This is remote China at its most diverse and exotic. China’s Southwest is an essential counterbalance to the nation’s impatient and shrill lifestyle. Everything you expect a China trip to be can be find in the Southwest. History, mouthwatering cuisine, astonishing landscape and off-the-beaten track getaways. Nevertheless the majority of China’s ethnic tribes live in this area.

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An unpredictable future awaits the Chinese because in spite of 20 new Chinese born per minute hordes of grandfathers and grandmas are getting healthier these days thanks to modern medicine. Beijing gives way. Now, couples of whom one partner is an only child or their firstborn is not older than 3, may apply for a second child. This news is exciting for the current 1.37-billion-plus power of Han Chinese. Minorities like the Hani are not affected by the one-child policy. The problem remains, eleven million children are not reported, living a “secret” live among the residents of China, without access to health care.

About half of all Chinese citizens define themselves through their possessions, and this very half is buying the world right now. The other 50 percent (mostly farmers) will have some rice and a dollar as their daily budget. While city dwellers can count on social benefits such as health and pension insurance, China’s farmers only have a piece of land which they are allowed to cultivate. An economic adventure begins. When strolling around Yunnan’s capital Kunming, one will doubtless be impressed by all the new skyscrapers which have been built within the past decade. Kunming has become faster accessible to commuters thanks to the new express highway. As cities like Kunming are restlessly creeping in all directions, the people are getting “urbanized” while speculators are licking their fingers. With the continual relocation of millions upon millions of farmers into urban areas, a monstrous cement bubble is developing, swelling tirelessly in China.

After strolling through the urban thrill of Shanghai and Beijing, my suspicions have been confirmed; the real treasures of China hide outside the megacities.

Personally, I’d say China’s residential complexes are soulless, ugly and monotonous. As if the architectural planning had been in the responsibility of a passionate prison director. Unfortunately, even the Hani, one of the minorities inhabiting the province of Yunnan are on the way to change their lifestyle. With the youngsters being influenced from studying in the modern cities, they return home and fancy more functional concrete buildings. Thus, it’s not unusual these days to witness elderly Hani women carrying about 20-30 cement bricks on their back to build new homes. Traditionally, a Hani house consists of 3 stories, built with bamboo, mud, stones, and wood, where the animals sleep on the basement, the family shares the second floor and the harvest (such as corn or rice) is stored in the third story. However, this housing tradition is about to change very soon.

Over ninety percent of present-day Hani inhabit in the province of Yunnan in southern China, located in the Ailao Mountains, where they have created a majestic form of agriculture over the past centuries. When roaming through the world’s most beautiful rice terrace fields, one should bear in mind that this striking landscape is the result of centuries if not millennia of skilled farmer labor. According to historians, these rice terraces have been built roughly 2.500 years ago, when the ancestors of the Hani ethnicity who came down from the Tibetan Plateau started to settle here. Ever since these lands have been cultivated from generations to generations. Until now, the farmers plow their fields without the aid of any machinery. Without continuous maintenance of the terrace walls, the irrigation system which draws supply from rain water and the mountain streams, would wash down the fragile soil with ease. Although this method of growing rice has allowed Chinese farmers to cultivate sloped, hilly and mountainous land, they might only harvest once a year – In contrast to the flat lands, where it is possible to harvest rice 3 times annually. The breathtaking beauty of the scenery does not only satisfy the heart of a photographer, it’s should be on the tourist map for foreigners exploring China’s South. Yuanyang becomes every day more famous for its profound culture and the variety of natural beauty.

For those seeking picturesque nature or simply escaping the city life, venturing the 326 kilometers from Kunming up to Yuanyang pays off as soon as you’ll reach one of the several viewpoints. From there, you’ll witness the reflections of a setting sun flooding the surface of the paddies. Not just the views are stunning, also the clean air which soothes well the heavily strained lungs of a city dweller. Yunanyang’s rice terraces have been voted to one of China’s 17 most scenic places. This honor does not remain unnoticed, the touristic infrastructure is increasing steadily to make space for all the visitors. As a result, the Hani Terrace became part of the UNESCO “World Natural and Cultural Heritage” since 2013.

Dong Chuan Red Land

If coming to Yunnan, another agricultural beauty shouldn’t be missed. Especially, since Dongchuan Red Land is only a 3-4 hours bus ride away from Kunming. Although, internationally unnoticed, the pristine area slowly gets uncovered among Chinese travelers, for a reason – as it’s simply mind-boggling. The colorful fields compete easily with the world’s most striking and distinctive human-made terrains. Until now, the few visitors who venture out here will face an almost non-existent infrastructure. This will probably change quite soon, and Dong Chuan Red lands might become one of the main attractions in Yunnan province, competing with Yuanyang. However, after reaching the sleepy town of Xintian, 40km southwest of Kunming City, it couldn’t be easier to hire a driver who will get you to the most beautiful viewpoints. Even though, maneuvering through the gravel roads is already an adventure, organized trekking is a great alternative to explore the jaw-dropping landscape at a slower pace.

Gazing at the flashy red land, green white potato flowers, golden wheat and corn, blue sky and cumulus clouds, you might feel like you’re walking through a painting from Van Gogh. The extraordinary scenery can hardly be described by words, Dongchuan Red Land has to be seen with eyes. Especially after the rainy season from May to June, the farmland reveals its dreamy earth tones.

 

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