Wind and Rain Bridges&Drum Towers

Before we into the main body part, please allow me to introduce a mysteryious county – Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where is situated at the border areas of Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. In the areas along the rivers and brooks, the folk buildings of the Dong nationality could be observed, which are wooden houses with abundant ethnic features absorbed inside. These buildings are also rich in the Dong traditional folk culture and characterized by a strong shroud of mystery, as a result, they are very attractive to visitors.   

The Climate in Sanjiang Area
Sanjiang County is situated in low latitude area, which has a subtropical and humid climate. The annual average temperature is between 17 to 19 degrees. Rains and hot weather are usually existing at the same time and there are distinct summer and winter here. In the dawn and dusk, there are always fogs and all through the four seasons of the year the climate is good enough to do farm work. In spring, there are often cold and rainy drizzle days, in summer there are mostly heavy rains and high temperatures, in autumn it is quite often to have draught and in winter there are frost sometimes.

Spring begins from middle March and ends in middle May, then comes the hot sumer , autumn comes at late September, and from the beginning of December to March next year is cold winter. During the year, the coldest time comes in January with an average temperature of 7.1 degrees and the hottest time is in July with an average temperature of 27.4 degrees.

The Drum Towers of the Dong Nationality

The topography of Sanjiang County is characterized by mainly low hills and downlands, and vast mountains and hills are also widely distributed , winding fluctuantly in this area. The main inhabitants here are the Dong ethnic group, who account for 53.6 percent of the local population. As the Dong people are characterized by their strong and unique ethnic features in aspects of food, clothing , housing and transportation and there are imposing and splendid natural sceneries as well as abundant and colorful traditional festivals here, Sanjiang County has become a hot tourism destination for visitors to enjoy and appreciate the unique ethnic culture and beautiful natural scenery in the middle part of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. As soon as arriving in this county which is under the jurisdiction of Liuzhou City, visitors can not only immediately feel the strong and peculiar Dong ethnic folk culture, but also the unique and universally acclaimed architectural art here. Whenever walking into a Dong ethnic village, the first things coming into sight are the Wind and Rain Bridges and drum towers, which are well known for their unique architectural styles, exquisite structures and imposing and splendid appearances.

Drum towers are architectures of the Dong people with very unique styles, and they are widely distributed in the border areas of Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. Tall drum towers stand in the Dong villages, looking quite imposing and splendid. From the bottom to the top, decorated by sagging eaves , there are many steps leading to the top , just like a big tower. On the tiles and eaves, there are colorful paintings and carvings of mountains, rivers, flowers, dragons , phoenix , birds , and people clad in ancient clothes scattered in clouds and mists , creating a very colorful and imposing atmosphere. The drum tower in Gaozeng Dong Village of Congjiang County Guizhou Province is more than 20 meters high , with 13 storeys. In Jintang Dong village of Liping County Guizhou Province, there are three drum towers in one single village, which is very unique and creates a magnificent atmosphere.

What Time did the Dong People Begin to Build Drum Towers? 

As there are no written records of this, the answer is still unknown. However, the Dong people have been told from generation to generation that there have been drum towers ever since the construction of Dong villages in ancient times. According to historical records from the reign of Emperor Yongzheng in the Qing Dynasty(1644AD-1911AD), the Dong people at that time put big pieces of woods in the grounds as the base and then constructed high towers, and the singers slept inside at night. From this we conclude that there have been drum towers from as early as the end of the Ming Dynasty(1368-1644) and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty. From ancient times, the Dong people have always been densely inhabited in different villages, the biggest one of which includes more than one thousand families, and in the smaller ones, there are thirty to fifty families. The drum towers are usually constructed by families with the same family names, that means that there could be several drum towers in one single village if there are different groups of families here sharing different family names. The Jitang Dong village mentioned above is one such example, which is very common in the Dong villages.

The Building Materials of the Drum Tower 

The building materials of the drum tower are the woods of firs. There is the main column in the center of the tower, and different parts are strongly connected with each other . People can get to the stop by the steps. The drum towers all have complete wooden structures , no nails are used here. However, the whole structure is very strong and could stand there for hundreds of years without leaning or rotting. The exquisite and excellent architectural techniques of the Dong artisans are vividly embodied by the drum towers.

The main column and the woods of other important parts are chosen by the prestigious and respectable seniors among the Dong people. Only those trees which are with good quality woods, bulky, tall, and old could be used as building materials of the drum towers. The woods  which have been chosen by the seniors are marked with signs, and those without signs cannot be used. As a result, the tree which provides the marked woods is considered to be the king of all fir trees. Judging from the meaning of the name, it is believed that the Dong people in ancient time built drum towers in order to place their drums inside. Therefore in the Dong villages where there was a tower, there was  always a drum inside, and where there was a drum, there must be a tower constructed for the drum. As time went on, people just called this structure drum tower. The drums inside the towers are usually made from birch woods, as a result there comes the nickname birch drum. The drum is always placed at the top of the tower. In the history of the Dong nationality, whenever there were important events needing to be discussed , agreements needing to be reached, invading enemies needing to be beat back, the Dong people hit the drum to assemble all the villagers. The drum was always hit by the leader of the village . When hearing the sounds of the drum, all villagers gathered together in a very short time. At normal times, people were usually not allowed to climb the drum tower if there were no important events.

The bottom part of the drum tower is in a square shape, with long benches surrounding the building, and a fire pit is placed in the central part.In front of the entrance, it is the place to celebrate the new year and other important festivals of the Dong nationality. In summer when it is very hot, all the villagers including men and women, young and old, come to the drum tower , chatting with each other in the shade. In cold winters, they come to sit around the fire pit, sing songs, play musical instruments, and share interesting stories. The Dong people have the custom of sitting on the benches of the drum tower, especially during the Spring Festival, in each of the Dong village, all people gather together at the square in front of the drum tower, singing songs accompanied by playing their own unique instrument Lusheng ,which  is a reed-pipe wind instrument. Also they perform their own operas, the contents of which are based on the traditional folk legends and stories of the Dong nationality.

The drum tower is also the place where the old people teach songs, the young people sing songs,the children learn songs, and the old artists teach and make operas. The Dong villages are always well known as the Sea of Songs, which is quite reasonable. Their songs not only have very beautiful and attractive melodies, but also have very compact and inseparate contents. There are various forms when singing, especially there are harmonious singing styles combined together when different people sing together, which is very unique and special among all the ethnic groups in China. The Dong operas have been developed on the basis of songs and it is widely loved by the Dong people.

The Delicious Food of the Dong Nationality

The local Dong people like to make their special oil-tea, which is the inevitable food at all the three meals a day in some Dong families. When making it, the Dong people first boil the oil-tea leaves with different seasonings in water, then filter out the leaves and put the main food inside before eating it. The food could be anything, such as raw rice, noodles made from rice and fried rice, and so on. Anything that could be eaten by human beings could be put into the boiled oil-tea as the main food. There is also another kind of food which is called sour fish, and it is quite delicious. However, not everybody can get accustomed to its special flavor. Usually the oil-tea is eaten at breakfast, and sticky rice food and peanuts are often put into the oil-tea to make it more delicious.

As the popular saying goes that the Dong people cannot live without sour food, they love to eat sour dishes very much, which mainly include sour fish, sour meat, sour ducks, sour vegetables, etc. All of these are very important dishes for the Dong people to treat their distinguished guests. If the host like the guest very much, the first meal in the Dong family to treat the guest will be the above-mentioned sour dishes , in the meanwhile, the self-made sweet wines are also served, which is their own special way of welcoming the distinguished guests.

In fact, the flavors of sour dishes are very special, especially the dish of raw fish, and there is no such food in any other places of China. The Dong dishes all have very strong taste, however, most visitors can get used to it and they will never forget the special flavor of the Dong food in their future life.

Qarhan Salt Lake – Where you can see Salt Wonders

Qarhan Salt Lake,is the largest salt lake belonging to the Qaidam Basin, where located in the salt marshes of the Qaidam Basin near the Mongol-Tibetan prefecture city of Haixi in the northeastern part of Qinghai Province, and It is called China’s Salt Lake City. Qarhan Salt Lake is also the country’s largest salt lake and, in fact, is one of the most famous inland salt lakes in the world.

Although the Qaidam Basin is a low-lying marsh, it is situated on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau at an altitude of 2670 meters. The lake, oriented on an east-west axis, is 160 kilometers in length and varies in width from 20-40 kilometers, while the lake’s depth varies from 20 meters to a mere 2 meters.

As a natural resource for a number of important minerals, Qarhan Salt Lake is famous for its deposits of

sodium chloride – with a reserve of more than 50,000,000,000 tons, Qarhan Salt Lake can keep the entire world supplied in salt for the next 1000 years,

carnallite – a glittering, translucent ore of potassium (KMgCl3•6H2O) used in the manufacture of potash salts, carnallite comes in a whitish, brownish or reddish mineral form,

potassium, magnesium, lithium, boron and iodine.

Not surprisingly, the area around Qarhan Salt Lake produces so-called pearl salt, a product dubbed the “King of Salt Lake”, a pure salt that is as white as driven snow, and glitters like jade. The Qarhan Salt Lake area is also home to the Qinghai Potassium Fertilizer Factory, which is located on the lakefront and is one of the largest suppliers of artificial fertilizers in the country, with an annual output of 1,000,000 tons.

The word “Qarhan” is Mongolian, meaning “salt marsh”. Located in a hyper-arid basin that is extremely hot and dry, and with long days, the amount of evaporation from the lake far exceeds the amount of rainfall for a comparable water surface elsewhere. Indeed, Qaidam Basin is itself endorheic, with no inflow of water from the outside except for runoff surface water that accumulates in the marsh and its lakes. The lakes have therefore shrunk over time, and this shrinkage is also due partly to the lakes’ (marshes’) briny water which crystallizes into salt under the searing heat, leaving a hard, sloped rim in the form of a salt bed that rings the present-day lakes, including Qarhan Salt Lake.

Though the terrain surrounding Qarhan Salt Lake is flat and desolate, the landscape is nevertheless interesting and unique. The lake itself, though devoid of fish, is home to a few special plants that grow in abundance here. For example, there is a species of flowering plant here that produce flowers in various suggestive shapes such as corals, gems, pagodas and even shapes reminiscent of certain constellations in the night sky. On a clear, calm, sunny day, the sun’s reflection on the placid lake brings to mind the image of a mirror, and on days when the wind blows, the lake seems to be alive with dancing reflections that glisten with the heaving movements of the lake, creating a mirage that will fool you into believing that you are gazing at an ocean instead of a lake. The beauty of the lake at such times, enhanced by the salt flowers – known locally as “the blue flowers” – is truly compelling.

The best time to visit Qarhan Salt Lake is from spring to autumn, i.e., from April to October.

How to get there:

You can arrive at the lake by a regional bus, while there is a special, small train which runs around the lake, offering splendid views of the marsh in general and of the lake in particular. You can take at minimum recommended time ½ day for visiting. 

Lijiang Weather

The overarching factor that affects the weather of the entire area, including most of Yunnan Province and parts of neighboring Myanmar and Sichuan Province, as well as Arunachai Pradesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet (Tibet Autonomous Region), is that it is a highland plateau situated at a low latitude, very near the Tropic of Cancer. The peculiar combination of a high altitude – meaning a tendency toward cooler temperatures and clear, sunny skies – and a low latitude – meaning a tendency toward a hotter, more humid weather pattern – results in, for the most part, a climate that is characterized by cooler summers and warmer winters, combined with heavy rains in the monsoon period, but relatively clear weather throughout the rest of the year.

The exceptions to this general pattern are mountain tops, where it is cold year round (sometimes snow-capped year round as well), and the bases of deep gorges, which vary depending on whether they are located in the north of the province or farther south: deep gorges located to the north have hot, dry subtropical climates while deep gorges to the south have hot, humid subtropical climates, such as the climate around the wild elephant reserve, Xishuangbanna.

Another regularity regarding the climate of Lijiang, and Yunnan Province in general, is that the temperature swing is greater on a daily basis than it is on a season-to-season basis, meaning that layered clothing– at least the use of warm outer clothing in the mornings and evenings – is imperative.

The area around Lijiang in the north is the most typical for the province, with cooler summers and warmer winters, and with heavy rains concentrated in a distinct monsoon period, which makes the area very accessible to the tourist year round except for the worst parts of the monsoon period. Lijiang’s rainy season begins in May and ends in October, with the heaviest and most recurrent rainfall periods (some locals would swear that they can set their clocks by it) occurring during July and August, meaning that this is hardly the ideal time of year to visit the Lijiang area.

But like all highland areas that are bordered by mountains, the weather, due to highly fluctuating heat and wind patterns (the Indian Ocean to the south has great influence over the winds arriving here, including their temperature and water content), can change several times in a single day. In fact, there is an apt saying in the north of Yunnan Province that captures this climatic instability: “in the north of Yunnan Province, you can experience all four seasons within the span of a single day!”

The Weather in Diqing

The prefecture named Diqing, also alternately called Deqen Prefecture, Zhongdian and Shangri-la, is an idyllic meadowland, dissected by the Three Parallel Rivers (the Yangtze (locally called the Jinsha), the Mekong (locally called the Lacang) and the Salween (locally called the Nujiang)), and surrounded by mountains, which is how the mythical land called Shangri-la – now believed to be identified as the prefecture of Diqing – is described in the 1933 novel, Lost Horizon, by the British author and adventurer, James Hilton.

Diqing lies on the southern extremity of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, at an altitude of 3380 m (3696 yd), surrounded by the Nushan, the Yunling and the Gongga – aka Minya Konka – Mountains, collectively known as the Hengduan Mountain Range. Since Diqing is located at a low latitude – it is only 4.5 degrees latitude (1 degree latitude is equal to 111 km/ 69 mi) north of the Tropic of Cancer, meaning that it belongs to the subtropical zone – it can be warm, but because the prefecture is situated on a high plateau, it can be cold.

The way this odd mix actually works out as regards Diqing is that by day it is warm, while by night it is cold – seasonally, very cold indeed. This general pattern is true for all of Yunnan Province except for mountain heights (they are frigid) and deep gorges (they are tropical). In addition to the extreme daily temperature swing, there is a slight seasonal swing in temperature in the province, just as precipitation generally follows a seasonal pattern.

For example, on the mountains surrounding Diqing, the temperature in spring is rising at higher elevations, releasing water on the terrain below, but this leads to evaporation, which, by night, can result in cold mists, so Diqing nights during springtime seem as cold if not colder than during winter, and since the daytime temperature is also rising on the plateau in springtime, it feels as if the daily temperature swing is greater than it actually is, from 5-20 degrees Celsius. Summer is the warmest season and also the rainiest – unlike many other regions of the world, where spring and autumn are the seasons with the most rainfall. The daily temperature swing in the Diqing area during the summer is 15-30 degrees Celsius. The daily temperature swing in Diqing during winter is at its greatest, from below 0 to 20 degrees Celsius, with lots of snowfall on the surrounding mountains and the occasional blanket of snow in the meadowland below.

Summer and autumn are the best periods to visit Diqing. Autumn offers the usual spectacular color changes, when the leaves of the trees are ablaze with color and when Shangri-la is at its most enchanting. Regardless of when one visits the area, it is absolutely imperative to bring along clothing suitable for a hot summer day as well as a frigid winter night, as both can come into use on a daily basis.

Dali Transportation

By Air

Dali Airport is located roughly 13 kilometers east of the city of Dali. At present, there are only domestic flights to and from the city of Dali, namely, between Dali and the cities of Kunming and Xishuangbanna. Note that there is local transportation to Dali Airport from Xiaguan, a suburb of Dali, where you can reach the airport via Bus No. 7. Note also that plane tickets are available at a number of Dali’s major hotels, as well as at the travel agencies on Jianshe Road, in the suburb of Xiaguan.

Airport Inquiry Tel: (0872) 231-5335

Ticket Office Tel: (0872) 217-1999

By Rail

There is a major railway line between Dali and Kunming, and from Kunming on to Chengdu, and, of course, from Chengdu to anywhere else in China. Trains between Dali and Kunming, which operate daily, arrive at and depart from Dali’s Guangtong Railway Station. There is also a minor railway route that runs between Dali and Lijiang, and from Lijiang on to Shangri-la.

Railway Station Inquiry Tel: (0872) 232-5579

Ticket Office Tel: (0872) 216-6588

Regional Bus Service

From the regional bus station near Dali’s western gate, there are daily buses to the regional city of Zhongdian/ Shangri-la (north of Lijiang). There are also express buses to the cities of Lijiang (to the north), and to Kunming (to the east). In addition, there are minibuses from this regional bus station that serve the Dali-Lijiang route. Lastly, there is a bus that departs the same regional bus station for the city of Shaping – and its famous marketplace – every Monday morning.

Dali Municipal Bus Service

There are 17 bus routes serving the municipal area of Dali, with in all 11 buses in service, which, together with the other transportation modes outlined above and which connect the city of Dali, both regionally and nationally, to the rest of the country, make for a satisfactory and varied transportation network that meets the needs of both the indigenous population as well as visitors.