Dongchuan: the home of Yunnan’s red earth

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Yunnan, arguably the most diverse province in China, is a photographer’s paradise for both its mix of ethnic minorities and splendid landscapes.

Apart from the capital Kunming, historic Dali and world-famous Shangri-la, the southwestern region boasts many smaller, yet equally beautiful, places — such as Dongchuan, a less-known area 150 kilometers from Kunming.

At the north of the Yungui (Yunnan-Guizhou) Plateau, Dongchuan is largely unknown among tourists.

While travelers are amazed by the magnificent Meili Snow Mountain in Diqing and the Yulong Snow Mountain near Lijiang, they probably don’t realize that Dongchuan has a similarly gorgeous mountain, the 4,223-meter Jiaozi (sedan chair) Snow Mountain.

Dongchuan boasts high mountains and deep ravines, resulting in unique landforms and landscapes. Among them, red earth is a special feature.

The rural area of Hongtudi Town, in the Wumeng Mountain area, is hugely popular among amateur and professional photographers for its unique red earth scenery, for which the town wins its name.

In the mid-1990s, professional Chinese photographers started discovering the Wumeng scenery, but instead of exposing the natural gem, they chose to keep it a secret to protect the area. But with the photos widely exhibited, more visitors and amateur photographers are making the arduous trip to the mountainous area.

The brilliant red soil, a sharp contrast with the yellow rapeseed flowers and the deep blue skies, makes the region in Dongchuan a paradise for adventurers.

The famous red earth scenery which can be mostly found between 1,800 and 2,600 meters above sea level results partly from high temperatures and frequent rain. Rich in iron and aluminum, the soil is arid and lacks in organic matter.

The best place to see a vast, typical red soil scene is at Huashitou (109km marker), where mountains and fields display different shades of reds — crimson, magenta and rusty red.

Hilltops afar are blooming with layers of layers of colors, such as green, white and gold. Experts say Huashitou red soil is one of the world’s most imposing such scenes, second only to that of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Damakan, a viewpoint about 9 kilometers away from Huashitou along a bumpy dirt track, is one of the photographers’ favorites.

When the light comes out, the small village several hundred meters below gets busy and smoke starts rising from the farm houses. After lunch, it’s time for another shoot as the light turns warmer and brings out the best in Dongchuan’s colors.

How to get there: The flight from Shanghai to Kunming is almost four hours. Buses to Dongchuan — about three hours — are available at both Kunming North Bus Station and Kunming East Bus Station. Renting a car from Kunming to Huagou costs around 250 yuan (US$36.23) one way.

Tips: The best time to visit Dongchuan is from May to June, or from September to December.

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