Asia | China | Sichuan Province | Mabian – Mabian
Between overeating, afternoon naps, getting my daily massage, and drinking down bitter herbal medicine, my cushioned life in Leshan was ready for a break. Mabian is the most remote county in the greater Leshan area with a natural preserve area, and none of the locals I asked had been there.
Close to the northeastern corner of Yunnan, the scenery on the way to Mabian is also mesmerizing, although not quite as dramatic without the red soil. The water was so clear that I could see the cobbles from the bridge. Minjian, the main town in Mabian is situated in a valley with verdant steppe fields on the mountain ridges surrounding it. It’s not much of a town. I tried to find some old buildings to photograph, but most of them were in a state of severe disrepair and leaned as if they could fall down any minute. Trapped in the narrow lanes, the smell of litter and other bodily waste drove me out of the backstreets faster than I could find them.
I caught a glance of the peak of a pagoda from afar and started walking toward it, and found it with the help of a little girl playing outside her house. Like the other older structures in town, the pagoda was looking miserable. Some older farmers sat in front of a small house connected to the pagoda, and told me that it was built over 200 years by the family of a local general who died during a battle in Taiwan against the Dutch. In the old days, it was provided for the embroiderers as a studio and used by the other villagers for protection like a castle during invasions by the Yis living in the nearby mountains. Even in the 60s, it was still an impressive architectural deed, painted as pretty as it could be. Since it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, it has been left to rot with age. I tried to walk closer, and an old woman called me back with urgence, telling me that there’s a big wild dog on the other side and there’s nothing but dead rats inside.
The area has a concentrated population of the Yi minority nationality, which had the same ancestor as their counterparts in Yunnan, but had developed quite different customs because of the geographical separation. I saw some men and women in their traditional attires, and asked around to see if there are any nearby Yi villages. The hotel receptionist told me that there is an Yi town, Dayuanzi, about two hours away. The natural preserve, though, has no vehicle-accessible roads. I’d have to carry my winter clothes and tent and be prepared to be there for days if I really wanted to explore. Unprepared for wilderness survival, I had to drop it from my agenda.