Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
4 |
Anticipating Development and Displacement
F ROM THE small city of Baoshan in western Yunnan, it is an hour's drive northwest to
the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture. From Liuku Township, at the southern end of the
prefecture, the road traces the Nu River Gorge almost due north for 300 kilometers to the
county town of Gongshan and, beyond it, the Tibetan frontier. The Burmese border lies just
20 kilometers to the west, up and over the jagged spine of the Gaoligong Mountain Range.
Small tributaries flow down into the main stem of the Nu at regular intervals; over time,
these streams have built up alluvial fans of rich soil spanning hundreds of meters along the
riverbank, which villagers have terraced and irrigated for rice production. These tributaries,
along with abundant local springs fed by groundwater, also provide the supply of drinking
water for local villagers.
The Nu River, its turbulent water tinted a glacial blue gray, flows swiftly by. Rice paddies
crisscrossed by narrow irrigation canals line the lower areas of the gorge near the river, giv-
ing way higher upslope to rows of corn and other dryland crops and, finally, to mixed de-
ciduous forest. Through low cloud cover, small hamlets can be seen perched on ridgelines
but the people who make a living here, largely by farming and scarcely beyond the level of
basic subsistence, are startlingly poor. When our research team first began to compile the
data on household income for local villagers, one of my students constructed a spreadsheet
that showed the basic trends across our various research locations. At first glance, I was sure
that he had misplaced a decimal for the Nu River data and that the actual income figures
must be an order of magnitude higher; careful checking of the data, however, confirmed that
the figures were unfortunately correct.
Life is changing rapidly for people in the Nu River Gorge. For the past two decades, tour-
ists in search of unique ecological and cultural experiences have beaten a path to northwest
Yunnan. But they have stayed largely east of the gorge, on the well-worn circuit from Kun-
ming to Dali, Lijiang, and occasionally Shangri-La. However, the upper reaches of the Nu
watershed, beyond the county town of Gongshan, are currently undergoing rapid infrastruc-
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