March is when villagers water the terraces in preparation for spring ploughing. The water in the fields reflects the sunshine and creates a kaleidoscope of colors. And, if you can brave getting up for the sunrise, or if you see a sunset, then the vistas are spectacular.
The water from the rain and from mountain springs flow down to the rice terraces and the whole cycle repeats itself perpetually. During the winter to early spring season, the entire field is irrigated with spring water from the forest above to rejuvenate and prepare for the next growing season. There is only one harvest per year for the Yuanyang Rice Terrace; planting occurs from March to October/November every year.
Yuanyang Rice Terraces, located on the southern slopes of Ailao Mountain in Yuanyang County (part of Honghe Hani Autonomous Prefecture) and located in the south of Yunnan Province has been a masterpiece of the ingenuity of the Hani people for generations. Southern Ailao Mountain, with this typical tiered landscape, is famed for its unique frontier scenery.
The town of Old Yuanyang is a Hani minority settlement atop a ridge of the Ailao mountain range at an elevation of around 1570 meters. It is a popular destination with photographers due to the vast areas of nearby mountains which have been cultivated into terraced rice paddies for at least the past 1300 years by the Hani people. Despite the overwhelming scenic beauty of its landscape and colorful local minorities, mass tourism has not developed in this region, mainly due to its remote location, lack of a nearby airport, and until fairly recent, relative inaccessibility due to bad road conditions.
The Hani people's ancestors came to this steep mountain area 2,500 years ago. In their struggle against the difficult terrain they successfully established the terraces, where they grew rice in order to make a living. The technology of developing fertile land on rugged mountain slopes didn't spread all over China and Southeast Asia until 14th century. The creativity of the Hani people turned this mountain area into one of artistic beauty. In recognition, the Ming Dynasty emperor granted the title of 'Skillful Sculptor' to Hani people and their good reputation was passed down from generation to generation. At present, known as 'land sculpture' the terraced fields have been being officially acknowledged by UNESCO as a World Cultural and Natural Heritage site.
The terraced areas of interest to visitors are mainly found between 1000 and 2000 meters above sea level. The winter temperatures here, although never freezing, are such that they only support one rice crop a year. After the harvest, from mid-September till mid-November depending on the elevation, the terraces are filled with water until April, when planting begins.
The vast majority of the ethnic minority women in Yuanyang county still wear traditional clothes as their daily attire. The main ethnic group is the Hani who share the region with several other minorities such as the Yi and Miao. Market days in the villages tend to be very colorful when the different minority groups in the vicinity, each in their own traditional costume, come together to trade and socialize.
Photo credits: Digitalpress, Erinpackardphotography, Hupeng, Kozi75, Wingkit.