"Hexi and the Wushui Valley" Hexi by mke1963

Hexi Travel Guide: 1 reviews and 3 photos

Man has given Hunan’s Wushui river many different characters, while nature has cloaked the banks and steep slopes with rocks, cliffs, steep slope and patches of fertile soil Starting from Jishou, a two hour drive 72km to Luxi presents an intimate and endearing journey through a beautiful valley. Were it to be in Europe, this would be a major tourist attraction, but in a country of huge chasms, huge mountains and huge rivers, the Wushui valley is unknown.
An early morning departure will show a valley swathed in mist; wisps and veils hover above the water, where silent boatmen paddle slender wooden boats across to the settlements on the other side. This is a poor area of China, and life is not easy in the picturesque villages clinging to the slopes. Many people along the valley are from the Tujia and Miao ethnic minority, although the younger generations rarely wear their national clothing and are largely indistinguishable from the local Han population.
Many of the buildings are wooden, constructed simply, but elegantly, having evolved over eons to be ideal for the climate and the environment. The roofline sits low and rises slowly, hanging well over the walls to provide shelter from the sun and to prevent heavy raindrops splashing against the footings of the walls. Delicate patterned trellis work fill the gap between the top of the wall and the open loft space where grass, crops and feedstock are kept dry. Subtle differences exist between the houses here and just to the south in the valleys around Huaihua: the gable end is usually open here, with a simple criss-cross framing, whereas further south it is partially boarded up, with small spaces left for air to pass through; here, many houses lack windows at the front, using windows at the back for lighting the interior. Many have a split roof to allow more air into the upper storey storage area.
Stone and grey brick houses are also common, with squared-off ends rising above the roofline, as at Fenghuang and around Jishou, the capstones picked out in white. There are many adobe barns, weathering naturally and gracefully, and adding colour to the greys and browns on a misty morning.

The river rushes, then smoothes out, trapped behind a weir. before being joined by the Wanrongjiang outside Jishou. The road hugs the south bank, lined by alder trees and willows, bare branches enlivened by fresh green buds. At the village of Hexi, a curve in the road reveals the incredible flight of stone stairs down the steep embankment to where a cluster of empty boats await their passengers. The streets of the village are crowded with people selling and buying, and the pavements are crowded with people squatted down next to their small pile of lettuce, onions, oranges and chillis. A small truck unloads terracotta pottery into special wicker carts, as the every-day market gets ready. Snack stands are busy and everyone fills with steamed this or deep-fried that, customers slurping down soup and spitting fish bones into the gutter.

We continue along the green banks, intruding for a few seconds into everyone's lives here. A man saunters long steering his brown cow to the side of the road. A rather hapless looking gent mutters at his bright pink pig as it stands stubbornly gazing across the river. Dogs leap out onto the road in pursuit of who knows what. Children skip to school, oblivious of the traffic and the adult world they inhabit. One town is awash with red mud, testament to the massive engineering work nearby, constructing a new "highway in the sky" that will soon replace the G219 road and whisk people past the markets, the cow, the pig and the children. Trucks squeeze through the narrow street, dripping red liquid out of the tailgate to add to the slush on the road: the presence of builders is good business for the economy, but at what price?
We discover a very European building on a hillside, with Dutch gables, looking remarkably like a church, but we haven't time to stop. Shortly afterwards, we cross a bridge alongside a long disused iron suspension bridge, its structure still standing, but missing the planking on the deck. A disused tollbooth remains at one end of the bridge, and both look blankly down onto the deep, dark green water way below. Next to the new bridge, with a wonderful view for many kilometres up the main river is a small grave of soldier who died in 1949, forever memorialised and forever gazing peacefully into the mist.

The road rises suddenly, pulling us up to the steep slopes and over a saddle, before descending just as quickly to the river again. At the foot, a factory belches bright orange smoke and sparks and flames can be seen inside the dark building. It is an odd intrusion into an agricultural world. Further along we come across the dam that has created the mirror calm on the Wushui: grubby and functional, but it does seem to fit the scene. Huge green gates span the river, forming a dam now, but able to be lifted clear of the water completely to regulate the flow of a storm surge. The capacity of this river to surge is amply demonstrated by the rubbish line caught in the trees, some ten metres above the water level and just below the road surface. It must be a frightening sight when this river is in full angry flow: on both sides, the houses are built way above the current water level.

After two hours, the industrial town of Wuxi is reached, factories lining both sides of the road. A bridge, the first road bridge across the river since leaving Jishou, leads into the town itself, a kilometre long stretch of crowded shops and cramped houses either side of one muddy street. Beyond, tracks lead steeply up side valleys into wider parts of Xiangxi. On the main road, the last few kilometres into Luxi reveal a more settled, flatter landscape. Finally, Luxi appears, sitting on a low embankment facing a curving fringe of limestone cliffs across the river. It is a modern town, but an older part can be found to the south-east of the city, facing the Wushui of course, with its stone steps leading way down to those deep placid waters.

West of Hexi and the Wushui Valley is the city of Jishou, and to the east is the attractive area of Luxi.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Stunningly attractive, pastoral valley
  • Cons:The highway is coming through!
  • In a nutshell:It will still be a tranquil place - see it in the morning!
  • Last visit to Hexi: Mar 2005
  • Intro Updated Apr 3, 2005
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mke1963

“Veni, vidi, VT”

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