemporary. Continue reading
The hills around Hongcun are dotted with many similar ancient villages. Nanping, Lucun, etc are some of the villages worth checking out when the crowd in Hongcun gets too much. There, the tall white-washed walls and graceful swoops of dark tiled roofs that denote the Hui style are common. Many of these old towns are not on the average tourist radar and have fallen into varying states of quiet decay. As the young moved from these old villages to the big cities, the population has dwindled, leaving behind mostly elderly residents and creating an impression of lonely depletion. Or maybe it was just because of the rain that day. Continue reading