Lucknow to Longji Rice Terraces
Rice fields on hills? In small serpentine terraces cut over centuries? Small boy from Babhnan was in the Longji Rice Terraces in the Longsheng County of Guangxi, surprised to his wits end. Coiling terraces rising up from the foothills and going up all the way to top of the mountains is fine! Where do they get water though, he was thinking, perplexed. Growing rice needs a lot of water, after all.
Surprise slowly gave in to nostalgia. He had grown up by the rice fields, a food grain central to the civilisation feeding over half of the world’s population. But the rice fields he has known, and has a few of his own, are all in the Gangetic plains. One which could be easily mistaken for giant ponds from preparation to planting! He remembered the days he would run to them and jump in the muddy rice fields, filled with ankle deep water. He would then have to run away from mom, hiding behind grandpa to escape beating. Layers of rice shoots had led him to layers of memories, longings and losses.
He was missing his own rice fields back home some 3,000 kilometres away from Longsheng. Rice, along with other crops, was the currency his ancestors had. Cultivating rice would get them their livelihood, their luxuries, howsoever scant, their travels, everything. Rice would get the small village boy education and set him on this journey.
Rice would take him to Lucknow, the first big city he got to know. A city known for its Tehzeeb, culture, and the monuments, both built by the surplus its rulers, the formidable Nawabs, got from rice cultivators. A smile had made its way to boy’s lips. Monuments built from rice surplus to rice terraces built by sheer human endeavour… Journeys!
His ancestors had fought among themselves to get the most low lying lands, preferably closest to the water bodies. That they were also the farthest from the roads and they repent now for that is another story for another time!
Longji too had become home. And its people, Zhuang and Yao from two minority communities in China, his own people. The Zhuangs are native to the area. The Yaos originated in Hunan and came here fighting persecution and became native. Oh the journeys! The boy from Babhnan to Lucknow to Delhi to Hong Kong to Longji, Yaos from Hunan to same place!
Then, they started constructing the terraces- the Zhuangs in Ping’an and the Yaos in Dazhai and Tiantou in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Turning hills after hills into rice fields big and small, they continued until the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when the hills had all become fields! Rising from the river bed that sits at 380 meters above the sea level and rises, with the coiling terraces up to whopping 1180 meters!
Where do you people get the water for the rice from, the boy from Babhnan asked Qin,his friendly hostel owner (basically a traditional 3-story stilted woodhouse converted into a hostel)? He smiled and asked the boy to come behind. The boy did, going all the way up to the one of the most scenic terraces, me again, tired, yet excited with his running commentary which I would otherwise never had known- that’s my aunt’s house, built 200 years ago, that is the home of a friend who migrated to US and so on. The boy was getting to know even the people now.
See that huge flat thing on the top of the hill, Qin asked! The boy, ever the son of the farmers, did not need a single word more. He has got it, with eyes wide open with surprise! The people had cut the top of the hills into flat bodies first, and then dug them into huge ponds to store water during rains! They then dug winding irrigation channels accompanying rice terraces! How did they do it? He wanted to ask, but did not. He was in awe of these people who rose to mighty mountains some 800 years ago, armed with primitive axes and shovels at the most and made fields out of them! Humans can indeed move the mountains, he smiled.
The boy from Babhnan had fallen in love. He has been coming to the fields year after year, season after season. To see the hills become rivers in the spring with terraces filled with water in preparation for sowing paddy. In summers, to see them turn into a sea of green shoots, neatly arranged. Then to see them turn into gold mines in the autumn, with ripe paddy ready for the harvest. He is yet to make it there in winters though, when the mountains turn into a frozen mystery with white snow all over! Soon, he would.
He is sad, though, seeing the terraces falling to tourist trap since he first visited them in 2015 and hiked his way to Tiantou. There was no road to the village then, the reason he chose to stay there and not in Ping’an or Dazhai that had already fallen. He had then hiked his way up to the hostel enjoying the beauty and paying respects to the elders who created it. He saw a road being constructed to Taintou too, when he was there at last- in 2018.
Go, before it is too late. The boy from Babhnan would be happy to help with suggestions and inside secrets.