The International Steam Pages

Shibanxi Holiday 2009 - Another viewpoint on Bagou

Click here for the main Shibanxi Holiday 2009 page.

Our old friend Peter Nettleship joined us for the second half of our Shibanxi Holiday. It was only his second visit to the line, having been with us in 2007 when we completed our filming for our Shibanxi Heaven DVD. Not only does he star as a walk on extra in one clip, he kindly also recorded the commentary for it. Here's how he spend one morning in Bagou:

I’d spent two arduous days on long and challenging walks (both vertically and horizontally) with Rob and Yuehong, so despite the sunshine, I decided on a modest approach to photographing the mid-morning passenger train. A mere 150 or so steps up the mountainside brought me to the courtyard of a lovely house overlooking the valley with the railway line on an open stretch of the embankment on the opposite side, right in the sun. Despite not speaking a word of Chinese I was immediately greeted by:

A bench to sit on in the shade;
A large and continually refilled glass of tea;
The offer of a packet of cigarettes;
The opportunity to take gorgeous pictures of the small grandson demolishing a large choc-ice, mostly across his face.

This was closely followed by more excellent 'people pics' of the grandfather using an lovely old-fashioned plane to fashion a new axe handle, the mother cooking on a traditional open-fire wok in the kitchen, their tiny kitten and, of course, the obligatory shots of the family pigs.

I was almost sorry when the train came...

It was a typical Bagou family, and typical Bagou hospitality. People here are so friendly and open to foreign visitors. And, being a small place, you soon get to know many of the local characters, and they you. Of course, there are a few who do not wish to have their photos taken – which one immediately respects – but they are vastly outnumbered by those who are only too keen to take part in either candid or posed shots. And, let’s face it, there’s plenty of time between trains.

There's a new shot round every corner in Bagou: On the way back, I happened across four large pigs being 'persuaded' down a flight of stone steps.... To say they were reluctant would be putting it mildly: One refused completely. Did they know the slaughterhouse was just across the river?

You have to be careful though: Later in the day, on the other side of the valley, I got so engrossed in photographing an almost-cooperative butterfly – another spectacular speciality of the region – I nearly missed getting the train coming back from Huangcun…

As must have been made clear already by Rob’s own descriptions, both the Tian-ya guest house and the restaurant we’ve been using have looked after us extremely well. And the facilities are comfortable, if not quite up to the highest international standards. But the biggest plus is the prices: An ensuite room, simple noodle breakfast, a substantial and tasty multi-course Chinese dinner, and enough beer to sink a Dickinson comes out at well under ten pounds a day per person. Oh – and that includes our standard ‘packed lunch’ of a whole roast duck and a kilo of fresh lychees to share between the three of us… The longer you stay here, the more money you save, compared to living in the ‘civilised’ west.

And it’s so easy – even in 2009 -- to get to a real, living, narrow gauge steam train: By using the direct KLM flight from Amsterdam to Chengdu, exactly twenty-three hours elapsed between the time I left home in north-east London for City airport, and leaving Shixi station on the train up to join Rob and Yuehong in Bagou. Less than one day in time to travel back fifty years in history…

Rob Dickinson