"It is raining in Wenchuan. The county used to be a paradise on Earth As I flip through the photos taken during a trip last November, all I feel is sorrow."
A market in Wenchuan before the earthquake. A blogger likened it to paradise on Earth.
So reads a blog by Dazhedaren about Wenchuan county in Sichuan, where more than 19,000 people have already been confirmed dead.
Wenchuan is in northwest Sichuan, about 160 km from the capital Chengdu. Before Monday's earthquake, its official population was 106,238.
Dazhedaren's blog, posted on the online forum, Tianya, tells of a two-day holiday he spent in the village of Luobozhai, which is populated mostly by people of the Qiang ethnic group.
"I fell in love with the simple three-story houses as soon as we arrived. They are built mainly of yellow soil and stones.
"This ancient village used to be the residence of the king of the Qiang ethnic people," the blogger wrote.
But he said he was most impressed by the unsophisticated, yet extremely hospitable locals.
Dazhedaren stayed overnight at the home of a young couple. His hosts fed him "a bountiful and nutritious meal, including homegrown corn and potatoes", and homemade barley beer.
"I liked the bacon the most, so I brought some home," he wrote.
He described the village, which is hidden in a valley, as resembling a phoenix spreading its wings.
He said he also loved the surrounding scenery.
"Along a zigzag narrow trail, we climbed up a hill, where we could overlook the village.
"We felt so close to the clouds and sky and far away from the hustle and bustle in the city. There were many beautiful flowers and wild fruits, although our hostess warned that some were poisonous.
"We heard boys and girls singing traditional musical dialogues that had been passed down for generations. The Qiang culture has been well preserved here."
According to one legend, Luobozhai got its nickname "Carrot Village" after a great battle.
According to the tale, the village leader was captured and his head was cut into pieces, just like people slice carrots.
Some say the legend also explains why the village produces such high-quality carrots.
According to the blog, the village is also home to one of the country's best-maintained stone watchtowers, which dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Dazhedaren is lucky to have had the chance to see the charming Qiang village, as Wenchuan was not so well known prior to the earthquake.
The county, hailed as the "south gate" of the Aba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture, is one of only four compact counties of the Qiang ethnic minority in China.
Wenchuan also boasts a scenic spot in the valley along the Minjiang River, which is home to the endangered giant panda. It is also home to the Wolong Nature Reserve and China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda.
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency May 18, 2008)