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  • Writer's pictureRick

China #13: Truly Ancient Nuodeng Ancient Village (云龙诺邓古村)

Sights: Nuodeng Ancient Village (诺邓古村)

Region: Yunlong County, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan


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Most ancient cities, towns and villages in China are more or less affected by tourism and modernisation and became less original over time. Despite all these external influences, Nuodeng Ancient Village, in a hilly area of Yunlong County, is one of the most well-preserved and still truly-ancient. The millennium Bai village (千年白族村) is relatively new to tourism but is primarily still a residential area for the Bai minorities. It will remain a peaceful village for many years to come.

After 3 days in Dali Ancient City, our group, comprising of 4 solo travellers, came to Nuodeng Ancient Village, led by Xiaolong, a Bai-people whose hometown was in Nuodeng Town (诺邓镇). We were in good hands.

Getting From Dali to Nuodeng Ancient Village

From Dali Ancient City, we took Bus Service 8 to Dali new city and alighted near the bus station.

From Dali Bus Station (大理汽车客运站), we hopped onto a local bus bounded for Nuodeng Town in Yunlong County. After reaching the town, Xiaolong got us onto a mini-van for Nuodeng Ancient Village after speaking with his fellow Bai-people in their own language. The mini-van was sort-of a taxi in the countryside. It took about 20 minutes to the village.

Where I Stayed

After reaching Nuodeng Ancient Village, we had to walk up several flights of steps to reach our accommodation for the night. This was inevitable as the village was built on a hill slope. Travellers with towed luggage would have problem getting up and down the steps — it is better to travel in rural areas with a backpack.

And we were finally at our accommodation, 復甲留芳苑 (Fujia Liufang Garden), a home stay. Yes, we would be staying with a Bai-minority family. There was another group of travellers staying at the home stay.

We could see the hill opposite Nuodeng Village unobstructed, which was the advantage of building houses on a hill slope. No houses would block each other's views.

Nuodeng Ancient Village was truly ancient and had preserved most of its traditional architectures and ways of life. And the toilets were still very ancient — they were wooden sheds above feces pools located a short distance away from any residence. There were planks with a hole in each toilet and everything would go down to the feces pool below. These ancient toilets were city dwellers' worst nightmares.

Knowing that most visitors from outside the village would have issues with the ancient toilet, our home stay had a modern toilet bowl in the cubicle. However, it was still located outside the residential premise and above a feces pool, except that visitors would not see the pool and what was in it.

Welcome to a truly ancient village!

Views of Nuodeng Ancient Village

Below is a view of Nuodeng Ancient Village from the foot of the hill. The houses were built on the hill slope, so getting to each unit would need to walk up and down multiple flights of steps. Note the long flight of steps leading through the village in the middle.

Some houses were built on the opposite hill slope, closer to the farmlands.

We took a trek up the hill opposite Nuodeng Village and saw these horses transporting goods to the other side of the hill. Horses were still better for carrying goods through mountainous regions.

And a full view of Nuodeng Ancient Village.

Back in the village, we walked around and checked out the houses. This household was into salt-making with a boiling wok and finished salt blocks outside the house.

This was an archway with the words "世大夫第" written on it.

Taking a look at the farmlands from the top of the village.

And a beautiful shot just before sunset.

Taoist Architectural Complex of Jade Emperor Pavilion (玉皇阁道教建筑群)

A historical site that we visited in the village was the Taoist Architectural Complex of Jade Emperor Pavilion. It was situated further up the hill just above Nuodeng Village.

The 3-tier wooden Jade Emperor Pavilion was a remarkable architectural feat from the Ming dynasty and had stood its ground for several hundreds years. The most precious artifact was the 28 Constellation Diagrams (二十八星宿图) on the ceiling of the pavilion. It was damaged during the Cultural Revolution. Some Chinese websites mentioned that the diagrams were in the process of being restored — in April 2017.

It was a very short and brief visit as we went there just before sundown. We retreated back to the village in the dark.

Thousand-Year Ancient Salt Well (千年古盐井)

The hill that Nuodeng Ancient Village rested on actually had rich deposits of natural rock salt underneath it. As these potassium-rich salt were much purer than sea salt and not contaminated by marine minerals, it was of the highest grade.

We visited the Thousand-Year Ancient Salt Well at the foot of the hill to understand their manufacturing process. Water was pumped into the salt well to erode the salt deposits. As the water flowed out of the well, it carried dissolved salt with it.

The salted water was then boiled in a large wok to evaporate the water. After the water was removed, the recovered salt was left to dry before being molded into white cylindrical blocks. For selling, the words "诺" and "邓" would also be molded on both ends of the finished salt block to mark its place of origin — those sold locally will not go through the extra step.

Most of us would have heard of the Silk Road (丝绸之路), ancient routes from China to other parts of Asia and as far as Europe, where horses were used to transport silk products. In Yunnan, there were also Ancient Tea-Horse Road (茶马古道) where horses transported dried tea leaves to Tibet. Nuodeng Village was on the Ancient Salt-Horse Road (盐马古道), where horses carried salt and tea leaves to the Tibetan areas.

If I did not visit Nuodeng, I would not have learned of the lesser-heard Ancient Salt-Horse Road. The impression was that salt was always made from the seas, not in the mountains.

Nuodeng Chinese Ham (诺邓火腿)

Several hours after we arrived at the homestay in Nuodeng Village and settled down, a man walked through the door into the premise. We thought that a third group of travellers had just arrived. But following him into the compound were not humans but four horses — they were carrying something on their backs.

The horses delivered 24 large hams, which were then weighed and checked.

The family of the home stay worked into the night to prepare the hams for curing. They cut away most of the lard and smeared Nuodeng's own high-grade salt on the hams. Once done, the hams would be tied to rafters inside a specially-built hut and locked up for about a year. During the one year, the salt would prevent the hams from decaying but molds would covered the whole hams. This was how Nuodeng's hams were made.

While processing the hams, the owner also cut some meat for us to have a little barbecue session. The only seasoning used was none other than Nuodeng's salt.

The next day, we went to a local provision shop to take a look at some ready-made hams. These were processed a year back.

I did not know that Nuodeng's ham was a famous delicacy in China until I saw the following poster — 《舌尖上的中国》之诺邓火腿 ("A Bite of China") — outside the village. It was then did I realised that I was very lucky to have witnessed the making process of Nuodeng's famous specialty — and they don't make hams every day.

It was a very worthy trip to Nuodeng.

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