Stolen or lost

“Too many wires in the way,” complained a Chinese photographer in the bus bouncing down the appalling unpaved road from Zhaoxing. “Ruined every one of my pictures.”

There were indeed a lot of telegraph wires, snaking up and down the valleys from village to lovely village, destroying the impression that we were back in some prelapsarian idyll before industrialisation, before pollution and quarries and communications and roads like the new expressway that is going to bring tour buses and hotels and business and change to this wonderful corner of south-east Guizhou.

In Yunnan province, the omnipresent telegraph poles have lurid signs fixed to them, exhorting passers-by not to steal the wires. “I can see why you’d want to,” complained a friend, after scrambling down yet another far-too-steep slope in an attempt to keep lines and notices out of his photos of the Nujiang.

The villages along the upper Nujiang only got electricity two years ago. We came across gangs of men, putting up telegraph wires all along this steep, wild, spectacular valley that leads into Tibet.

It was something to see, as they heaved on cables that trailed up and down precipices and across waterfalls; a wonder too, quite different from the wonder of this glorious work of nature; instead here you have to admire the planning, the human skill and ingenuity.

(And the humanity of the men, who offered us a lift back in their truck when we were faced with a long freezing moonlit trek home).

All too often in China – everywhere I’ve been, lately – the prospect of progress is linked with loss; of landscape and history, of diversity, of wilderness, (of a good photo…), of home. Dams on the Nujiang may drown these telegraph wires, and the villages they link; progress superceding progress. As a race, ingenious humans never know when to stop.

Like we didn’t know when to stop on our Nujiang walk, and had to be rescued by the workmen; but trusting to chance and random kindness is what will always be left to us.

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