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Beyond the Great Wall of China

  • Beyond the Great Wall of China

Vikram Kanwar

Boys in ethnic attire playing traditional musical instruments. Girls clad in striking red gowns dancing to tribal music. They can be seen serving the guests some warm homemade brew from the bowls they hold. This is a customary welcome as one enters some eatery hubs in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province in south-west China. Relatively unknown to foreign travellers, Guizhou boasts of waterfalls, lakes, caves and breathtaking natural landscapes. Home to 54 of the 56 ethnic communities in the country, the province offers a unique blend of culture and modernity. The fusion is mostly visible in the food delicacies locals enjoy.

High-rise buildings dot Guiyang. However, a visit to the provincial museum in Guiyang gives an insight into the rich cultural heritage. Opened in 1958, it has around 2 lakh artefacts, including priceless remains of jewellery and clothes that the ancestors here wore. Drinking horns with animal engravings are an alluring possession! One can also find replica of an ancient Chinese house here. Then there are the ‘Twin Towers’, resembling the iconic New York skyscrapers that were attacked in 9/11 terror.

The Big Data Centre lives up to its name in terms of mammoth infrastructure and technological advancement. The provincial regime is hard-selling it to global IT giants — Apple joined last year — as a “safe” and “cost-efficient” haven to keep data servers.

After Guiyang, a three-hour drive through an impressive hill expressway, mostly tunnelled or passing over bridges, takes one to Anshun. On the city’s gateway lies 1,564-metre-long Baling Bridge which, when built, was China’s largest single span suspension bridge and sixth largest in the world. The Huangguoshu waterfall, a cluster of 18 waterfalls with a combined width of 101 m (widest in Asia), is next destination. The giant fall’s deafening roar can be experienced from the Wang Shui Ting viewing platform. To reach there, one needs to trek a few-km up-and-downhill, along the Baishui river. Hard to miss en route is the wooden pedestrian embankment. The steep uphill escalator, which spares one the arduous walk to starting point, is worth the experience too.

Next comes Pingtang, base camp for China’s Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST), world’s largest single-dish marvel. Unending technical firsts apart, the astronomical wonder deserves credit for its design amid a natural depression between hills. Nicknamed ‘Heavenly Eye’, it is out of bounds for visitors, who can only view it from a hilltop. Carrying smartphones and other gadgets are prohibited. The telescope is said to have already discovered 44 pulsars (rotating neutron stars). Due to its massive size, FAST is said to have a diameter of 30 football fields — and extreme sensitivity. It is believed that it will soon engage with aliens. Alike FAST, Aamir Khan-starrer PK, based on alien life, was also a major hit in China. PK released in 2014 while FAST was launched in 2016.

The last on the itinerary is Libo which, unlike Guiyang, has taken pride in preserving old architecture. Even toll plazas have adorned primitive roof style. Libo is famous for Xiaoqikong seven-hole bridge, a Unesco heritage site, a 68-step waterfall and an adjoining forest park, attracting lots of tourists round the year.

Like Libo, most parts of Guizhou have a temperature of around 15º C. With tourism its mainstay, the province has emphasis on preserving and developing its abundant ecological resources, about 92 per cent of which are mountains, hills, lakes and caves. Perhaps this effort has earned landlocked Guizhou the sobriquet of ‘China’s Switzerland’!

Travel tips

  • How to reach: There are no direct flights to Guizhou. One has to reach Guangzhou, and then take connecting two-hour flight to Guizhou capital Guiyang.
  • What to reach: Guizhou has lots to offer to non-vegetarians while vegetarians can be left a sulking lot.
  • Guided tour: Language is a major barrier, so having a Mandarin guide is imperative. For those who can’t afford one, language translator app can be of some help.
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