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Ambassadors Programme

Explorer

Alessandra Meniconzi

Jan21

Ladders Towards Heaven

By Alessandra Meniconzi, Tuesday January 21, 2014
In winter the water acts as a  'woollen blanket': during the day it warms up and absorbs the necessary heat, which is then released during the night... thus protecting the small plants from the sudden changes in temperature. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was  1/40sec at f/11,  ISO 160.

In winter the water acts as a 'woollen blanket': during the day it warms up and absorbs the necessary heat, which is then released during the night... thus protecting the small plants from the sudden changes in temperature. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/40sec at f/11, ISO 160. © Alessandra Meniconzi

Walking through the Ailao mountains, I found myself in the [Chinese] province of Yunnan, situated in an enviable position which bestows it with an all-year-round mythical climate. It is the country of 'Eternal Spring'; reaching the extreme south-western part of the popular Republic of China which borders with Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.

I awoke with difficulty before the rising of the sun. The fog slid away with such impressive speed from the mountains, blurring the entire landscape... which was still enveloped by the darkness. After a frugal and quick breakfast, still very tired, I walked for about two hours to admire the dawn. A single pathway, nearly all backed by a natural landscape, unwinds above the rice fields and touches the region’s most panoramic points. Each curb offers unforgettable glimpses on the terracing.

For a week, I went on excursions that radiated towards the most panoramic locations of the region. Having reached the highest point in the mountain, a spectacular natural amphitheatre appeared before my eyes. With the moving of the clouds and the rising of the sun, in an extraordinary atmosphere that almost felt magical, I was captured by the splendour of the unusual scene. Like a chameleon the water-filled terraces continuously changed colours; ranging from blue to grey, reaching a shining gold. The spell began to take shape from the harmony of its hills, where vast steps delicately follow the contours and form fabulous arabesque shapes.

The wind hit me with its gusts, without a break. Taking photographs with the tripod became an almost impossible task. The day appeared to be misleadingly sunny. In the blink of an eye thick fog transformed itself into dense clouds, filled with rain, which quickly obscured the sky... transforming it into a big, grey, empty space. Suddenly, light rain turned into a storm. The sky in this area is nearly always cloudy and for over six months a year the entire region is wrapped in thick fog.

I decided to take a closer look at these 'masterpieces'. To reach the cultivated patches, overriding paths are created: this simplified my walk... but not for quite long enough. Entering the labyrinth of rice fields was a true adventure. I followed some farmers who, with their buffaloes, walked in a perfectly balanced way on retention walls which enclose the terraces by keeping the waters that irrigate the harvests. Each step required particular caution, not only because I did not want the land beneath my feet to yield, which would in turn have ruined the farmers’ patient and long work, but also because I was afraid of falling in the rice field below, placed a few metres under the preceding one.

I left the spectacular place with great regret: thinking of the ingenious integration of the Hanis people with the surrounding nature, engraved by generations with ancient methods, and a thought of hope towards the preservation of this distant and remote corner of earth.

The Hanis people are 'masters of the water' more than the 'masters of the land'. It is calculated that in order to cultivate a kilo of rice around 3,000 to 10,000 litres of water are needed. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/40sec at f/11, ISO 160.

The Hanis people are 'masters of the water' more than the 'masters of the land'. It is calculated that in order to cultivate a kilo of rice around 3,000 to 10,000 litres of water are needed. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/40sec at f/11, ISO 160. © Alessandra Meniconzi

Men and women create new farming space without any modern machinery but just with the strength of their arms. In the first three years not rice but potatoes, corn, grains and various vegetables are cultivated. At the end of this period the field is ploughed up, weeded and finally flooded. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/160sec at f/6.3, ISO 640.

Men and women create new farming space without any modern machinery but just with the strength of their arms. In the first three years not rice but potatoes, corn, grains and various vegetables are cultivated. At the end of this period the field is ploughed up, weeded and finally flooded. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/160sec at f/6.3, ISO 640. © Alessandra Meniconzi