Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The porters who built the Yellow Mountains

While most mountains in China are highly modernised in terms of infrastructure, with a large presence of cable cars spanning across the mountains at different altitudes, neat cement pavements, dustbins and pavillions painstakingly installed along all routes in the mountain range, there is one thing of the Chinese mountains that remains disturbingly backward (not taking account into the level of hygience and mannerism), that is the transport of goods up and down the mountains.

It seems to me, that every mountain in China I could name, is equipped with a cable car service. Yet, in the popular Yellow Mountain range, with a hefty entrance fee of £23 (high season), three cable car stations ( £8 per trip), 3-4 stars hotels littered across the mountains, is still relying solely on manual labour for the transport of all and sundry. Every single brick used in the mountains is transported manually--over the shoulders of a porter on a bamboo pole, all the way up to the final destination in the mountains. Cable car stations are built in this manner too. And we are looking at an average altitude of 1500m where most hotels are concentrated. Even walking up the steps to such height with a light pack proves to be a feat on the calves and thighs.

Face it. Every leaf of vegetable that I eat and every chair that I sit on in the mountains are hand carried by these porters. Laundry is carried down daily from the hotels to the foot of the mountains to be done before being carried back the same way it came down.

Wages are paid according to the amount of weight that they carry. I was told, on the average, the porters could carry about 75kg per trip, which is more than the body weight of the porters themselves. Some could even stretch up to 100kg.

I bear witness to a small-frame porter coping with 1 gas cylinder each on either end of his bamboo pole, negotiating his steps with that amount of weight cutting into his shoulders. It took me 4 hours just to descend from an altitude of 1800m, and with a walking stick.

While cable cars are used extensively to transport tourists who could not afford to walk up the mountains, they prove too expensive to transport daily supplies and construction equipments.

So when I sat cosily at the hotel lounge, looking at the computers, bar counters, large calligraphy frames, fridges, chandeliers, french window etc. around me, I couldn't but feel surreal.