While first-timers to China are elbowing their way through throngs of tourists at Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall and the Bund, China veterans will be delighted by the green, hilly and naturally beautiful Guizhou province.
This southwestern province, known for its traditional rural villages, ethnic minority groups and natural beauty, opens up a whole new world of discovery in a lesser-known region of China.
Most travelers will make the capital, Guiyang, their home base. It is easy to take day trips from there and explore the cultural and natural sides of the province. The capital itself is relatively unremarkable when compared to the better-known Chinese capitals, but it still has a lot to offer when it comes to understanding the history and culture of the province. The city has several hotel options, including Sheraton, Howard Johnson, Pullman International, Kempinski, Hyatt Regency and Anantara.
One of the most popular (and spectacular) sites in the region is the Huangguoshu Waterfall, one of many found in the Huangguoshu Waterfall National Park, which is veined with walking trails. This waterfall is arguably the region's No. 1 attraction as travelers gather around the falls to gaze to the Rhinoceros Pool below. The waterfalls are part of a massive cave complex that was discovered in the 1980s. Travelers can spelunk their way through the natural passageway of the 440-foot-high Water Curtain Cave, which is behind the waterfall.
The exploring continued at the Zhijin Cave, the longest cave in China at six miles. This stony natural wonder seemed to sprawl endlessly, opening up in small sections within the cave with tunnels that look up nearly 500 feet.
Guizhou also has an incredibly diverse cultural community, with 37% of the province's population made up of various ethnic minorities.
The eastern section of the province is home to Dong and Miao villages. Zhaoxing village has one of the largest Dong minority populations in China. The village lies on a small river, in a basin shielded by misty, jungled mountains. It's a beautiful piece of history that is preserved in time.
The focal point for the Dong people, the village has a theater, singing platforms, grain barns and five drum towers. The festivals in this village are a sight worth taking in.
The most important Dong festivals are Dong New Year, the New Harvest Festival and the Sama Festival, but the one that is most compelling to experience is the Ni Ren Jie Festival, which has 500 years of history.
It is normally celebrated after the autumn harvest and traditionally centers around giving thanks to the gods, and consists of two parts, Duoma (playing with mud) and Daoshen (bullfighting).
On Aug. 15, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, naked young men plunge into a muddied pond and proceed to catch fish with their hands. Each time they catch one, they hold their prize high so onlookers can offer their praises. As the pond becomes muddier and muddier, participants smear mud on the bodies of everyone in the pond. This is followed by a bullfighting competition in the pond.
Guizhou might not be on the bucket list of the majority of travelers, but for those with a passion for Chinese history and culture, it is a highlight that should not be missed and will add a new dimension to a visit to China.