Friday the 21st of December saw use rising at eight in the morning in our anonymous hotel room in Fugong. I couldn’t tell if it was light or not as we had no outside window, and when I first woke up in the early hours I couldn’t remember where I was for a few moments until suddenly I realised – “Blimey,
I’m in the Nujiang Valley!”
We didn’t muck around – straight up, get dressed, and out on to the chilly street to grab the standard Chinese breakfast of doujiang (warm soy milk), youtiao (fried dough sticks) and mantou (steamed bread rolls) from a grotty place on the main road. A minivan with a sign showing he was off to Gongshan was already waiting on the street so we piled in and set off for the next leg up the Nujiang valley.
From Fugong, the scenery just got better and better.
The river twisted and turned, but was essentially placid, sometimes looking more like a long thin aquamarine lake than a great river. The valley sides became steeper and there were huge crags and mountains rising beyond – Burma was only a few km away over the crest of these green hills. We past the famous Stone Moon Hill (Shi Yueliang, 石月亮) – a massive ridge with a circle-shaped hole in the rock. And at one point I looked down in to the river to see canoeists paddling away – but they were too far away to see if they were westerners or Chinese.
Our fellow passengers were an outgoing young couple who talked and talked – sometimes to us, sometimes to each other. He told us we’d arrived just in time to see the Christmas celebrations among all the Christians in the valley – he called it something like Kerfoo Jie instead of the standard Chinese name of Shendang Jie. He also went on at length about how he’d been around a bit – to Malaysia etc, but “When I have the money I haven’t the time, and vice versa”.
The driver was fairly whizzing along and I noticed he had Christmas glitter decorating his rear view mirror. And when his mobile went off the ringtone was the tune of the Christmas carol: “The First Noel …” All very surreal.
Noticed quite a few timber logging yards along the way, presumably processing what’s left of the forests of Burma a few km away – and had to admire the engineers who installed the ugly power pylons way up high in the valley – how did they ever get access to those high ridges, never mind string high tension power lines over such huge distances and heights?
We eventually arrived at Gongshan just after lunchtime, and the first thing I noticed was how cold it was after the almost subtropical mildness of Liuku. The other notable thing about this ugly place was how small and inconsequential it seemed - but at least the people seemed quite friendly. A vivacious Lisu girl in the street front restaurant served us up with beef noodles as we sat shivering, and fired curious questions about us as we slurped.
Feeling slightly disappointed at this hopeless-looking end of the line town, I decided to press on to Bingzhongluo, where my Chinese guidebook said there was another “fine hotel” – can’t be any worse than Gongshan, I thought.
I’d envisaged Bingzhongluo to be a hillside community of log cabins, after reading a 1980s book on the Lisu and Nu people. But as we rounded the last corner of the road above the epic and sweeping “First Bend of the Nujiang” (itself a notable sight), I saw that BZL, as we shall call it from now on, was just yet another ugly Chinese frontier town.
To be precise, it was a single street eyesore in a spectacular location. At first, I felt a bit let down after paying the 50 kuai “Scenic Area Entrance Fee”, but the scenery really did change my mind.
First Bend of the Nujiang:
Bingzhongluo overlooking the Nu river:
Bingzhongluo, looking north: