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Shibanxi Holiday 2009 - Water Heart Village

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Several people along the line had told Yuehong about an isolated and slightly unusual community who lived on the ridge on the other side of the gorge below Caiziba. By reputation they were what we in the west would call 'outlaws' who resented outsiders in any form particularly those in authority. Not surprisingly, they didn't hit it off with the communists after the revolution and it was some time before they were subdued. Their descendents are still there although their numbers are dwindling, with maybe 40 families out of more than 100 present earlier. The government would like them to move out because they are remote from services like schools and hospitals. They have been offered a 'truck road' but refused, some because they were too poor to pay but for most because it would be intrusive and they like things the way they are - the community has electricity for instance, most have a satellite dish for Chinese TV and every week or so a minivan/mobile shop comes to the foot of the path selling what few items they need.

Getting directions after the train ride from Bagou to Caiziba wasn't too difficult as the place enjoys a degree of local notoriety. We had been to the bottom of the gorge twice before using the truck road, but this time we were pointed at some stone steps which were rather more vertical and must have been the original path down. At the bottom, we had to cross the old footbridge from the truck road and join a trail suitable for two and four legged animals and maybe motorbikes too but nothing larger. 

With a more natural size of trail, the greenery on the hillside was more interesting including these large tree ferns:

The community live at the end of a ridge with each house seeming to have rather more space for growing vegetables than usual but apart from the fact that many houses are rather older than average (30 and 80 years respectively), they are nothing special to look at:

Communication for Yuehong was not easy, but the people were certainly not unfriendly. Slowly we found our way around the places on the hillside which our contacts had told us about. Firstly the site of an old temple which had seemingly been allowed to decay after the revolution and is now in the middle of a grove of bamboo. There are two gate stones in the foreground and other stones scattered around nearby. The vertical stone is at least 100 years old and tells the story of the village in 'old Chinese', some of which was beyond even Yuehong, suffice to say that 'water heart' refers to the springs in the area.

Scattered around not far away were several large old graves, the first two are about 90 and well over 100 years old, the inscription on the lower one dates it as being over 200 years old - in today's China that is truly ancient:

The best was yet to come. To maintain its self-imposed isolation, a very log time ago the village had built four gateways on the steep paths which lead to it, that on our own approach had been destroyed, the other three are said to be extant and we were directed to the one in roughly the north east corner of the settlement area. It was clear to see why outsiders had easily been kept out. The lady with Yuehong was exceptionally friendly and helpful, when her husband found out she had given a wrong answer to one question she raced down the vertical steps almost to the bottom of the gorge (nearly 200 metres!) to correct herself :

 Just below the gate is a small Buddhist temple cut into the side of a large free standing rock:

 This was the view out, back in the vague direction of Caiziba, and the remains of a bridge leading to a former coal mine at the bottom of the gorge:

Having once again descended into the gorge, we had to ascend again, parts of the trail were not exactly user friendly:

At this point the sun chose to come out again and it became extremely warm. We crossed the main truck road into the area and quickly made our way down to Mifeng for refreshment. We had missed the third train by some 45 minutes and rather than wait over two hours for the last train we decided to walk back to Bagou. I left Peter and Yuehong to walk along the railway track while I went to investigate what I believed to be an old mine above Mifeng. In fact all I found were the remains of an old tramway which vanished under the truck road in a tunnel. Without Yuehong to ask the questions, I was left to guess just where it ended up as it was very overgrown with a house next to the tunnel entrance. How many Shibanxi gricers have walked through this railway tunnel?

I joined the new truck road from Caiziba which skirted Xianrenjiao and then walked down the railway from the new bridge. On the way I bumped into a couple of delightful young ladies taking their bath. Unlike me on a previous visit, they had remembered their swimming gear.

 

It had been another fascinating day out courtesy of Yuehong. This is another hike where you do really need a Chinese speaker on board to make the most of it and find the sites. Mr. Chen, 'Mine Host' at Mifeng will be happy to escort visitors and has been to the settlement several times.


Rob Dickinson

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