Tag Archives: Rice terraces


Rice Terraces

There aren’t many places in the world that present the traveler with such varied landscapes as southern Yunnan. From fields of rich red earth, to swaths of golden rapeseed, and glistening tiers of water-filled rice terraces etched into hillsides, it is a distinct experience to photograph these agricultural marvels for beginners and seasoned photographers alike.

Red Earth of Dongchuan

Yellow Rapeseed Field

The array of intense colours – red, brown, green, and white – at Dongchuan creates interesting patterns across the land that will challenge the photographer to construct an aesthetically balanced image. At Luoping, the vivid yellow flowers contrast sharply with the darker karst hills that intermingle with the fields. We will get amongst the rapeseed and explore working with depth of field and how to find and create order in a photographic environment where many different elements vie for attention. At Yuanyang, we will photograph the expansive rice terraces from a number of different locations, learning to isolate interesting sections and move beyond generic shots as well as observing the changing light conditions at sunset and dawn and their effects upon the landscape, as the sunlight creates fleeting and unrepeatable moments.

The trip, of course, wouldn’t be complete without fascinating roads to explore. The drive from Dongchuan is dramatic, climbing high along a fantastic valley with views to match, and the way out from Luoping follows meandering roads through bucolic countryside where you may be tempted to stop and soak it all in. By the time you roll back into Kunming, you will have experienced an incredible agricultural region with a complement of images to match, as well as new photographic capabilities that you will be able to take on your next journey, wherever that may be.

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The small Yunnanese town of Yuanyang is famed for the steep tiers of rice terraces that snake across hillsides around the town. In winter, dawn light sparkling off the watery fields attracts legions of photographers eager to capture the sight on film – a group of On the Road photographers is about to leave for the region next week.

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

While many visitors come for the landscape, Yuanyang’s human side – the Hani farmers have worked the terraces for generations – is well worth exploring too. A few years ago, we were searching for a way to incorporate more contact with local communities into our itineraries. One of our guides, Zoe, had befriended the bellhop at Yuanyang’s Yunti Hotel, and he offered to introduce us to his uncle, who was the headman of a village amongst the rice fields.

Hani Minority in Yuanyang

Hani Minority in Yuanyang

One day in May, we set out from Yuanyang with a group of Swiss guests to meet the uncle and visit his village. The wisps of mist that enshrouded the rice fields slowly burnt off over the course of the walk to the village as our guests peppered the uncle with questions about village life.

The uncle took us to a house in the centre of the village. We had to duck to get through the door, and groped our way up a steep, dark staircase with a rope for a railing. The upstairs room was dark and smoky from cigarettes and an open fireplace, with a single window that allowed a cone of light to illuminate the room. Eight low stools were arranged around a small table for us. Our guests’ faces betrayed a mixture of delight – oh so exotic and friendly! – and fright – where had I taken them to?

In the mayor's home

In the mayor’s home

We took our seats and while the Q&A session continued – what is the main trade of the village? Do you have a school? How many inhabitants are there? What’s the average income? What do you think about the future? How many people live in your house? — lunch began to be served. The plates gradually accumulated – at first two dishes, then four, then eight, then twelve, they just kept coming.

Hospitality

Hospitality

Eventually, the mayor motioned for us to begin eating when Zoe suddenly started crying and burst into almost uncontrollable tears. We all looked at her, unsure what to do. I patted her on the shoulder and asked, “Zoe, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing, it’s nothing, really,” she managed to say between sobs, “it’s just that, look, look at all this food! These poor people are serving up all this for us, but maybe they would only eat like this once a year themselves, maybe never in their lives…” As Zoe spoke, a guest, Edith, got up and walked to Zoe, pulled her to her feet and gave her a warm hug.

A meal together

A meal together

No words were spoken while Zoe and Edith stood there hugging, but perhaps for a moment we all felt linguistic and cultural barriers giving way to a moment of shared emotion. At a time when nationalistic fires are being fanned around the world, it seems a timely reminder that behind the headlines there are millions of ordinary people, like the bellhop’s uncle, and like Zoe and Edith, who are making their way through life, trying to do the best for their families, and trying to lead good lives. Travel is one fantastic way to remind ourselves of this, and as Mark Twain put it in The Innocents Abroad, adapted somehow for this story:

“People need travel sorely. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime. Travel, then, is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”  Let us celebrate these fatalities!

Peter

 

 

 

On the Road takes you to Yuanyang rice terraces on these journeys:

 

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The first trip I led with Ron Yue, our team’s professional photographer, covered familiar ground. I had completed the itinerary through southern Yunnan several times before, both for research and with groups of guests, so I knew what to expect. Except that I didn’t.

Red Earth Dongchuan

Red Earth Dongchuan

Over the course of our week-long trip I discovered that travelling with a photographer is quite different to travelling without one. The pace is a lot more leisurely, for one thing, with plenty more photo stops, both scheduled and impromptu. The conversation over dinner tends towards discussion of f-stops and exposure compensation, and you return home with distinctly better quality holiday snaps. But the most significant – and unexpected – difference was that I discovered a fresh new beauty in those familiar places, thanks to Ron and to my camera.

Following Ron’s example and with his coaching, our group of photographers became more and more observant of our surroundings as we travelled. I found myself stopping more, enjoying scenes and noticing details that would have passed me by before. An everyday market was suddenly filled with unexpected moments of loveliness – a child playing amongst piles of chilli peppers lying around her mother’s stall, or an elderly lady deftly binding piles of damp, field-fresh herbs into bundles ready for sale.

Luoping Rapeseed Fields

Luoping Rapeseed Fields

If photography can help us to appreciate somewhere as down-to-earth as a local market, the impact of a truly splendid sight is magnified many times for the photographer. On that first trip, we visited one of Yunnan’s many photogenic landscapes, the Yuanyang rice terraces. Patterns emerged where before there were none, light danced over the landscape in a newly entrancing way and fleeting moments captured on film (or in pixels) still give me pleasure now, five years later.

By opening our eyes to the beauty that surrounds us, and by providing a keepsake to remind us of treasured moments, photography is a wonderful complement to travel, whether we’re documenting a family holiday or a once-in-a-lifetime expedition, whether we’re in the wilds of Yunnan or in the middle of a city. But maybe we can also bring that awareness back home, to help us reconnect with the beauty of the everyday, from the reflection of a vivid sunset on an office building to the warm smile of a loved one.

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Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Yuanyang Rice Terraces

While our original photography itinerary (The Exotic South) took in just one of Yunnan’s iconic landscapes, the province has many more in store – as Ron says “there is an incredible diversity of colours and landscapes in Yunnan – plenty to keep a photographer busy!” Now, we have introduced a new photography journey that features three of the most beautiful landscapes on a single itinerary, Red Earth and Fields of Gold.

From the vivid red earth of Dongchuan to the limestone karsts and blazing yellow rapeseed fields around Luoping (and one of our favourites, the Yuanyang rice fields) generations of local people have dramatically added their own imprint to landscapes across eastern Yunnan, creating patterns that fuse the manmade with nature and creating scenes found nowhere else.

Working with Ron

Working with Ron

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