The Tibetan Village of Dong Feng offers one of the easiest day trips from Bingzhongluo 丙中洛. Head north out of town along the main road and you’ll soon find yourself on a wide dirt tract with a river running below it.
Continue for a few meters and the path veers sharply left; all of a sudden, Bingzhongluo has disappeared and Dong Feng comes into view.
Unfortunately, distances around here are deceptive. The steepness of the mountain slopes makes everything look closer than it actually is, and the path to Dong Feng is no exception.
As you enter the valley, the village looks tantalisingly close, sitting there directly in front of you, a mere stone’s throw away, but alas, on the other side of the river.
To make matters worse, the trail hugs the opposite mountain side, and seems to twist ever further away from Dong Feng, until you eventually lose sight of the village altogether. At one stage, dripping with sweat under the burning mountain sun, we began to doubt whether we would ever get there. Then gradually the path switches gently back in the right direction, and after about an hour an a half you find yourself strolling into the village.
You do have the option of a short cut. Try to seek out one of the small paths that drop steeply down to the river, with a bit of luck you’ll find one that leads you to a wooden bridge across, from where you can take any trail that heads up. Locals do it, and the paths will either take you directly into the village, or a few hundred meters east or west of it.
Talk about mad dogs and Englishmen! Whatever you do, don’t do what we did. We went to Dong Feng the long way, under the merciless afternoon sun of August. There’s no shade and nowhere to hide; so you should come prepared. This walk is best undertaken early morning or late afternoon, but not midday!
Before you arrive at Dong Feng, the tract divides. The path to the left heads off towards the mystic Snow Mountain, a looming and entrancing destination, some three days walk away. The other trail leads directly into the heart of Dong Feng. This is a real village: no eyesores to spoil the view, no commercialism to dampen your spirits, just large farm houses set amongst gorgeous fields and fed by running water canals, all under the shadow of towering mountains.
At the heart of the village is the 300- year- old Tibetan Temple Pu Hua Si 普化寺。 If you have been to Tibetan areas before, this temple probably won’t register very highly on your list of must-see sights. However, it does have its own unique, rural, even naïve charm.
Because of that, and its splendid setting, I found myself remembering this modest temple, while other, more famous ones have blended into a haze in my memories.
The resident monks may have to be woken from their mid-day slumber to open the gates and unlock the halls, but they are friendly and will leave you to wander around at will. There isn’t that much to see, it’s more of a destination than a sight, but the fantastic scenery all around and the absolute tranquillity make the visit something special.
In Dong Feng we found one village shop; it was situated in a private house, from where a few scanty, but essential goods were sold through an open window. Fortunately, cold(ish) beer was among those essential goods, and we contently carried away a couple of bottles to a bench-lined, shady shelter, set a couple of hundred meters outside the village amidst electric- green rice fields.
Obviously, we weren’t the first to have discovered this place and the broken bottles and shells of sunflower seeds pointed to previous revelries.
From here on, we were determined to return to Bingzhongluo without back-tracking.
We decided to follow the water canals that flow down the valley towards the Nujiang River. There isn’t a path as such, you just continue Indian file along the concrete sides of the canals towards a prayer flag covered Stupa, from where you can see the main road back to Bingzhongluo.
It’s worth spending a few minutes at the Stupa to take in the stupendous views back towards Snow Mountain whose snow- covered slopes will accompany you all the way back to Bingzhongluo. After the Stupa, you drop down into a pleasant village (Zhong Ding 重丁) with a shop where you can buy some more refreshments.
Make sure you look around the bend, where you will find a white-and-blue, Tibetan- style Catholic Church. It’s really quite a pretty sight, but unfortunately for us it was locked and the gate keeper was nowhere to be found.
We bought a couple of cold beers from the local shop, run by a friendly Lisu lady, savoured the views and the idyllic surroundings and then headed back to Bingzhongluo. As the late afternoon sun started coming down, casting deep shadows across the valley, the local farmers, the women with children strapped to their backs, streamed out of the fields and began to make their way home.
On the road back, you pass another small Tibetan temple, with Snow Mountain providing the stunning backdrop, its gleaming glaciers getting closer and closer as you turn the bends.
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