Rongtrak (རོང་བྲག), also known in Chinese as Danba County (丹巴), is situated around 350 kilometers west of Chengdu, in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of western Sichuan Province. Zhangu, a pleasant town at the bank of Dadu River, is Danba’s county seat. ‘Kingdom of Watchtowers’ and ‘Beauty Valley’ are the two titles given to Danba County because of its thousands of watchtowers and beautiful Tibetan women.
Tibetan villages in Danba County are culturally rich places and have been dubbed as the most striking ethnic Chinese villages. The famous among these include Jiaju, Zhonglu, and Suopo – littered with watchtowers and traditional Tibetan fortress houses. Each of these villages is on a separate mountain a short distance from one another. All three Tibetan villages have their own unique architecture and culture depicted in their housing style.
Danba County is scattered with stone watchtowers ranging from 300 to 1,500 years old. These watchtowers were constructed in different polygonal shapes and with differing heights up to 60 meters using refined construction techniques. Some are clustered together while others stand alone on hills. The majority of these watchtowers are found in the villages of Zhonglu and Jiaju.
Their Historical Uses
Moreover, different types of watchtowers at different locations served unique purposes. These include Yao’ai (Strategic Pass), which was erected at strategic places such as mountain passes to deter entrance. Jia (Dwelling) was built within villages to connect houses and served as storage during peace and as defense during war. The Zhai tower (Village) was set up at the entrance to villages for protection. Lastly, Fenghuo (Beacon-Fire) watchtowers were positioned at hilltops for communication purposes using flames/fires.
Current Day Usage
Danba’s towers were not only used for protection from enemies but also signified a family’s influential status. Today these watchtowers are used by farmers to store equipment on the ground floor.
Valley of Beauties
Tibetan women in the villages of Danba County have gained the reputation of being attractive and graceful. Their stunning beauty thus gives the valley its name – Beauty Valley. Many women have now left the villages for better job opportunities as hostesses, office assistants, and models in bigger cities. According to a myth, a phoenix that flew to Mo’erduo Mountain (Holy Mountain) transformed into thousands of pretty women, which is why women are blessed with beauty in the area. Every three years, a beauty contest is held in the County to select the prettiest girl. Danba girls are usually seen to be wearing a headdress, turquoise and coral ornaments into their plaited hair, and an ethnic style red dress.