Kaili -- Scenery, Music and Southern Charm
By WU MEILING
|The Bala River Valley. |
FOR poets, she is an ancient ballad passed down through the ages,
For scholars, she conquers suffering with beauty,
But for me, her mysteries overwhelm all.
She is Kaili, Kaili, Kaili.
Kaili is the Chinese-language rendering of the Miao people’s toponym for the area and means “to plough a field.” Kaili City and its surroundings lie deep within the Miao Mountain Range of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, and it was here that one subgroup of the Miao ethnic group finally settled down after a long period of semi-nomadic wandering to a sedentary lifestyle .
Nowadays, Kaili is the capital city of Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture in Guizhou Province. The city boasts one of the highest proportions of ethnic minority inhabitants anywhere in the country.
Settlement of the Kaili region can be traced back to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 B.C.). By the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), it had adopted its present name, and “Kaili” has been synonymous with rugged beauty for 700 years since. The region’s nature and culture have been well preserved and are relatively untouched by modernity, which is why it is gaining favor as a unique tourism destination.
The Bala River: a Flowing Gallery
On the banks of the meandering Bala River are countless Miao villages. Residents have adopted the habit of singing to each other to communicate across long distances, and the river echoes with resonant melodies. The villages themselves bring to mind shining pearls bejeweling the effervescent necklace of the river, and the scenery forms a splendid outdoor art gallery overflowing with memorable facades.
Heading out from Kaili city proper, we reached our first destination in 20 minutes – Nanhua, one of the many villages along the river.
Nanhua Miao Village is halfway up a hill covered in pine trees and bamboo. The crepuscular glow cast red hues across the rows of wooden houses clinging to the hill at different heights. Houses here were built starting from the banks of the river and have gone on to hang higher and higher up the hilly backdrop. Mostly constructed of cedar, when appreciated from afar the abodes blend into their surroundings to resemble a landscape painting.
The village center is nestled between the hill on one side and the Bala River on the other. Walking toward the riparian residences, a plaque with “Nanhua Miao Village” inscribed in golden characters greets us from overhead, and a quaint bridge with twin towers and pavilions on opposing banks comes into view.
For a local history lesson, we dropped in to see the old headmaster of the village school, but met only his wife. She was eager to tell us of the renowned beauty of the local Miao womenfolk. Indeed, despite her being over 60 years old, we could still detect a healthy glint of youthful charm in her aging features. She had a full head of shining, naturally jet-black hair, and revealed she had been imbibing the essences of various local plants picked from the hillside from a young age.