Exploring the Nujiang River
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
"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
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,
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
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
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 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
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.