Bagou Blog Part 2

1 March 2011

I've produced a DVD of this trip and also of the many other trips  I've made to China from the 1990s to date. Click here to see the list of all my China DVDs.

Part 2 is now also getting rather long, so further entries for 2 - 7 March will be in Part 3.

For the first few days until 25 February - see the blog Part 1

Around 8 March, a Bago Steam blog focussing on the railway should be available here.

If you are interested to read about how the new road that will link Bagou to the outside world is progressing, click here.

Saturday 26th February
Today had a different feel to it – firstly it was a little warmer and humid, which meant it was very hazy, and secondly being Saturday there were more people around at the market both selling and buying. We bought oranges – the weighing rod is surprisingly accurate and versatile for all products. There was a crowd around the Chinese medicine stand, where roots and plants were changing hands, and of course lots of fresh greens, meat stands, live chickens and ducks.

Herbs for use in Chinese medicine

On the right, a long root eaten raw

After arranging for our washing to be done by the landlady, we set off to walk the south side of the river at a medium height – Rob calls it the South Side Stroll, and it is about three hours long. It was a delight of bird songs, the birds themselves were quite elusive. The walk once we had climbed up followed the contours and went in and out of many deep valleys – lovely hazy Chinese views and an occasional old farmhouse.

Finally the descent to Huangcunjin, which was rather steep at the end, and lunch at the coalmine canteen, where we are welcome regulars.

There was a lot of activity around the coalmine. They had filled a number of wagons since our last visit, and there was one loaded up with bamboo. Women were pushing the full wagons so that empty ones were under the hoppers. At the coalmine their trucks were being pushed out in groups of three by the miners, as well as slag which was being hauled up on cables to the slag tip. We watched for quite a while and waited for the next train to shunt around these wagons, and the bamboo load was added to the passenger train.

We sauntered back to Bagou along the river looking for birds, and here we really lucky and saw blue-fronted redstart, white-capped water redstart, flycatchers, great tit, yellow-bellied tit, black-throated tit, bulbuls, yellow wagtail, white wagtail.
Other birds we have seen or heard include: pheasant, woodpecker, hawk?, little egret, common iora?, long-tailed shrike, red-billed blue magpie, black-billed magpie, bush warbler, leaf warblers?, sunbird, scaly breasted munia.
Back around 5pm, so a long and pleasant day walking. We made coffee and began the blog before heading out for supper – it was quieter than usual everywhere, and the promenaders were not so many. We found liver and the seasonal unusual vegetable in the kitchen of the restaurant, so had a very tasty supper.
We climbed above the tunnel for the last train shot before ending up in the square for the advanced Tai-chi class. I hesitate to say we were just the onlookers, but it was wonderful to watch. Two were wearing the white outfit, and one a black one, the others in whatever. Tonight they did not need directions, and just went through their routines including one with swords and one with fans. Fabulous to watch them, even if it was almost pitch black!

Sunday 27th February
The big hike today, heading to Ma Miao, a cliff top village on a river, where in the old days before the railway, all the coal produced in the Bagou area was brought out on packhorse and taken down the river by boat! This is also the site of two working coalmines, and where the proposed road will come from to Bagou.
We set off up the north ridge road to the top of the ridge, and took wonderful trails through forgotten valleys, with intensive farming, rice paddies and bamboo groves. We passed traditional farmhouses, and people working in the fields and groves as well as on their way to and from the market with baskets laden with produce. One thing that has struck me is that there are no cattle or sheep anywhere, and indeed in Bagou itself no milk products whatsoever. There is also no coffee, instant or otherwise apart from our supply we brought with us and our cafetiere! We passed one small shrine, saw another of the exotic magpies, and found the way into other deep valleys to get down to the river.

Farmhouses and rice paddies with the odd paddy of rape

Corn drying

The last km was on a concrete road, which we think must be the road between Ma Miao and Huangdan, which is further up the river from Ma Miao. The surface was very new, and when we suddenly hit the cliff top village of Ma Miao the road stopped at a point where an unbuilt bridge requires vehicles to ford the side steram. A bridge is being constructed at this point. There was a small coalmine operation to the left, and we were shown right through the middle of this, having to duck under the cable which was hauling the trucks up. These were being tipped into trucks for driving out.

Site of the new bridge in Ma Miao

Dammed river in Ma Miao

The road was incredibly rutted and muddy here, and in order to get through the town they had to reverse up a very steep slope into the town square – a fascinating operation to watch.
We looked at the wide, dammed river with ferries to both cross the water and to travel up and down it, then climbed up very steep steps into the village – a small square and a few shops, being Sunday there were children around too. We found what appeared to be a restaurant and interrupted the lady knitting outside to ask her to cook us something – we chose pea sprouts and pork in the kitchen, and as always tasty dishes appeared. Of course, we were of great interest to the local population, especially the children, so a small English/Chinese class ensued!

Erstwhile learners of English

Lunchtime feast freshly prepared

Refreshed we headed up the valley towards Bagou on the route taken by those ponies. This is to be the new road which everyone is talking about coming to Bagou and changing its isolation. At the moment it is a muddy mess, and we were grateful for a concrete culvert to walk on, but you can see that in time it will come, and the valley is very pretty.

The coalmine with slag heaps, bridge site and road junction

The new road to Bagou

There was evidence of several coalmines – one may still be functioning – all very small operations. The cliffs were spectacular, and the walk very pleasant. We passed another shrine, a truck stuck in the mud blocking the road, a cart full of piglets, and people walking down from Bagou as well as a family walking with their goats – as usual the women were walking and knitting, and steering the goats. Knitting is a major pastime here, and as people promenade or talk they always seem to have busy hands.

Anyone want to buy a pig?

Roadside shrine

As we approached Bagou, there was more intense work on the road evident, especially on the last steep hill up to where the bus station will be on the left side of the river. This was a view of the village we hadn’t had before, and the houses across the river looked most attractive.

Back in Bagou

We needed to relax a little on our return before taking the mushrooms we had bought at market to be cooked at our restaurant for dinner. Blog and bed.

Monday 28th February

"Maybe I've had enough savoury steamed buns for breakfast but what is the alternative?"

An unexpectedly adventurous day spent exploring the hills and valleys to the south of Ba-jia-gou. I discovered through various encounters that this is the alternate local name for Bagou! We actually walked for five hours up and down and round about as we got confused on one of Rob’s walks – appropriately called ‘Bagou Follies’. The end result was a better understanding of the trails around here and a great day out. We did end up using the chalk I had brought, just in case, but not the compass!
It was a little cooler again, with thicker cloud, but we have been lucky to have no rain. We set out up a side valley across from the old hospital, after filming the second train up. At the bottom was an unusually elaborate old entrance left over from times gone by.

The trail was steep stone steps up to the fields and groves – this is a major time for cutting bamboo, so even if we did not see people we could hear them in groves all around us.

As we climbed up, we crossed a dirt road we had been on the other day on the ‘South Side Stroll’, and followed instructions when we reached the second dirt road to go right. The track looked familiar although it wasn’t, but after a kilometer or so we rejoined the lower dirt road, and realised that somehow we had gone wrong! Re-evaluating, we decided to retrace our steps and see if we should have gone left. But at 1:30 after the dirt track had given way to a path were way above Ba-jia-gou with a spectacular view. Good picnic lunch stop – abandon Bagou Follies!

John's favourite Bagou view so far but it needs a nice day and a train.
Station and second tunnel entrance are both visible

It still took awhile to be on a familiar trail, but when we did, we decided to explore down a new valley towards Huangdan which was the Bagou Follies trail in reverse.

We saw lots of paddies and farmhouses, and even a stone built dam (pedestrian only) which was where we turned around.

We met people working in the fields and walking along the road, and children walking back from Junior school – we walked with one little boy for around 2 kms after the others had headed home – he really had a long trek each day.
We backtracked to the top of the cliff trail out of Ba-jia-gou, and met a couple of foreigners – an American doing his Phd in anthropology in Xian, and a Mexican friend of his. They are only here for a couple of nights to escape the cold in Xian. Looking down on Ba-jia-gou we saw a hive of activity at the top of the new road with three machines and two lorries, and many onlookers – perhaps indicating that the road will be finished sooner rather than later.

Back by 4pm for a bit of a relax before dinner.
The weather has turned cooler and murkier, but the coal trains have started running after Chinese New Year holidays and we heard two today but were not around to observe them. Before we went out to dinner the rain had started.

We had to eat at another restaurant as our only previous option was closed. To recompense another had stayed open and the chef was recalled to produce a very tasty meal for us. In the kitchen we found cauliflour, liver and a local seasonal vegetable with fried rice.

Tuesday 1st March - White Rabbits

Plan A was to get up before the first train and walk through the tunnel to get photos from the other side and then take a walk out from Jiaoba - we failed to get the alarm right, so ended up with Plan B which was supposed to be if it was raining! This involved catching the first train here all the way down to Shibanxi. This was a good plan, as the weather turned out to be the best so far, and we watched the sun rise from the train, and had blue skies and sunshine all day.

The next to the last stop is Sanjin, and John took this photo out of the window as there was a lot of train activity. Most of the commuters got off here.

We had about 30 minutes at the terminus in Shibanxi on the river and I caught sight of the lady with the bamboo baby carrier on her back.

On the train back to Sanjin we rode in the goods van, which of course was interesting - later in the day we saw a water buffalo being transported in the same van, so I am relatively pleased it wasn't with us!

We got off in Sanjin to begin todays hike all the way back to Bagou, and arrived just as the exercise class was in full swing. This morning they were doing traditional Chinese Folk dances.

After a hearty breakfast, which included a spicy celery dish, we set off on the hike along the railway track. This is not always easy walking because of the sleeper spacing, and the track alongside is rutted from motorbikes, but somehow you get accustomed after a few kilometers, and the views are so rewarding - farmhouses, paddies, bamboo groves and yellow rape flowers!

We had a couple of innovative uses of the railway today, the first was using a wicker basket to move sand and stones for construction - the bike pulled it up on a trolley .....

the chap rode it back down with a foot on the rollers or the track for braking!

We had a good sighting of a Long-tailed Shrike

The second use of the tracks was for collecting bricks that had been thrown off a wagon from the train but not in the right spot for the new house.

Three men and three women were loading them and unloading them, while there were three people immediately using them to build a large house by the tracks.

As we were walking the track all day, we did see all the trains, including one extra coal train.

We climbed high up to the new road for this shot, and I noticed men fishing in the dam behind.

Typical views of the countryside with the farms and terraces and the train at bottom right.

We decided to continue on the high road rather than to return to the railway, in the hopes that it cut through to join the new road coming up from Ma Miao. Fortunately for John, this proved to be true, as by now we had walked about 13 kms!

The way was actually rather spectacular as it carved its way round the hillside - one day this will all be paved!

We arrived back around 4:15pm and needed to relax a little with a cup of coffee. It soon cooled off, and the layers which had gradually been shed over the walk were put back on. After eating we promenaded and went up to the railway where amongst the load from the goods van was a stretcher with someone lying on it which was then carried off up the hillside - no other way to come home from the hospital. In the square tonight there were three groups 'dancing'. The Tai-chi advanced group was one, a modern Chinese dance group was the second (competing music), and then the third was a small group with no music, but tambourine like instruments either end of a stick that each person used to beat out the music as they danced around.

For the first few days until 25 February - see the blog Part 1 . Part 2 is now also getting long, so further entries for 2 - 7 March will be in Part 3.


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