Today I’m taking what’s become my regular ferry across the Li River. This is my third time taking this route to find yet another scenic area that Xingping has to offer. I’ve decided to trek to Shawan village. I’ve crossed this path the day before on my way to Tengjiao Nunnery. As I’ve ventured through the orchards and organic farmland twice already, I decide to take the slightly shorter river route. Within moments I come across a fisherman with his two cormorant birds. He is in simple clothing and wearing a straw conical hat, in China called a dǒulì (斗笠). Under the shadow cast by the hat emerges a long white beard. His feet are bare and he’s leaning on his basket looking quite content with the world.
Wandering through these familiar villages I reach the point where the road splits in three. To continue ahead I revisit the rural farmlands up high where the only company for a while are lizards and the song of birds. To take the concrete route to the right is to wander close to homes of the villagers and I’m pretty sure a dead end. It’s the narrow route to the left I need to take where the orchards intertwine over head and you feel you have stumbled upon a secret garden. It is this way to the Tengjiao Nunnery. What I hadn’t realized the previous day is that the stone staircase I glanced to the right, but continued past would actually take me on an adventure to Shawan Village.
For around 20 minutes it’s a steady road of broken, uneven stone steps ahead. The trees create a tunnel and there is a variety of songs sung by different types of bird. Although tempting to keep eyes down on this somewhat hazardous path every now and again the trees part and give way to the stunning karst mountainous landscape that surrounds this entire area. So far I have met no one on this trek. It’s a challenging journey that gives no direction in Chinese or English to the intended destination and yet you can’t ignore just how peaceful it is.
Before I reach the peak of this steady incline the stone staircase slips away to a dirt track. As I hit the top the road divides into two. Both roads follow parallel to the left for a while. The top path gradually continues upward further into the mountains. It’s the lower ground I follow, descending into a lush green valley. Surrounded only by nature I feel as though I’ve stumbled across an untouched land. But as I continue on a small collection of houses emerge. After mistakenly taking a high path directly to a locals doorstep, I double check my direction is correct and push forward.
The hillside now is steep and laid with loose rocks that cause every muscle in my legs to tense to keep me upright. With a heavy sigh I reach the top. It’s incredibly beautiful. Even though every view point has the same landscape of mountains and the river, they are all unique in their own right. The mountains take on different forms and the river bends in different ways. The hills form unique patterns created by the land being farmed. Even the same picturesque view takes on a new light in the changing hours of the day.
Descending towards Shawan village that is set among the greenery, I keep the river to my left and the dirt track below my feet. There are several opportunities to veer off into grasslands which, I’m sure magical in their own right, would send me into a forest and away from the quaint little village below. As I’ve mentioned there is very little information on how to get to Shawan village from Xingping and with a poor sense of direction and inability to read maps I rely entirely on common sense. I can see Shawan and know I want to reach the waters edge to take a break before repeating my footsteps back to Xingping.
When I reach the village it is almost deserted. A few farmers linger in the trees but I meet no one on the road. The architecture is simple and traditional holding the utmost charm. The streets wind and narrow in all directions so I keep heading to the right and downwards until I hit the main road. It’s here I meet the first locals of Shawan village. An elder man and the smallest boy with the largest spirit I have ever had the opportunity to meet. Following his (I assume) grandfathers voice his ‘hello’ is infectious. Full of joy and life his hello’s continue and I can’t help but parrot them, he breaks into laughter and claps his hands. If this was all I was met with when entering this village it would be enough to make the entire journey worthy of it. His little legs speed off at an unsteady pace before I am able to photograph him and so I continue following the faint roar of the river.
Taking a moment to rest I listen to the gentle crashing of the water on the rocks. There is a breeze and, although pleasant, it slightly irritates my mosquito bites. Many other visitors I’ve met during my stay here are passing through just for the night before heading on to more well known tourist locations. But Xingping and it’s surrounding villages are one of China’s hidden gems. If you are heading this way and considering a short stop over I would highly recommend extending your stay and truly make the most of what is on offer here. Taking the same route back to Xingping there is no disappointment in repeating these views. They are truly breathtaking.