By Paul Kohlenberg (Germany)
We started our journey from Changsha on a lovely Saturday morning heading south to Tongdao. Six hours later we arrived at the lovely Miao Minority Village Dayuan. The people of Dayuan gave us a more than warm welcome by receiving us from the main gate with traditional songs and the inevitable glass of liquor. The women of the village were dressed up in their traditional, both red and golden clothes.
All of our four international photographers from Yemen, Sudan, Vietnam and Germany were impressed by the fascinating architecture of the buildings in the village. To my great joy an old local teacher was present as well. The stories he had to share about his school and its history were unforgettable. We all could see why the village made an excellent location for the film "Postmen in the Mountains" back in 1999. Guided by the mayor of the village we had the opportunity to see some old horse stalls which were used for postal services decades ago. All in all the village was very well preserved, as people are actually still living in the houses and therefore take care of them. When it was time for us to say Farewell to Dayuan the whole village accompanied us to our coach singing their catchy Miao songs one more time.
Back at the hotel there was dinner and more liquor including delicious Kiwi wine, which I had never had before. Later that night there was a big show including bonfire and traditional dances.
The next day we saw some nature around Huangsang and went to see the famous Hemlock Forest. This forest contains trees which are more than a thousand years old. We were told that all the roots of the trees are connected underground. After lunch it was time for us to go to Yutou; this time a Dong village. The villagers showed the same great hospitality to us, welcoming us at the gate and truly celebrated us by giving us a traditional performance which usually only can be seen during harvest time. As it was getting too dark for good pictures we headed back to the hotel to pay the village another visit early in the next morning.
The next day we did go back to Yutou but also to another village called Pingtan where we did not only met great local people but also a foreigner from Switzerland retiring there. He had fascinating stories to share about his life in such an abandoned place. After lunch we headed for Chengbu to see some hills and to drink fresh milk. Arriving there we were again very warmly welcomed and had the chance to see how rice cakes were made. Furthermore we were invited to take part in a competition where one had to push the other team off a wooden bench - much fun was had by all.
The last day we had fresh milk for breakfast, it was so fresh that it was still warm. Truly an amazing taste. We were than taken on a tour through the green hills, seeing the cows whose milk we had earlier. Surprisingly there was an old MiG fighter sitting on top of one of the hills. After lunch we were welcomed by the local government to take part in a conference and after that went on our bus back to Changsha.
It was a fascinating experience as our team bonded really well and we could not only enjoy wonderful landscapes and architecture but also meet unforgettably warmhearted people. I personally discovered a new part of Hunan - this province somehow never disappoints me.