Cuo najian—The Most Beautiful Wonderland in Ruo ergai
Written by Chonggang Deng
As is well-frequented, Ruo ergai is a place where many people must have seen the first bend of the Yellow River, rambled through the red flowers, while less known is Cuo najian situated in Nenwa town, when compared, still remaining unveiled, for its unintelligible bearings in the map. Being mystic, it is not open to visitors, including local people; a place that swallowed countless lives of Red Army soldiers, and being secret, it is home to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of birds, as China’s largest wetlands with the maintenance of the original style. Crowned as Sichuan and China’s kidneys, the wetlands, to protect it, has long been kept unknown to the outside by the local government and herdsmen. Viewed from sky, interspersed with lakes, wetlands and luxuriant grassland where cattle and sheep are fattening leisurely, this place, with peace and serenity, seems as if a precious stone well decorated in the Sichuan Plateau.
Ruo ergai is known by the first impression that the Red Army once made the Long March on the grassland especially to the people who bear the history on mind. The place is pregnant of animation with a grassland, boundless but desolate, on which grow the delicate and attractive flowers, and pools looking up the blue sky. According to the geography teacher, such an environment officially can be termed swamp or wetland. It is Ruoergai, as a student could know, that is symbolic of arduous struggle, a “magic blanket” engulfing the lives of some Red Army soldiers, for whom it is beyond their understanding why such a beautiful prairie had thrown them into the disaster, putting a unspeakable halt to their short life span.
As time flies, life comes back to the prairie. Ruo ergai, formerly so-called, while it still sits there as before, now covers not only swamps, but hills, meadows, spruce and shrubs, besides which such dexterous animals as cattle, sheep, wild deer and others also can be seen, as well as the industrious herdsmen who lived there by generations. However, it has been confronted with a tremendous change that due to the climate change wetlands are reduced in great quantities, and areas of desertification result from excessive exploitation, far from the wetlands as erstwhile both geographically and historically.
It is the place that boasts vast grassland, swamps and swamp meadow. Two largest freshwater lakes, called Cuonajian and Haqiu, cover an area of 1500 mu. In addition, the south-to-north Black River flows throughout the county. It is said that in summer and autumn, ”Nenwa" served the best for the king Gesar, and is also the place where he proclaimed his kingship, for which the herdsmen claim to be the descendants of the army of Gesar. Thus, there maintained a featured cultural life, domestic beliefs and customs, the distinctive horse culture formed. Every year in June, there will be horse racing events. At that time when it is sunny with mild winds, people dressed in beautiful festive costumes, carrying highland barley wine, yogurt and other foodies, with all kinds of beautifully designed tents, flock from all directions to the game by riding a horse. It is not only the gathering between farmers and herdsmen, but the occasion when they have exchanges of experience in farming and domestication, as well as the best display of the Tibetan spirit.
A year ago, on my way from Tibet to Ruo ergai, during the reception dinning, they, by the mention of Cuo najian, introduced its mystery. The most attractive is that the lake is the most sacred place in the minds of the local herdsmen, and that it is home to the million birds, especially in the spring,when you can pick up the eggs everywhere, so much as to leave no room in your basket. However, those people never do it, in order not to disrupt the harmonious coexistence. It is always my wish to step onto there, for which I have prepared for a year, since I have not been able to find this place on the map due to the written name. The furtherer it seems, the eagerer my heart is. Out of the strong sense of protection for the wetlands, the locals do not want people to disturb their peaceful life, nor to trample the vulnerable ecology here. And finally, one day, introduced by a friend, I get the chance to know the dean of local hospital Baimaduoji,doctor Langta and a Tibetan Gongbodongzhou, and luckily get the access to the secret Ruoergai.
The Arrow-Inserting Festival in Zha sage
Upon our arrival, we cannot wait but to explore the mysterious place. But a heavy rain deterred us from approaching it. Much to our disappointment, the doctor Langta surprised us by saying that in his hometown there will be in the next day a arrow-inserting festival which is worth seeing, and that he will go back for it as the custom asks, no matter how far it is, for it is for men only, even with women visitors excluded, including our women photographer, which arouse our curiosity. By looking up in the map, it borders Gannan Diebu County, still on the way to the distant Zha Ga La, which is also one of the secret of Ruo ergai. Seemingly, this is a rare opportunity for us to shoot the humanities documentary, and we certainly can not miss it. Ronta said, attending the festival means a lot to him, that is, for the home, his grandfather and uncle. And he told us some of their stories, but with personal feelings considered, I put those sad stories deep in my heart. To the festival, the simplest meaning is to strike the concord among the nation, tribes and neighborhoods. I didn’t expect there to be the arrow-inserting festival until then, since like before I only knew that there was one in Gannan Tibetan areas.So, we decided to follow Ronda to explore into another secret - Zaza Gage, with a lot of unexpected gains.
On the way to the town of Zaza, being lovely and young, doctor langta is very active, telling us the stories of many predecessors, his learning experiences and dreams. He, as a Tibetan from the forest, is poorer than those from grassland when compared, so they believe that only by redoubling their efforts to learn can they change the fate of their own and their family members. Langta's aunt graduated from the Southwest Institute of Nationalities, constantly encouraging him to study hard, and the unfortunate family life also moved Langta and his sister forward. Langta's sisters were all admitted to the university and he himself was to the secondary school. Being outgoing and aspiring, he has already become the exemplar in the hospital in Nanwa county, setting the baima as an example to follow, in the pursuit of being a reputed doctor locally.
The place where the arrows festival is held is given to the Zashag mountain in the village of Ama, Xiagong. As for the village, it separates into three parts: the upper, middle and lower, geographically it sits in the valley surrounded by mountains, which is like a blue-and-white porcelain bowl, below which cluster the Tibetan houses. It renders the village coolness and comfort to see thin mist shrouding the surrounding green mountains, which can be likened to the dancing vapors, and silk-like luxuriant grass blanketing the slope. Occasionally the exposure of the light yellow, gray rock added to more beauty as the embellishment and decoration of the green mountains.
Trampled walls are typical of Tibetan houses, with roofs relatively flat.However, the new houses, made from bricks, usually have two or three stories, with the windows widely open. I can totally imagine that the room must be well-lit. And the smoke was seen belching from the village, with a smell, imbued with firewood embers, overflowing with a little bit scent of singe mixed with aroma from the childhood memories. The hillside sees piles of firewoods neatly stacked,which was for the autumn and winter’s accumulation. In the gentle hillside there are large tracts of barley, and upon ripening time, the harvest color is getting thicker. Having a high sense of protection, the villagers built stockades where it is far from the slopes to prevent the invasion of the beast.
Early in the morning, the men made their way to the top of the mountain,with Tibetan traditional costumes, colorful cloth belt on the waist, carrying the long-prepared long arrow. Arrows for the festival are meticulously prepared, one for each family, usually 3 meters to 5 meters long, with the shaft made of a complete tree nude of bark, the arrow head painted blue, the end made of feather shaped triangle and arrow board decorated with chosen patterns such as the sun, the moon, or sheep, snail or umbrella, horns or water and clouds. To the end of the arrow feather they tied the white woolen rope (mostly white Hada), a symbol of the pure respect for mountain god. To it were also tied ribbons with colors as red, yellow, blue, green and white, representing relatively the sun, land, sky, forests and clouds, as the symbol of worship and auspice to nature. And to the top of the arrow was also tied a cluster of cypress branches.
To where the arrows insert, in Tibetan called “Laze", it is generally located at the top or the hillside, meaning the place where God live. Where to set it must be selected by the Buddhist monk, and under that, a box should be placed in advance. Still, above the box they will set up a four-edge cypress symbolized "life wood” as the target, on which the presiding monk inscribes the prayers on the four sides. With white Hada, white wool and Yellow satin all fixed, then comes the beginning of chanting prayer, practicing things.
The offerings were placed on the one-meter long square. Arrows festival begins with the chanting, and followed the Tibetan people after the head of the village rounding the simmering mulberry. First, they spread in the high pine and cypress grains, butter and dried fruit, and then lit pine and cypress branches usually by the village's most prestigious elders. A ray of white smoke slowly rises, as if a Hada drifting to the blue sky. At the same time, people began to throw to the sky the "wind horse" (the small paper printed with text, in Tibetan called “Laner", also called "Ronda"), while shouting "La Galle" (in Tibetan, Invincible). Then, people circled around the square about three laps, and handed arrows to the arrow man. Then, holding the glorious and sacred mission, generally selected from the most brawny of the village, they should be careful to insert the arrows high and tight.
At that time, around the square the boys are also excited to throw "wind horse" to the sky, and perhaps they still do not understand the true meaning of this small piece of paper. However, the flying "wind horse" intertwined with blue sky and white clouds, with the cries of people echoing throughout the valley, seeming as if driving away all the evil and disaster. All of this will be like a seed of peace cultivated in the hearts of children, like Ronda, waiting for their growing up physically and mentally.