The countryside near Tongdao (通道) – which coincidentally means ‘passageway’ or ‘thoroughfare’ – is home to dozens of Dong ethnic villages. The region of Tongdao, virtually unknown to Westernand Chinese tourists is the right place for an off-the-beaten-path scenic drive through the Hunanese countryside which is dotted with ancient Dong drum towers (鼓楼) and centuries-old Wind and Rain bridges (风雨桥).
Here is an itinerary departing from Tongdao (通道) to these off-the-beaten path Dong villages. I have enclosed a sktech map at the end of the post.
Yutou Zhai 芋头寨
Hidden deep in a valley, Yutou Zhai (‘zhai’ means ‘village), is home to an impressive overhanging wooden pavilion-shaped watchtower that dominates the paddy fields and the tea terraces. Built during the 52nd year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing (1787), it is a protected historical site, which probably explains why there is a 40 RMB entrance fee to Yutou Village.
Puxiu Wind and Rain bridge of Huangdu 皇都寨的普修风雨桥
The next stop after Yutou Zhai is the village of Huangdu (皇都). The Puxiu bridge (普修桥), probably the most impressive Wind and Rain bridge (风雨桥) of the region with the Yongji bridge (永济桥) of the Dong village cluster of Chengyang (程阳).
Huangdu village is divided into two parts : the ‘new’ village (新寨) and the ‘old’ village (老寨). Although it’s nice to go for a stroll in the village, the beauty of the Puxiu bridge (普修桥) took all my attention. Built in 1865, the bridge connected north Guangxi, southwest Hunan and southeast Guizhou. In December 1934, the Red Army crossed the Puxiu bridge (普修桥) during the Long March. This episode in the Chinese Red Army is known as the “Tongdao Transfer” (通道转兵) and helped Mao Zedong get to Liping (黎平) for the Liping Meeting (黎平会议).
Huilong Bridge 廻龍桥
A few kilometers south of the Dong village of Hengling (横岭), the Huilong Wind and Rain bridge (廻龍桥) stretches across the river and connect different hamlets to the main road. The interior of the bridge is not as richly decorated as the Puxiu bridge.
On top on one shrine (most Wind and Rain bridges have shrines dedicated to the ancestors who founded the villages and other deities), faded white Chinese characters read “破坏迷信” which means “Destroy Superstition”. A legacy of the Cultural Revolution when Chinese theoreticians classified religion has ‘superstition’ and called for its destruction.
While most Wind and Rain bridges are straights, the Huilong bridge has a slight curve (the term ‘Huilong’ [廻龍] literally means ‘curvy dragon’) which makes it unique.
Pingtan village 坪坦
Although there is no entrance fee in Pingtan village (坪坦), it seems that it has been put on the map of Chinese tour groups. When I visited, there was an entire bus of Chinese tourists armed with giant cameras running around the village and taking pictures of a group a woman dancing and beating the drums.
Immediately across the Puji Wind and Rain bridge (普济桥) to which the temple of the village gods (城隍庙) is attached, there is an old well still used by the villagers (under the pavilion).
The village square is dominated by a drum tower (鼓楼). Its shape differs from other traditional Dong drum towers disseminated in the region. Indeed it looks like an elaborated pavilion-like wooden building rather than the customary pagoda-like structure. The Ping Tan village drum tower has a stone temple attached to it and a temple dedicated to Confucius (文庙) right next to it.
Jielong Bridge 接龙桥
A dozens of kilometers from Pingtan, the lonely Jielong bridge (接龙桥) is run-down and seems abandoned, but villagers still use it to get access to their rice paddies.
The wooden structure rest on stone piers and a stone arches and scenes depicting what seems to be local historical events have been painted on each side of the inner wooden corridor.
Zhongbu village 中步寨
One of the last stop on Tongdao’s countryside road is the village of Zhongbu (中步). Zhongbu’s Wenxing bridge (文星桥) is a unique type of Wind and Rain bridge which has two corridors : one for people as well as a lower and narrower one for horses and other domestic animals.
Immediately across the bridge, there is a Buddhist temple made of blue-stone. A shiny and brand new statue of Maitreya Buddha (the ‘smiling Buddha’ with the belly) throne before the sky-well and a small Arhat hall (‘arhats’ are Buddhist saints).
An off-the-beaten-path itinerary
The best way to visit the Dong countryside is to hire a driver in Tongdao. If you are on a budget, you can try buses from Tongdao old bus station in the southwest part of town, but it seems they run only when they are full. Buses run between Tongdao and Pingtan village.
My poorly sketched map is obviously not to scale and I have indicated a few villages only. If you hire a driver you can stop to as many villages as you want on the way. Count at least 4 to 5 hours to complete the tour, depending on how much time you spend in each place.
Where to stay
I tempted to stay at the Tongdao Bingguan (通道宾馆), but they are not opened to foreigners. There are a few hotels near the new bus station that have fairly clean but smoky rooms.
To and from Tongdao :
From Guilin 桂林 : there is a regular bus service from Guilin (although, I am not sure of the frequency). Try Guilin Qintan bus station (琴潭汽车站) for better service. The journey last at least 5 hours.
From Sanjiang 三江 : if you decide to visit Chengyang, there are four buses to Tongdao from Sanjiang. The journey lasts two hours. From Hedong bus station (河东汽车站), buses leave at 7:30 AM and 12:30 PM and from Hexi bus station (河西汽车站) at 8:30 AM and 1:30 PM.
Leaving Tongdao :
Good news, the new Huaihua-Tongdao highway (通道高速公路) was opened on December 26th 2013. All buses heading north take the highway.
There is a regular bus service between Tongdao and Huaihua (one bus every 1h30 between 7 AM and 5 PM). You will have to change bus in Huaihua (怀化) if you are heading to Fenghuang or Zhangjiajie. Journey last 3 hours.
If you are planning on visiting the old town of Qianyang and the ancient business town of Hongjiang, you will have to take a Huaihua-bound bus. The driver will drop you off at the Qianyang toll gate. Even though they say there are taxis or buses going to Qianyang (10 – 15 km from the toll gate), there is nothing. You will have to hitch-hike your way to town.
More pictures about other Dong villages in the area