The Bamboo Ocean

I leaned out of the top level of the pagoda overlooking the Bamboo Ocean. The breeze ruffled the airy fronds that clad the towering reeds and offered me a welcome respite from the humidity of the forest. I stood there watching the limitless expanse of bamboos as if mesmerised by the unusual landscape, but in fact taking my breath after the long walk in the subtropical heat.

From that vantage point the hills appeared all covered in tall bamboos swaying at intermittent gusts of wind. The forest air had been muggy and mosquitos had attacked every square inch of exposed skin. Now the trees danced in the wind looking vaporous even in the distance, and occasionally creaked at the call and beckon of the wind.

The place was peaceful, very unlike the average Chinese tourist attraction swarmed by crowds. Only occasional individuals made it up the pagoda, took a couple of photos and left. I suddenly felt sleepy, lay down on the concrete floor and dozed off. It was sheer bliss.

The BambooOcean is one of the attractions around Chishui, my first Guizhou stop. Although in my research I had found relevant online information, come to China I wondered if the place existed at all. The people I asked in Chongqing could hardly tell me where it was, let alone answer more specific questions, such as how many days I should need to visit the various scenic spots scattered outside the town, or what means of transport I would find to get around.

Coming from the north, the road crosses the Chishui river which at that point also marks the frontier between Sichuan and Guizhou, and enters a modern tidy town, small by Chinese standards. It is a friendly place and the very first evening I had dinner at a food joint whose young boss came over to welcome me and have a chat. He and his teenage cousin are both from Sichuan, and have been in business for about three years. They contracted a bank loan to start up the eatery and now offer a choice of noodles and pasta dishes. According to the local taste, they can be as spicy as you can possibly imagine.

I had to come down on foot from the BambooOcean as no vehicles were available. On those 11 kilometres I enjoyed the view over the hills and the sparse farmhouses. A motorway is being built on the opposite side, a disruptive presence in this tranquil valley. Some day soon motorists will admire from above the beautiful landscape suddenly revealed to their fleeting passage, but villagers will be left with an encumbering cut across the wood-covered mountainside and the unsightly viaducts cutting across the valleys. On the upside, fewer lorries will ply the battered bank-side road because the motorway will be much quicker.

On the way back to Chishui I got dropped off at the old town of Bingan. It is reached by a suspension footbridge and over this couple of hundred metres you step back a century in time. The village basically consists of a single street parallel to the watercourse. The houses are scenically perched on the cliff and huddled as they are, they look like a defensive work. In the middle flow the blue waters of the river, where only locals are allowed to bathe, so a sign read. On the opposite bank, where the main road runs, a modern settlement of uniform houses has been built in the local style, but the commercial heart seems to be still in the old village. Here they sell foodstuff and everyday products while life goes on at its pace, undisturbed by the tourist status of the town.

Foreign tourism is practically non-existent in these parts. I only saw another traveller waiting for the bus, but I was too tired to strike up a conversation. Was I not jealous of sharing this experience with anyone else?