Baishuitai (白水台) is one of the largest sinter terraces in China. Baishuitai of Sanba Township is 101 kilometers in the southeast of the Shangri-la county.

Apart from its picturesque scenery, Baishuitai is also the place of origin of the Dongba Culture of the Naxi minority. On the 8th day of the 2nd lunar month, the local Naxi people will gather here to worship the mountain god.

Baishuitai map

Basic Information

Geographic location: It is situated in Baidi Village, Sanba Township, 101 kilometers from Shangri-La County.
Scenic status: it is one of the largest sinter terraces in China.
Tour time: 3 ~ 4 hours

Travel Tips

  1. On the left of the sinter terrace stands a natural white crystallized stone statue looking like a lady with child thus is regarded as the goddess of reproduction. It is said that if an infertile woman goes to worship the goddess, she will be blessed with one.
  2. Dongbaism: Dongbaism or Dongba religion was formed on the basis of the ancient Naxi religion with the adoption of some from the Bon sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The White Water Terrace is considered by the masters of Dongbaism as central to the practice of Dongbaism. The master who hasn’t been to the White Water Terrace is not regarded as a true “Dongba”. For the last 250 years, thousands of adherents to Dongba have made a pilgrimage to the White Water Terrace, studying scriptures and practising doctrines. This is truly the holy land of Dongba religion.
  3. Mo Rock: It lies in some bushes on a hillside situated to the northwest of the White Water Terrace. It is believed that this is the site where Dingbashiluo, saint-founder of Dongbaism, sat in deep meditation and first practised Dongbaism.
  4. Amingling Cave: It is a karst cave on the hillside of Bai Peak located to the north of the White Water Terrace gorge. It is said that the second saint-father of Dongbaism, Amingshiluo, wrote scriptures and practised Dongbaism here. Therefore, this is a very important religious place for Naxi people.

Recommended Tour Route

“Dragon swimming in the silver water” → “the fair’s embodiment” → “god’s farmland” → “heaven in a mirror” → “spraying pearls”

Key Points

The formation of the terrace, features of the five zones, doctrines of Dongbaism, Dongba pictographs, the February 8th Festival.

The White Water Terrace

The White Water Terrace, or Baishui Terrace, is situated in Baidi Village, Sanba Township, southeast of Shangri-La County. To the west of Baidi Village is a spring, which though clear, contains a high concentration of calcium bicarbonate. When the spring water reaches the surface, a chemical reaction occurs which results in layers of white calcium carbonate being deposited as the water flows down the steep hill. These deposits have spread and thickened over time, forming various magnificent shapes. If viewed from afar, it looks as if a waterfall has been turned to a white stone as it flowed through the green woods. Viewed from below, it looks like a grand silvery white waterfall forming a milky way linking the earth to the sky. Towards the top and on the left of the sinter terrace stands a natural white crystallized stone statue. It is in the shape of a lady with child and it is regarded as the “goddess” of production. It is said that if an infertile woman goes to worship this goddess, she is bound to be blessed and to become pregnant soon after.

baishuitai

The White Water Terrace covers an area of approximately 3 square kilometers. It is an exceptional example of a sinter terrace, a fairly rare natural phenomenon, which is categorized as a surface karst area.

The terrace has been divided from the upper part to the lower into five zones on the basis of naturally occurring features. These have been named by the locals as “Dragon Swimming in the Silver Water”, “the Fairy Embodiment”, “God’s Farmland”, “Heaven in a Mirror” and “Spraying Pearls”, each having its own special characteristics. Viewed from a distance, the terrace looks like a silvery, shining pearl spreading over the land. Viewed nearby, this terrace seems to form a grand fairy pathway constructed of white marble. Looking up from below the terrace, one can see a path leading to the heaven with numerous steps. Stepping onto the terrace, visitors will find themselves in a fairyland of glittering and splendid surroundings, as if entering a dragon palace or a jade pavilion. The spring has been looked upon as a source of holy or sacred water by the Naxi people, to whom part of the white water terrace is known as “God’s Farmland”.

God’s Farmland

The spring has special significance in Naxi people’s well-known Dongba culture. Dongba beliefs are central to ancient Naxi culture. Features of this culture include a pictographic writing system, Dongbaism, Dongba scriptures and Dongba arts, all of which are actively practised among the local people. This culture holds a remarkable place in the world cultures.

Dongbaism, the essential part of Dongba culture, is polytheistic. The doctrine of Dongbaism holds that all objects such as mountains, rivers, trees, stones and springs embody holy spirits that should be worshiped. If following this doctrine, people can be happy and healthy with favourable weather and thriving crops and livestock.

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Central to the religion is the need for people to care for and love each other. They should respect the aged and care for the young, and share joy and pain together. The text embodying the doctrines of Dongbaism and outlining its moral codes is God Way, an incomplete statute book essentially capturing the contents of Dongbaism and Dongba arts. It is also a great work reflecting the criterion for good manners and outlining the grand ideals of the Naxi people.

The cosmology of the book is as follows: The world is divided into three parts. The upper space is a heaven full of peace and happiness; in the middle space live human beings subject to joy and pain; and in the lower space or the nether world, sinners live subject to severe suffering. A person who leads a gentle and restrained life will go to the heaven after death, while a person who commits many bad deeds or crimes is bound to enter the nether world suffering severe punishment at the end of his life. Of the bad deeds and crimes, licentiousness, gossip, unfilial behaviour, laziness and theft are considered unforgivable.
Naxi people who believe in Dongbaism view these doctrines as central to their work and life. These doctrines and practices have been passed down from generation to generation.

Dongba pictograph or writing is the oldest living pictographic written system. The forefathers of Naxi People had begun creating and developing Dongba pictographic characters since the 3rd century B.C. In the following years the pictographs were continuously increased and refined, eventually forming a complete set of Dongba pictographs which was widespread by the 3rd century A.D. The main function of the pictograph was to write religious scriptures and draw Dongba paintings. All the Dongba scriptures preserved up to now have been written in Dongba pictograph.

The White Water Terrace is central to one of the grand festivals of the Naxi people. This festival has a history of over one thousand years and is celebrated on February 8 of the lunar calendar. In the hearts of Dongba practitioners, the White Water Terrace was the Gods’ symbol, the Buddha’s resort, and, above all, the most sacred of altars. It is considered that the terrace was the first place where Dinbashiluo, the founder of Dongbaism, preached to his believers. Every year on February 8 of the lunar calendar, the local Dongba masters take their disciples to the terrace for sacred activities. In legend the White Water Terrace was created by the White Water Goddess to teach human beings to the way of cultivation. She also allowed the spring god to open the everlasting spring so that human beings could live a peaceful and happy life with favourable weather. On this day, in order to memorize the White Water Goddess that ever came to the terrace of their forefathers, Naxi people come in their best clothes, carrying incense and offerings of food to worship their saviour, mistress and friend —- the White Water Goddess. Over the years more and more people have come to attend this rite, which becomes a grand festival.

The first ritual of the February 8th, the festivity aims to pray for the blessing of the White Water Goddess. All people, young and old, kneel before the statue of the Goddess and pray. Then incense is burned to the heavens. During this activity, the elderly men from each family come to the fore to burn incense, praying for happiness and a healthy life, and a good harvest. While the smoke from the incense drifts to the sky, the master of Dongbaism chants scripture. The thick smoke of the incense rising above the silver white of the White Water Terrace and contrasting to the clouds and blue sky creates a strong religious atmosphere.

After this part of the ceremony, participants then have a communal meal. Family members sit around small fires, cooking pork, chicken, and so on to share their meal with each other. In these activities, it is important for people to maintain respect for the elderly and to show favour and special care for the children. This would allow all people to approach heaven which makes their souls completely purified.

The last activity of the Festival involves dancing. Girls and boys dance the “Akabala Dance”. Then all people join the dance by forming concentric circles, dancing “Alili”, “Yahali” and the “Lusheng dance” as well as the “flute dance” introduced from some other ethnic group. There is also horse racing and displays of horsemanship. The performances conducted by riders and dancers in traditional dress crowded around present a unique and unforgettable scene.

The White Water Terrace is a special place possessing special geological significance and ancient religious significance. The celebration of the traditional February festival is still important and it is believed that a visit to the White Water Terrace will help to achieve a bumper harvest.

Words and Expressions

calcium bicarbonate 碳酸氢钙
categorize v. 加以类别,分类
“dragon swimming in the silver water” 银水游龙
“the fairy’s embodiment” 神女显灵
“god’s farmland” 仙人遗田
“heaven in a mirror” 明镜映天
“spraying pearls” 银珠翻花
Dongba pictograph 东巴象形文字
polytheistic adj. 多神教的
cosmology adj. 宇宙哲学,宇宙论
saviour n. 救星,救世主
“Akabala Dance” 阿卡巴拉舞

Image: Oliver Huang, Chinese web

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