The minivan carries me from Xiamen towards the tulou region of Fujian province takes me to surprisingly beautiful landscapes, culminating in a mountain pass between two villages where I see my first tulou houses. I have boarded this bus with directions given by the hotel staff, but I am not even sure where it will take me, and if I should get off. Just when I am about to ask the driver, the passengers get off, and it turns out I am supposed to get off anyway. I find myself next to a modern shopping mall-type of building, and walk to a big shiny tourist centre, wondering if I am really close to the centuries-old famous earthen tulou structures that I am looking for. After seeing a map of the cluster, I decide to buy the entrance ticket. As soon as I walk inside, and leave the brand-new buildings behind, I feel a little more confident. Then, I see a ruined tulou on the other side of the river, and a big square tulou on my side as well. I now know that I am on the right track. On the Tourist Map, five tulous are designated, but I soon realize that there are actually many more in this cluster. I steer clear of the groups of tourists working their way through Hongkeng Tulou Cluster, visiting tulous that are genuine examples of what they have been for a long time already.
Outside, they look like orderly buildings, with symmetry in their design, with square or rectangular windows, often with a painted frame around them. Inside, though, they more often than not turn out to be messy. In the huge courtyard, there are often small buildings where chicken roam, laundry machines are installed, kitchens, or just storage rooms. Higher up, laundry is hanging to dry on lines. I walk up a hill for a good view over the village, and see some of the biggest tulous from a distance. I walk to Kuiju Lou, which locals compare to the Potala palace: an impressive, whitewashed, square building at the east end of the cluster. Just in front, I see kaki fruits drying, while the inside turns out to be more cramped than I imagined, because of the many small buildings squeezed into the courtyard. From here, a short walk takes me across the river to the smallest circular tulou of Hongkeng Tulou Cluster, which has an intimate family feeling. Shortly thereafter, I get in touch with a lovely local lady, who will be my guide for the rest of my stay here. We visit the enormous Fuyu Lou, which consists of five big, square buildings, right on the riverfront, and visit the wedding hall, decorated in red, before continuing alongside the river to the ancestral temple of the Lin family.
Even though it is closed, my friend manages to talk us through the gate. After an extensive dinner, I find a place to sleep in Zhencheng Lou, the largest circular tulou of the entire cluster, dubbed the Prince tulou by locals. Inside, much of the building is made of wood, and red lanterns are hanging on every floor. The night in the traditional Hakka building makes clear that this is a traditional apartment block: I hear the familiar sounds of children playing, parents trying to silence them, people talking. At ground level, people have small shops and places to eat something. The next morning, we explore Zhencheng Lou by daylight, pass the huge Banyan Tree, and buy my ticket to Xiamen before delving deeper into the tulous. Walking the narrow streets with my newfound friend makes a clear difference: for one, she can translate the writings above entrance gates of tulous. Also, we are now invited in for tea, chat with locals where my friend acts as a translator, and experience generosity of the friendly and curious Hakka people. We make our way up to a viewpoint on a hill, which is not easily reached but gives great views over all the main tulou buildings. Kaki fruits are easily harvested here, and can often be picked off the ground. When we are back at the village, we taste several teas before making our way back to the entrance of the Hongkeng tulou cluster where I catch my bus back to Xiamen.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Hongkeng Tulou Cluster (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Hongkeng Tulou Cluster.
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