NAME Graham Meale, Coffs Harbour NSW
THE TRIP Southern China ethnic festivals
THE ITINERARY Chinese New Year is a special time, with festivals popping up all over the country. In a group of 17 on an Explore Worldwide tour, I spent a fascinating fortnight in the rugged Guizhou province, where the colourful Miao ethnic minorities are most heavily concentrated.
First we travelled to the village of Longga for the final day of the Tiaohuacha festival of the Longhorn Miao where music and dancing involve courtship rituals. Participants in colourful, intricately embroidered costumes attach animal horns to their hair, then wind around them decorative buns of linen, wool and ancestral hair, secured with broad white ribbons.
We stayed in a private home in the village of Nande, and saw two spectacular festivals. The intricate costumes feature colourful pleated skirts with brocades and silver adornments and headwear that includes crowns, flowers, hair clasps, combs, hair-pins, earrings, ear pendants, chains, locks, shawls, bracelets and bells. One set of silver jewellery can weigh over 10 kilograms. Many of the villagers play an elaborate bamboo reed flute called a lusheng, along with drums, cymbals and gongs. On our way into the village we were offered sips of rice wine from buffalo horns. We'd been warned that if we touched the horn with our hands, we would have to drink its entire contents!
We were also adopted by a village for a fire dragon festival, who had made a dragon for us, along with colourful embroidered vests. After a brief tutorial, we marched our dragon through the streets into the nearby town of Leishan, where we took part in the activities. The Chinese had never seen Westerners do this before, and we ended up on television and in the newspapers; something neither they nor we will forget in a hurry.
BEST BITS Participating in the fire dragon festival.
WORST BIT Eating with chopsticks.
BEST TIP Go before they're overrun with tourists.
WHERE TO NEXT A motoring holiday in the Balkans.
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