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Home >> Focus on Yunnan >> Nujiang River Valley

Exploring the Nujiang River Valley

The Nujiang River, originating from the Tanggula Mountain on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, cuts thourgh the Hengduan Mountains in northwest Yunnan province. The river meanders southbound through the Gaoligong and empties eventually into the Indian Ocean east of Rangoon in Myanmar. Its entire length in China is 2, 013 kilomemres with an average width of 100 metres. Wherever it flows, people say that "You can speak to each other but it takes a day to shake hands", suggesting that people could talk across the river but to meet , they must walk a day to find a ferry crossing.

The Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture received its name from the river that flows 316 kilometres through it, cutting its way between the snowcapped Gaoligong and Biluo mountains. From a height of 1, 400 metres in the north to a low of 760 metres above sea level, the river drops an average of tow metres every two kilometres of its course. In general, the river course is 2, 000 metres lower than the mountains on both banks, creating one of he world's largest canyons that is renowned for its deep valley, towering mountains, precipitous slopes and turbulent waters. In the deep mountains flanking the valley live Lisu, Nu and Drung ethnic groups totalling 230, 000 people, with the Lisus outnumbering the other tow.

Lujiangba along its lower reaches is a good point for tourists to start. Travelling upstream from Lujiangba, all one sees along the way are large patches of sugarcane fields; the area here is considered to be the "land of fish and rice'. Further up is Liuku , capital of Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, which, at 800 metres above sea level, guards the entrance into the Nujiang River Valley. From this point upstream, the magnificence of the valley reveals itself. The most striking mode of travel in the precipitous valley is the path chiselled out from the cliffs along the river . People say that the road along the Nujiang river is risky enough to "make monkeys cry in despair and eagles turnback". Between village are many post roads, also chiselled out from the sheer cliffs.

Bridges are an inseparable part of the Nujiang valley road. Turbulent waters, however, mean most bridges are suspension bridges. Crossing-river cables are also popularly used.

Mysterious Lengends


The "Moon Stone" has been the source of many beautiful legends. On the pinnacle of the Gaoligong Mountain which stands 3, 300 metres alove sea level, is a huge hole with a diameter of about 100 metres. Viewed at a distance, the dark green peak seems shrouded in mist but the Moon Stone resembles a bright moon.

From Liuku to fugong Courty, the 135-kilometre road switches from the left bank across a bridge to come to the right bank of the river where the Lawuya Waterfall is found. Known for its gentle grace the water washes down from the towering mountain to the river, resembling a huge piece of silk hanging down. Lisu folk often come here to wash clothes or take a bath. In this section of the valley, there are numerous magnificent mountain passes, bizzare rocks, waterfalls, and rapids and shoals.

Fugong is an area with a large numer of Lisu people living in small compact communities. According to history, by the 8th century, the Lisus were already settled along the Yalong River in Sichuan and the Jinsha River that borders Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. After the 16th century, they migrated to the Lancang and Nujiang valleys in the northwest of Yunnan.
Legend says that the estuary of a huge pool below the cliffs at the foot of the east Gaoligong Mountain was guarded by a pair of little green sparrows. When local people gave parties, year after year, these green sparrows magically provided all the bowls, chopsticks, tables and chairs needed. Then a man failed to return the borrowed articles to the birds and enraged the Dragon King, who ordered that the pool be filled up. The birds turned into girls who bathed in the hot spring near the pool and departed. Consequently, early spring every year, local residents camp near the spring to offer sacrifices to the Dragon King and the magic sparrows, and bathe.

Drunk means Wealth

When the bathing festival begins, people set off firecrackers and perform the Dragon Dance to wish everyone good luck and happiness. Then follows the singing contest, poem competition, archery, and group dancing, drowning the river banks in a grand carnival.
The Lisu never celebrate any festival without a hearty drink. It is quite common for a man to drink several kilograms of spirits a day. In fact, in the past people judged each other's wealth by the numer of times they drunk daily. The more times they were drunk, the wealthier they appeared.


Burying One's Lover in Sand

On sandy beaches in Fugong county, a young man will not hesitate to throw the girl he loves into a prepared pit in the sand. The girl halfheartedly attempts to free herself but the young man whispers soft loving words to her; she then plays shy. Later, with a smile of victory and excitement, he eventually pulls the girl out of the pit and the two walk away together.
"Burying in the sand" is a way of showing love. Whether male or female, so long as one finds someone one loves, the person can be caught and buried I the sand. The Lisu believe that evil spirits must be kept away from loved ones, they remove all evil influences from the loved ones.
Then, the couple in love must go through the test of "shooting the arrow of love". The girl balances a bowl of rice with an egg on top on her head and the man will shoot an arrow at the agg from metres away. Thankfully, Lisu men are all susperb marksmen, having learned archery at a very early age.


The Nus' flower Festival

Further along the Nujiang River jammed between rolling peaks and sheer cliffs is the town of Bingzhongluo in the Gongshan Drung and Nu Autonomous County. The Nu people, numering more than 20, 000, were the earliest settlers in the Nujiang Valley arriving 1, 000 years ago.
The 15th day of the third lunar month is the Flower Festival of the Nus. In the morning of the festival day, the Nu folks set out for the Fairy Cave on the Gongdang Cliff, taking along with them sacrificial items and fresh flowers. People from all the surrounding villages pile their sacrificial items on a platform is an incense stand decorated with pine branches, fresh flowers, colourfull flags and bamboo posts crowned with corn ears. The pine branches symbolise good luck and longevity; the corn represents bumber harvests while the fresh flowersare gifts to the fairy girl called Arong. Traditional musical instruments are played and scriptures chanted.
Amidst the solemn music, fresh flowers in hand, people worship with their heads touching the ground to indicate sincerity and faith. After circling the platform while chanting prayers, the worshippers then plant the flowers among bamboo branches. When the ceremonial activities over, corn, baked flour and "magic water" are distributed; it is believe that these will free them from disaster for the whole year.

In the Nu people's wooden houses, there is always a "sacred pillar" fastened with sacrificial items such as pine branches, corn and fresh flowers. After they return home from the pillar while singing a ceremonial song to further eulogise the fairy girl Arong and pray for the protection by her fairy spirit. When evening arrives, young men and women will build bonfires, singing in antiphonal style and dancing around the fire throughout the night.

The Drungs of Dulong River

From Gongshan County to Dulong River, it is a 60-kilometre trek over Gaoligong Mountain through large patches of virgin forests and marshland. Dulong Township, 1, 380 metres above sea level on the banks of the Dulong River, is only home to Drung peopole in the county. Linking up the Drung villages on both the precipitous banks of the river is an unusual type of suspension bridge---the vine bridge---built with steel cables and bamboo poles. Besides, the Drung also what appears to be a breathtaking river crossing ---simple sliding cables.
The Drung have very distinctive costumes that include draping a decorated hemp cloth over their shoulders. Men and women have particular ways of wearing the cloth: men put them sideways across the back and tie a knot in front while women wear two square cloths that go down to the knees. Every male Drung is a good hunter, and wild ox and goat horns are hung in front of every house. Tradition says that the more horns there are , the more courageous and successful the hunter is. The Drung also live off the fish in the Dulong River.


Tattooed Women

The Drungs are one of the very few chinese minorities to have customary tattooing of the face. Most interesting is that only women middle-aged or older have tattoos. Lines are drawn between the eyebrows, on the nose bridge, the cheeks and around the mouth with black ash from the cooking stove. Then a needle is used to prick along the lines, and black ashes rubbed on. Three to five days later, the designed pattern will appear in deep blue.
There are several interpretations of this custom. One holds that tattoos are symbols of beauty; another has it that tattoos can scare off evil spirits; still another says tattoos serve as distinguishing marks of clans or tribes.

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25 Minorities
Folk Dances in Yunnan
Yunnan 18 peculiars
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Folk dances of the Dai People
Yunnan Bronze Masterpieces
The Nujiang River Valley
Zheng Ying Village
The Famous Pu'er Tea
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