The Architecture of Mongol Ethnic Group

Nowadays, most Mongols live in modern apartment blocks or fixed residences. However, you’ll still find plenty of Mongol people maintaining their nomadic heritage and living on the grasslands in a type of portable domed tent known as a ger or yurt. Some people even alternate between the two; living in urban housing for part of the year and then shifting to a ger in order to tend to their livestock. The use of these unusual abodes dates back to the time of the mighty Genghis Khan, roughly around about the 12th century. With their bright white exteriors and perfectly rounded shape, these magnificent gers look like glittering pearls scattered across the jade-hued grasslands.

They are made by first erecting a series of wooden lattice frames into a circular shape and then securing them with rope. This forms a self-supporting cylinder that is approximately head height. A door frame is then fitted at the front, while roof poles are used to give extra support. Finally, a canvas typically made from sheep’s wool is drawn across the wooden skeleton and the ger is complete. To give the ger additional stability during inclement weather, a heavy weight is suspended from the centre roof pole.

The ger is ideal for both warm summers and harsh winters, since it is spacious, well-ventilated, but also well-insulated. Its conical roof is perfect for shedding rain, its white exterior is designed to reflect the sunlight during the peak of summer, and its ground-hugging base protects it against strong winds. Smaller gers are typically designed to accommodate up to 10 people, while larger ones can house over 20! Skilled Mongols can erect a ger within half an hour and dismantle it just as quickly, making it the ideal home for the wandering nomad. Once packed up on the back of a yak or camel, it can be easily transported to the next destination. In short, it’s the original mobile-home!

According to tradition, the door to the ger should typically face south and the interior layout should be separated into approximately eight sections: the north, northwest, west, southwest, northeast, east, southeast, and centre. In the northern quarters, there is usually an eight-legged table that is used for keeping cosy quilts, exquisite rugs, and other clothing items. Men’s clothes must be placed above women’s clothes and it is considered taboo to put the neck of any piece of clothing facing the doorway, as this is a practice reserved for the deceased.

The northwest is a holy area reserved solely for Buddha. It is resplendent with shrines and niches, all containing Buddhist statues that have been safely locked away. During religious festivals, the occupants of the ger will light candles and make offerings to these statues while praying for wealth, longevity, and good fortune. The wild western quarter is designated as the man’s private kingdom, full of guns, knives, saddles, and wrestling gear.

The southwest is where yoghurt tanks and more saddles are kept, while the northeast houses cases of women’s clothes and jewellery. The eastern quarter acts as a sort of makeshift pantry, with meat, vegetables, fruits, and cooking utensils arranged into tiers on a special rack to keep them separate. The southeast is a much more flexible area, as it can be utilised in a number of ways depending on the season. In spring, it is filled with water buckets and dried cow’s dung, which is burned as fuel. During summer and autumn, a yoghurt tank and various clay utensils are added for the making of milk products. Under emergency circumstances, it is sometimes even used as a shelter for newly-born calves!

Finally the centre, arguably the most significant section of the ger, is reserved for the fire stove. After a ger has been erected, the first thing that the occupants must do is decide on the position of the stove. Fire is the lifeblood of any Mongolian household, as it provides the means to boil water for tea, cook family meals, or simply keep the ger warm. For this reason, it is of paramount importance that the stove is positioned correctly within the ger.

If you happen to be visiting a ger, there are a number of customs and taboos that you should be aware of. One must not approach a ger by automobile or on horseback within a certain radius. Touching the entryway or the centre roof poles of the ger is deemed impolite. Never step on or over a saddle, as the Mongols’ have a deep-rooted reverence for the horse and damaging or disregarding a saddle is considered highly disrespectful. Similarly, you shouldn’t sit in front of or near Buddhist shrines out of respect for the Buddha. Lastly, you should only take a seat after being invited to do so by your host, with male and female guests sitting separately. Remember, while the Mongols are renowned for their warm-hearted nature, these are the descendants of Genghis Khan, so the last thing you want to do is offend them!

Other Customs of Uyghur Ethnic Minority

The customs and taboos of the Uyghur ethnic minority have been informed primarily by their rich history and their pious belief in Islam. When receiving guests, the host will typically offer them the best seats, treat them to some tea or milk, and then provide them with some small snacks, such as dried fruit or sweetmeats. If you are offered a drink, be sure to take the cup with both hands as this is a sign of courtesy. The same applies if you are being offered a gift.

When dinner is ready to be served, the host will bring a kettle of water and invite the guests to wash their hands. This is because many Uyghur signature dishes, such as zhuafan or “hand rice”, are eaten with the hands or using a piece of naan bread rather than with cutlery. It is important to note that you should never place the naan bread upside down while eating it. According to their Islamic faith, Uyghurs are forbidden from eating pork and they also cannot eat any animal that has not been killed by a butcher in the traditional halal way.

When it comes to dining etiquette, it is considered extremely rude for a guest to fiddle with the food in their dish, put back any food that they’ve taken, or leave some food in their bowl. If any food is dropped during the meal, the guest should quietly pick it up and wrap it in a tissue. Once the meal is finished, the elderly members of the household will lead the group in a profound act of worship known as a Dua[1]. Guests should remain in their seats and try to stay as still as possible during the Dua.

 

[1]Dua: The term “dua” is an Arabic word that roughly translates to mean “supplication” or “invocation”. Within the Islamic faith, it is an act of worship whereby the worshipper calls out to Allah and expresses their devotedness to him.

 

Join a travel with us to discover the Culture of Uyghur Ethnic Minority: Explore the Silk Road in China

The Tibetan Customs

Much like the environment in which they live, the customs of the Tibetan ethnic minority are marked by their elegance, solemnity, and deep spirituality. This is most often seen in the traditions surrounding a ceremonial white scarf, known as a hada[1]. The hada features in both traditional Tibetan and Mongolian culture, but plays a vastly different role in each. In Tibet, it evolved out of the ancient custom of adorning statues of deities with clothes. The white hada symbolises purity, faithfulness, and respect to the receiver. It is a common courtesy afforded to everyone, no matter their rank or background.

The hada itself is made of loosely woven silk and features a range of patterns, which have auspicious or symbolic meanings. They can be as short as 50 centimetres (20 in) and as long as 4 metres (13 ft.). While most hada are white, there is a special version that is made up of five different colours: blue to represent the air; white to symbolise water; yellow to signify the earth; green to denote nature; and red to indicate fire. This five-coloured hada is considered to be the cloth of the Buddha and, as such, it must only be given on exceedingly important occasions. It is a highly valued gift that is exclusively offered to statues of the Buddha, eminent monks, or intimate relatives.

The white hada is customarily offered during a variety of occasions, from regular greetings and temple visits to marriage ceremonies and funerals. In some cases, Tibetans will even leave behind a hada near their seat in a temple to signify that, although they have physically left, their heart remains. When presenting a hada, the giver typically takes the scarf in both hands, lifts it to the shoulder height of the recipient, extends their arms, bends over, and passes it to the recipient, taking care to ensure that their head is level with the hada. To show respect, the recipient should accept the hada with both hands. It is also considered acceptable to place the hada around someone’s neck if they are your social peers or juniors, but seniors or elders should have the hada placed in front of their seats or at their feet as a mark of deference.
The practice of giving hada is so centric to Tibetan culture that, whenever a person leaves the house, they will carry several hada with them in case an opportunity arises where they might be expected to offer one. When writing letters, they will even enclose a miniature hada in the envelope! In most contexts, the hada is designed to extend good wishes and respect, but its significance may change slightly depending on the context. During festivals, a hada is exchanged to wish the recipient a happy holiday. At weddings, the bride and groom are presented with hada in the hopes that they will have everlasting harmony and a bright future together. At funerals, the family present hada to the guests so that the Buddha may bless them and the guests offer hada to the grieving relatives in order to express their condolences.

Aside from the hada, there is a strict etiquette in Tibetan culture surrounding the act of greeting. When visiting relatives, it is customary for the visitor to carry a basket filled with gifts, a thermos flask of buttered tea, and a bucket full of chang[2]. The basket should be covered with a cloth to ensure that no one can see inside. When the guest arrives, the host and hostess will welcome them warmly before enjoying a drink of the butter tea and the chang they have brought.

After a long time spent chatting and catching up, the guest will finally present the host with their gift-basket. It is considered polite for the host to leave some of the gifts, such as food, within the basket for the guest to take back home, as this shows modesty and restraint. Not only that, but the host will be expected to add some inexpensive items to the basket, such as fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, or new clothes for the guest’s children. Most importantly of all, the host will take note of what the guest has brought so that, when they pay a visit, they can bring a gift-basket of similar value. Unlike most people, who give so that they can later receive, the Tibetans receive so that they can give!

Superstition is also a prominent feature of Tibetan culture, with numerous taboos and omens being observed. A traveller who passes by a funeral procession, a source of running water, or a person carrying a pitcher of water is said to have good luck coming their way. A vulture or owl perched on a rooftop is a sign that death or misfortune will soon befall the inhabitants. Snowfall during a wedding is believed to be a sign that the newlyweds will face many difficulties in their marriage. By contrast, snowfall during a funeral means that the family will not suffer another death for a long time. In short, don’t dream of a white wedding, wish for a white funeral!

 

 

 

[1] Hada: A hada is a narrow strip of silk or cotton that is used by Mongolian and Tibetan people as a greeting gift. Although it has little monetary value, in a nomadic culture it carries deep symbolic value, as everything must be carried on one’s person and therefore must be deemed worthy to take up precious limited space.

[2] Chang: Chang is an alcoholic beverage brewed from highland barley, millet, or rice grains. It is popular among the Tibetan and Nepalese people. Although its alcohol content is low, it produces a warming sensation that is ideal in the frozen climes of Tibet and Nepal.

 

The Tibetan Ethnic Minority

Long ago, when the earth was in its infancy, there roamed a mythical monkey known as Pha Trelgen Changchup Sempa. Even his name was imbued with deep significance, with “pha” meaning “father”, “trelgen” meaning “old monkey”, “changchup” translating to “enlightenment”, and “sempa” meaning “intention”. He settled on Mount Gongori in Tibet, where he vowed to immerse himself in meditation and pursue a life of asceticism. One day, while he sat deep in thought, he was approached by a rock ogress named Ma Drag Sinmo. She begged the monkey to marry her and made every attempt to seduce him, but he refused, as his religious discipline meant he could not yield to temptation.

In her desperation, the ogress then resorted to threats. She told the monkey that, if he would not marry her, then she would marry a demon and produce a multitude of smaller monsters, which would overrun the earth and destroy all other living creatures. Evidently she didn’t take rejection very well! The monkey despaired and, not knowing what to do, he consulted the bodhisattva[1] Avalokiteśvara. Avalokiteśvara told the monkey that this was an auspicious sign and that he was destined to marry the ogress, so he gave the couple his blessing and the two were married.

Within a few months, the ogress gave birth to six small monkeys and the elder monkey left his six children to grow up in the forest. After three years, he returned and, to his dismay, he found that they had multiplied to five hundred monkeys. The fruits of the forest were no longer enough to sustain them, and they beseeched their father to help them find food. At a loss once again, the elder monkey went back to Avalokiteśvara. The bodhisattva travelled to the sacred Mount Meru, but from here the story diverges. Some say he collected a handful of barley on the mountain, while others believe he plucked the five cereals from his own body and offered them to the elder monkey.

Regardless of how it transpired, the elder monkey planted the cereals and, after a bumper harvest, he was able to feed all of his children. As they continued to engage in agriculture and move away from the forest, the monkeys gradually lost their tails and most of their hair. They began to use tools made from bone and stone, then wove their own clothes and built their own houses. Eventually they formed a venerable civilisation, from which the Tibetan people supposedly descended. So the next time you question your own family tree, imagine how strange it would be to have a monkey and an ogress as your ancestors!

Living primarily in isolated locations throughout India, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, the Tibetan people have maintained an air of mystery that has captured the curiosity of people throughout the world. They embody a culture defined by spirituality, communion with nature, and rigid discipline. Even their language is highly stylised, with honorific and ordinary versions for most words, which are used to address superiors or inferiors respectively. The indisputable importance that religion holds for Tibetans is reflected in this language, as there is a set of higher honorific terms that are only to be used when addressing the highest sect of Buddhist lamas.

According to historical records, it is estimated that the ancestors of the Tibetan people began settling along the Yarlung Tsangpo River sometime before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). The expansive grasslands and lush pastures allowed them to easily raise and support herds of sheep, goat, and yak, which became their primary source of income. However, the harsh climate meant they could only grow certain hardier varieties of grain, such as highland barley. Thus they evolved into an ethnic group primarily composed of farmers and pastoral nomads, with a clear distinction between peasantry and the elite landowning class.

Their belief in and devotion to a higher power first manifested in the indigenous religion of Bön, which was gradually superseded by Buddhism during the 7th century. Eventually these two venerable faiths intermingled to form Tibetan Buddhism, the religion observed by the majority of Tibetans to this day. From the darkened corridors and elaborately decorated halls of the Potala Palace to the humble yurts on the craggy Tibetan Plateau, people from all walks of life carry prayer wheels, chant sutras[2], and prostrate themselves as a demonstration of their piety.

This extreme devoutness has given birth to countless stunning works of art, including intricate thangka paintings, elegant statuary, and the semi-spiritual Epic of King Gesar, which is considered to be the longest hero epic in the world. While this level of piousness might lead you to think that the Tibetan people are solemn, that’s far from the truth! Religious festivals, such as the Losar Festival and the Shoton Festival, are celebrated with lively performances of Tibetan Opera, singing, dancing, and bountiful feasts. With such a rich and vibrant culture, it’s easy to see how the lifestyle of this enigmatic ethnic group has captured the imaginations of people from across the globe.

 

 

[1] Bodhisattva: The term literally means “one whose goal is awakening”. It refers to a person who seeks enlightenment and is thus on the path to becoming a Buddha. It can be applied to anyone, from a newly inducted Buddhist to a veteran or “celestial” bodhisattva who has achieved supernatural powers through their training.

[2] Sutra: One of the sermons of the historical Buddha.

 

Read more about Tibetan Ethnic Minority:

Traditional Dress       Other Customs

 

Tibetan Traditional Dress

In spite of the hostile environment in which they live, the traditional garments of the Tibetan people are defined by their bright colours and elaborate ornamentation. Like precious stones and glimmering jewels, they stand out on the barren plains of the Tibetan plateau. Tibetans typically don long-sleeved jackets made of silk or cloth, covered by a loose robe tied at the right by a band. Nomadic herdsmen and women working in colder climates eschew the jacket in favour of sheepskin robes fringed with fur. While women tend to wear skirts with a multi-coloured apron over top and men wear trousers, they both opt for leather long-boots to combat the rocky terrain and felt or fur hats to keep themselves warm. For the sake of mobility, many Tibetans leave one or both shoulders uncovered and tie the sleeves around their waist when they are working.

Both genders usually keep their hair long, with men coiling it into a single braid on the top of their head. Girls wear their hair in one braid until they turn seventeen, at which point they plait it into two braids or multiple smaller braids as part of a coming-of-age ceremony. Ornaments play an important role in Tibetan culture, so these braids will be dripping with finery. Historically and culturally speaking, jewellery was the tool used by Tibetans to distinguish the rich from the poor. Poorer nomads would only be able to afford simple jewellery, such as coral pieces, or none at all, while richer nomads would sport silver chains, gold teeth, and large coral earrings.

In contrast to this lavish decoration, the clothes of the Tibetan monks are modest and solemn in nature. They traditionally wear a sleeveless garment known as a kasaya, which translates to mean “colour that is not pure” in Sanskrit. This is thought to derive from the fact that the kasaya is purplish red in colour, rather than being a pure primary colour. It is approximately 2.5 times the length of the human body and is wrapped around the upper body with the right shoulder exposed.

The quality and colour of the cloth used to make the kasaya varies depending on the rank and importance of the wearer. The most eminent monks will have their garments fringed with yellow silk brocade or will wear clothes made from the finest yellow silks and satins. While the style of the kasaya worn by different Tibetan Buddhist sects rarely varies, they each wear different types of hats to distinguish themselves. In short, you should be able to tell them apart at the drop of a hat!

 

Dong Ethnic Performance

 

From dusk till dawn, the villages of the Dong people are saturated with the harmonious sound of singing. This ethnic group has become famous throughout China for polyphonic folk songs known as “Dage” or Grand Songs. While some of these folk songs are accompanied by the pipa[1], most are sung without any musical accompaniment. The Dong ethnic minority have no written language, so they use folk songs to narrate their daily life, express their feelings, and keep a record of their history. All of Dong culture is preserved in these magnificent folk songs. The more songs a Dong person knows, the better educated they are considered to be. Singing is so important to the Dong people that supposedly, in the past, if a man couldn’t sing then he would struggle to find a wife!

From the age of five, children in the village will be trained by one of the accomplished local singers free of charge. These singing teachers enjoy a special status as highly revered members of the community. In short, people are always singing their praises! Depending on age and gender, villagers are separated into different choirs, and each choir is distinguished by their particular style of singing and the topics of their songs. For example, choirs of young children will sound sweet and lively, while choirs of young girls sound innocent and full of passion, and choirs of men have a depth to their voices that sounds haunting and powerful. Female choirs incorporate sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, and contraltos, and male choirs are comprised of countertenors, tenors, baritones, and basses.

The most talented singers in any Dong village make up what are called Kam Grand Choirs or Kgal Laox in the native Dong language. The Kam Grand Choir tradition is thought to have originated sometime during the Warring States Period (475BC-221 BC), making it over 2,500 years old! In 2009, it was made a World Class Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. A Kam Grand Choir is a polyphonic choir that sings without the help of a conductor or any accompanying orchestra. Most songs performed by these choirs consist of a prelude, a main body made up of several sections, and an ending.

These songs are designed to imitate the natural world, such as the chirping of insects, the gurgling of streams, the whistling of the wind, and other soothing natural sounds. The singing is meant to spur the soul and originate from the heart, while simultaneously promoting harmony between mankind and nature. The solo singing will be done by the sopranos and the bass section is sung by the rest of the choir. Depending on the style of song, the soprano section will be performed by between one and three individuals.

There are Male Choirs, Female Choirs, and Child Choirs, and each of these is further separated into four main categories based on their styles, melodies, and the content of their songs. In the Dong dialect, these four categories are called Gating, Gama, Gaxiang, and Gaji. Gating or “Choirs of Sound” perform songs that are characterised by an undulating melody and short lyrics, employing the use of several sopranos. This style of song is dedicated almost entirely to imitating the sounds of the natural world, with the famed “Cicada Song” being the finest example. Gama or “Romance Choirs” perform songs revolving around the theme of love and employ slow rhythms and soft voices to heighten their effect.

Gaxiang or “Morality Choirs” perform songs that are designed to educate, advise, or console the audience by praising virtues and condemning inappropriate behaviour. These songs have an even tune in order to draw focus to their lyrics. Finally, Gaji or “Narrative Choirs” perform songs that focus on dialogue and plot, and are characterised by slow, melancholy, or soothing tunes. The Gaji songs are some of the hardest to perform, as they require the performers to remember lengthy lyrics, complicated plots, and various key facial expressions. Usually these songs will be led by only one soprano.

Many folktales are preserved in Dong oral literature, usually in the form of songs. The focus of many popular tales re-count the leaders of past uprisings, such as Wu Mian, who led the 1378 rebellion against the Ming Dynasty during drought and famine, and Wu Jinyin, who revolted in 1740 because of a rise in grain taxes. Non-historical folktales include the two orphan brothers, Ding Lang and the dragon princess, the frog and the swallow, the dog, and the singing tree.

The best time to enjoy the singing of the Dong people is during their New Year festival, which is normally sometime between late October and early November every year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. The New Year celebrations are resplendent with lively singing competitions, joyous folk dances, and vibrant performances that are truly magnificent to behold.

 

[1] Pipa: A four-stringed plucking instrument that has a pear-shaped wooden body and anywhere from 12 to 26 frets. It is sometimes referred to as the Chinese lute.

 

Join a travel with us to enjoy the Performance of Dong Ethnic Minority:  Explore the culture of Ethnic minorities in Southeast Guizhou

Cost of Guizhou Tour

Cost pp:  £1950

Including: 11 nights of accommodation; all entrance fees to the attractions; all meals during the 9 days spent in the mountainous region of southeastern Guizhou; all transportation costs during designated tour times; the services of an English speaking guide; a pdf file with information about Dong and Miao minorities, and the destinations we will visit; help with any further travel in China following the tour.

Single sup:£2350

Please Note: the cost is based on the subscription of no less than 4 participants; the maximum number of participants being 10.

Accommodation: We will stay in 4-Star, 3-Star and local Guesthouses, as specified in the itinerary.

Note: There might not be en-suite bathrooms in the Diaojiaolou Guesthouse because of its design. In this instance, all rooms will have shared toilets and bathrooms.

Food: We will provide 3 meals per day, consisting of local Chinese food, when staying in the mountainous region of southeastern Guizhou. Our guide can help you order food while we are in Guilin.

Transportation: Mini coach

Duration: 12 days and 11 nights

 

Itinerary of Guizhou Tour

Day 1:

Arrive at Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou province. We will arrange our meeting time according to everyone’s flights.

As the landmark of Guiyang City, Jiaxiu Tower is a traditional Chinese style building built in 1598, during the Ming Dynasty.

We will visit Jiaxiu Tower in the late afternoon and then we will have dinner nearby. After dinner, you can enjoy the view of the tower at night. You may get to see some local people setting off Chinese lanterns in the square. There’s also the opportunity to walk around and get a feel for local life in a typical Chinese city. Read more about Guiyang.

Accommodation: Four-star hotel.

Note: We can meet at the airport or the hotel. If your flight is in the late evening or the night, you may feel too tired to join us, so you can miss the dinner and go to the hotel directly if you wish.

Day 2:

Travel to Xijiang from Guiyang

Xijiang nightIt will take us 3 hours from Guiyang to Kaili, where we can stop and have  lunch. After that, it will take us about 1 hour to get to the village of Xijiang.

After a guided tour around the village, we may still have some time to explore the village freely before we have dinner.

Accommodation: Diaojiaolou Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Xijiang Miao Cuisine

Day 3

Xijiang Miao Village

Xijiang lifeWe will watch a traditional performance by the Miao people in the morning. After lunch, our guide will organise a hike up the nearby South Hill so we can enjoy a panoramic view of the whole village. Once we’re finished with the hike, everyone is free to enjoy exploring the village at their leisure.

We will go to Langde Upper Miao Village in the late afternoon.

Accommodation: Diaojiaolou Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Langde Miao Cuisine

Day 4

Langde Upper Miao Village

langde01After we’ve taken our guided tour and watched the traditional performance in the centre of the village, you are free to explore the village by yourself or stay with our guide and do some shopping. This would be the ideal opportunity to pick up a few souvenirs related to the Miao ethnic minority, including their jewelry and even their traditional clothes! There are many small shops for you to choose from, but you may need an interpreter to help you translate.

In the afternoon, we will go to the town of Rongjiang.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Rongjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Day 5

Sanbao Dong Village

Sanbao is a typical Dong ethnic minority village lying on the Duliu River Bank. In the morning, we will take a short hike along the river bank. In the afternoon, we will go to the town of Congjiang.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Congjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Basha haircuttingDay 6 

The Dong Village of Yintan and the Miao Village of Basha

In the morning, while it is still beautifully quiet, we will visit the isolated village of Yintan, and then return to Congjiang for lunch.

The afternoon in Basha will be a stark contrast, as the rowdy rifle displays and music performances we will enjoy are bound to be quite noisy!

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Congjiang.

Dinner: Traditional Guizhou-style Cuisine

Day 7

xiaohuang dong villageXiaohuang Dong Village

It is time to enjoy the incredible performance of the Dong people’s Kam Grand Choirs! Let’s do it in Xiaohuang, the celebrated “Village of Songs”.

In the late afternoon, we will travel to the village of Zhaoxing.

Accommodation: Zhaoxing Guesthouse

Dinner: Traditional Zhaoxing Dong Cuisine

Day 8

Zhaoxing Dong Village

zhaoxing01We will dedicate this entire day to exploring this beautiful Dong village. In particular, the five marvelous Drum Towers are an attraction not to be missed!

In the evening, we will have  a second chance to watch a traditional Dong performance in Zhaoxing.  Their performance will be noticeably different from the one we will have seen in Xiaohuang.

Accommodation: Zhaoxing Guesthouse.

Dinner: Traditional Zhaoxing Dong Cuisine

Day 9

The famous Wind-Rain Bridge of Chengyang Dong Village.

In the morning, we will go to Chengyang, which is home to the most beautiful Wind-Rain Bridge of all the Dong villages in China.

This is the last Dong village we will visit, so please feel free to explore at your own pace and soak up the atmosphere.

Accommodation: Well-equipped hotel in Chengyang.

Dinner: Traditional Chengyang Dong Cuisine

Day 10

Guizhou moutainous villageTravel to Guilin

Guilin is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, places in China according to many tourists. It will take us 3 hours to get there, but fortunately we will get to enjoy stunning views of the mountains along the way.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Guilin

Dinner: Not included. Guests are free to explore the area and sample the local food themselves.

Day 11

Boat tour through the Karst mountains

Guilin 03The Li River, also known as Lijiang, is probably the most famous scenic spot in all of Guangxi. It is so prominent that a tableau of the Li River is featured on the Chinese 20 Yuan note. The river is surrounded by Karst Mountains, which boast such unusual shapes and verdant greenery that they have an almost mythical appearance.

We will take a bamboo raft down the Li River to experience the majesty of the Karst Mountains first hand. We will also stop to explore a natural Karst cave.

Accommodation: Three-Star hotel in Guilin

Dinner: Traditional Guangxi-style cuisine

Day 12

Once the tour has ended, you are free to head home or continue your travels in China alone. Guilin has an airport, from which you can easily fly to large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou.

If you plan on continuing your exploration of Guangxi, we strongly recommend you visit the town of Yangshuo. Resting on the Li River and surrounded by the Karst Mountains, this backpacker’s paradise is the ideal place to relax and meet a few fellow foreign travelers.

 

Highlights of Guizhou Tour

Xijiang Miao Village

xijiang01

Nestled on the northern side of Leigong Hill, surrounded by mountains covered in rich greenery and split in half by the fiercely beautiful Baishui or White Water River, Xijiang prides itself on being the largest Miao village in China, and perhaps the largest Miao village in the world. It is actually made up of a cluster of Miao villages, so it is more like a township than a village proper.

The Diaojiaolou, a kind of stilted wooden dwelling built by the Miao people, stretch up the hillsides on either side of the river. The banks of the river are connected by vast numbers of stunning Wind-Rain bridges, which look like tiny palaces hovering over the rushing water…Read more about Xijiang.

 

Langde Upper Village

langde02

There are only 500 villagers living in Langde Upper Village and all of them come from only ten different family lines. The village has become like a museum, preserving ancient buildings and local customs that have been practised by the Miao for hundreds of years.

The village rests by a stream and is nestled deep within the mountains. There are five “flower roads” that lead into the village and three wooden gatehouses, or village gates, at the northern, western and eastern entrances to the village. These roads are paved with smooth blue flagstones or rippling cobblestones that, alongside the looming stilted houses, look incredibly picturesque…Read more about Langde Upper Village.

 

Basha Miao Village

basha04

Basha is a village unlike any other in China. It is home to members of the Miao ethnic minority but it is unique amongst all other Miao communities. This is because it is the only place in China where residents are still legally allowed to own and carry guns. When the Chinese government tried to confiscate the guns from the members of Basha village, they refused and it was decided that they should be allowed to keep their rifles as part of their rich cultural heritage. To this day, visitors are welcomed with a thrilling display of expert shooting by the local men.

Due to their cautious nature, the villagers have virtually isolated themselves from the outside world. They are almost completely self-sufficient and still maintain practices and customs that date back hundreds of years…Read more about Basha.

 

Xiaohuang Dong Village

xiaohuang village

Xiaohuang is often referred to as the Village of Songs because the Dong people in this village are particularly accomplished at performing polyphonic folk songs known as “Dage” or Grand Songs. In 1996 the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China bestowed the title “the Village of China Folk Art” on Xiaohuang because of its preservation of the Dong singing tradition. Over one third of the population of Xiaohuang is made up of professional folk singers. While some folk songs are accompanied by the pipa[1], most are sung without any musical accompaniment…Read more about Xiaohuang.

 

Zhaoxing Dong Village

Zhaoxing01

Zhaoxing is one of the most famous Dong villages in China, in part due to its size but predominantly due to the fact that it has five Drum Towers. Each tower is specially named in order to promote a certain virtue, and is different in terms of its method of construction, size, height and external appearance.

According to local legend, this village was supposedly founded during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), meaning the village ancestors settled there over 840 years ago…Read more about Zhaoxing.

 

Yintan Dong Village

drum tower yintan

Obscured by misty mountains and dense green forests, Yintan is a gem largely hidden from the rest of the world. The gate is flanked by ancient Chinese yew trees, which give the village an air of mysticism as you enter. Even the name “Yintan”, meaning “Small Silver Lake”, has a certain ethereal quality to it.

Almost every household in the village has a barrel for preparing indigo dye and almost every piece of clothing worn by the locals will have been made entirely by them…Read more about Yintan.

 

Sanbao Dong Village

sanbao01

There are actually about 19 small villages that make up Sanbao, with three main villages, making it the largest Dong village in China. This cluster of villages lies along the banks of the Duliu River and is flanked by stunning banyan trees, which stretch for over a kilometre along the river’s banks. Many of them are over 300 years old!

Aside from these marvellous natural wonders, Sanbao is resplendent with stunning architecture, including a series of drum towers that have earned it accolade over the years. The magnificent Chezhai Drum Tower was built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and it has remained undamaged for over 130 years, in spite of having been built without the use of nails or rivets…Read more about Sanbao.

 

Chengyang Dong Village

Chengyang Wind-Rain bridge

The main draw to this scenic area is Chengyang Wind-Rain Bridge, which was built in 1912 and is now over 100 years old. Though there are hundreds of wind-rain bridges in the area, this one is considered the most magnificent. It is also known as Yongji or Panlong Bridge and is made up of 2 platforms, 3 piers, 5 pavilions, 19 verandas, and 3 floors, giving it the appearance more of a palace than a bridge! Read more about Chengyang.

 

Guilin Karst Mountains

Guilin 05

In China, there is a popular saying which goes “the scenery in Guilin is the greatest under heaven” (桂林山水甲天下). The lush Karst Mountains, blossoming osmanthus trees, and majestic Li River combine to make an ethereal paradise. It is no wonder that, historically, people doubted its existence! Read more about Guilin.

 

Miao Ethnic Performance

Miao performance

Performances in Miao villages will always be set to music and, when it comes to the Miao people, the lusheng[2] is the instrument of choice, although other instruments like the suona[3] and the copper drum are also popular…Read more about Miao Performance.

 

Dong Ethnic Performance

Kam Grand Choir 01

The most talented singers in any Dong village make up what are called Kam Grand Choirs. The Kam Grand Choir tradition is thought to date back all the way to the Warring States Period (475BC-221 B.C.), with a history of over 2,500 years behind it. In 2009, it was made a World Class Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

A Kam Grand Choir is a polyphonic choir that sings without the help of a conductor or any accompanying orchestra. Their songs are designed to imitate the natural world, such as the chirping of insects, the gurgling of streams, the whistling of the wind and other soothing natural sounds.

 

Diaojiaolou 

guizhou diaojiaolou

Diaojiaolou is a kind of dwelling popular among several of the ethnic minority communities throughout southern China. The word “diaojiao” (吊脚) in Chinese means “hanging feet” and “lou” (楼) means “building”, so diaojiaolou literally means “hanging feet building”. They are so named because of their unusual appearance. The history of the diaojiaolou stretches back over 500 years and they are widespread throughout Yunnan, Guangxi, Hunan, Guizhou, Hubei, and Sichuan province, but differ in appearance depending on the ethnic group who built them. During our tour, we will have the opportunity to compare the Dong-style diaojiaolou with the Miao-style diaojiaolou…Read more about Diaojiaolou.

 

Jiaxiu Tower

Jiaxiu Lou

Jiaxiu Tower has long been the symbol of Guiyang, the provincial capital of Guizhou, and yet it appears to suffer from rather mixed luck. On the one hand, the tower was supposedly responsible for the success of three Guizhou scholars in the imperial examination. On the other hand, it’s been destroyed and rebuilt six times. It is sometimes referred to as First Scholar’s Tower because the term “jiaxiu” can be interpreted to mean “first scholar” or “to come first in the imperial examinations” and the tower was initially built to encourage local scholars to study hard and perform well. While it seems it managed to achieve its aim, evidently whatever good luck the building had went to the scholars and left it with none for itself! Read more about Jiaxin Tower.

 

[1] Pipa: A four-stringed plucking instrument that has a pear-shaped wooden body and anywhere from 12 to 26 frets. It is sometimes referred to as the Chinese lute.

[2] Lusheng: A wind instrument made of multiple bamboo pipes, each fitted with a free reed, that are all in turn fitted into a large, hardwood pipe. Normally there are five or six bamboo pipes that are each of a different pitch. Air is blown into the hardwood pipe to create sound. They vary in size from small, handheld ones to ones that are several metres in length.

[3] Suona: A Chinese wind instrument. It is made up of a horn with a double reed that makes a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound. It comes in several sizes and the size of the horn affects the sound it makes. It is used throughout China in ritual music and folk music.

Zhuang Traditional Dress

Zhuang dress

The Zhuang women have become particularly self-sufficient when it comes to making their own clothes. They grow and harvest cotton, which they then spin into thread and weave into cloth. They dye the cloth using locally sourced plants or vegetables and embroider it with great skill. At this rate, they could practically start their own clothing range!

Since the Zhuang population is so widespread and diverse, their traditional dress varies greatly from region to region but tends to be characterised by the use of muted colours such as black, blue and brown. Throughout Guangxi the men typically wear a collarless jacket that either buttons up the centre or the right side. They wear loose trousers that are sometimes embroidered at the hem and occasionally will don a round cap or formal hat.

The women in northwest Guangxi tend to wear collarless, embroidered jackets that button along the left side with either wide trousers or pleated skirts. Married women will wear embroidered belts or will have a band embroidered around their jacket. In southwest Guangxi the women also wear collarless jackets that button up the left side but prefer to wear black square headbands and loose trousers. Most women will complement their outfits with silver jewellery and some wear a variety of beautiful turbans or headscarves on festival occasions. These vibrant headscarves can be so large that they practically dwarf the wearer and look like colourful fans atop the women’s heads.