Fly to Xiamen and already feel the south atmosphere: green green green. You are in a tropical zone, palm trees and banana trees all around which makes you much happier (especially in Winter).
Once you’ve left Xiamen behind you, you will progressively see tea plants around you: they are very neat shrubs decorating the road. You see them on every piece of land, a bit like rice paddy fields.
Fujian tea plantations
For the coming 2 days, it will be tulous and tulous and more tulous. More than the tulous themselves, you will enjoy the scenery around them, the villages and the landscape.
First stop at the tulou tourist center. A huge fake tulou (ugly and scary), where you have to buy your tickets to visit the valley, we can hope the money is used to maintain the villages… There are 3 itineraries, poetically named A, B and C. We chose A and C .
The first tulou clusters we’ve seen, after 2 hours drive from Xiamen, was the Tianluokeng cluster A group of 4 round tulous and a square one. They are quite touristy, too much to my taste. Still the location is very nice and the view from the top or from below is worth getting there. It’s a good introduction to the tulou world, don’t be surprised if you see the tulous packed with sellers inside.
A short introduction to the tulous: they have been built by Hakka, who are Han Chinese who flew the center of China during trouble times, they have flown to the South of China and further in South Asia. In Fujian, they have developed the tulou style, in other regions, like Guangdong you can find similar house styles (like the Weilongwu).
Tulou are fortresses, they have a clear defense purpose, very important in the troubled time they were built in, the first floor has no window. The eldest ones are from the Ming Dynasty but tulous are still being built: you can visit tulous from the 1960s sitting next to tulous from the 18th century.
They are made of thick wall of lime, sand and clay with some wood beams to reenforce the structure. Some walls are 2 meters wide and have withstand centuries of natural and human aggression.
The most famous ones have a round shape, most of them are square (the stopped building square ones as the bad spirits were hidden in the corners) but you can find all kind of shapes: half moon, losange etc.
A tulou is most of the time made of 3 floors: the ground floor is used for the kitchen, and it’s still often the case when it’s not invaded by the temple merchants. The second floor is the storage unit and the third floor is for the housing.
Inside of a tulou
It’s a bit like a castle fort or a defensive council estate… everyone lives together, in clans, and it seems there is no privacy at all.
Back to our trip. Then we moved to the C itinerary and I highly recommend it. That’s the poor man’ tulou. The one a bit further, most tourists don’t go there. Therefore, it’s the most pleasant one, the most genuine one. There are no shops, you can see a “naked” tulou for the first time. On the ground floor, you see clothes drying, chicken running free and not so many people. We will understand progressively, that most people living in the tulous are the old people or the children. The young and the young adults have mostly left to the big cities.
We finished the day at the village of Taxia. It’s a great place to spend the night. A traditional village with a river going through it. We stayed in a charming little hotel. In November it starts being cold and at night we stayed inside. But in Spring, Summer or Autumn, it is very pleasant to wander around or to eat in a cafe watching the river. Life is the same as decades ago.
On the bridge, on the street, mustard leaves are left to dry.
There is also a Hakka temple dedicated to illustrious ancestors who achieved a great career as imperial civil servants.
Temple in Taxia