'Live on stone, be buried in stone' is a saying which might describe the lot of the people in the rocky uplands of Ha Giang, which is where the FarmTrip Team experienced their journey on Happiness Road.
Along the Happiness Road Highway 4C otherwise known as Happiness Road is the main road, 200km in length, which goes from Ha Giang city, passing through the rocky upland districts of Quang Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van and Meo Vac with hundreds of hairpin bends and stretches that cling to the edges of precipices. Under construction from 1959 to 1965, the road was officially built through the blood sweat and tears of mostly young volunteers both local and from all over the country.
In the last cold days of 2014, when the 50th anniversary of the completion of Happiness Road approaches, the lives of those people who died on the road are commemorated. Pham Quang But from Hai Duong province, an Administrator of Cemeteries of the young volunteers in Yen Minh, could not hide hide his sadness when burning incense near their graves. He recalled that the road 4C was known as Happiness Road because of how it had since vastly improved the lives of those in the the area. The young volunteers, mostly from the local areas of PhuTho, Thai Binh, Hai Duong, working with just hoes, shovels,mini mines and often proped to the cliffs for safety, managed to complete 200kms in 6 years.
Leaving Yen Minh our team continued to journey on Happiness Road to the Dong Van rocky plateau. This is not only a world heritage karst plateau Geopark, but it contains vestiges of the Highlands in Ha Giang. Before the completion of the road, from Quan Ba to the border was separated by the Gate of Heaven and before the August revolution, all the mountainous area of Ha Giang was the kingdom of Vuong Chi Duc (1865-1947). The palace of King Vuong is situated close to Happiness Road, 14km from Dong Van. His trade connections with the north are clearly expressed in the architecture of the palace. The overall structure of more than 1000m2 with 13 main sections, is very similar to the royal houses of China of that era. the entire compound is surrounded by 1m thick stone walls, 2.5-3m in height, combined with a huge quantity of ironwood which clad the stone.
In contrast to the dramatic grey of the stone plateau, the colourful costumes of the ethnic minorities will really bewitch you. Ms Dang Bich Tho, manager of a tourism company in Ha Noi, said, 'I am fortunate to have visited many countries all over the world and have some wonderful impressions. However, every time I bring international visitors to the Dong Van Plateau, I am again excited by the colourful costumes of the girls of the ethnic groups of H'mong, Dao, Tay, Lo Lo, etc which seem to enhance the shimmering beauty of the Plateau'. Along the road from Ha Giang town! to the Bac Sum slope, up to Quan Ba, (Heaven Gate), crossing Can Ty, Yen Minh, Mau Due pass, then from Dong Van town along the superb road of Ma Pi Leng to Meo Vac, all you see is rocky mountains and steep valleys. All come together and overlap and run beside those chilling hairpin bends. Standing on the Ma Pi Leng Pass, one side is lofty cliffs and the other a deep chasm, and the Nho Que River gently flows deep in the valley. This is Nature at her most impressive.
Although when we went, the river Nho Que was shallow, as it winds around the narrow ravine it really makes the mountains seem majestic. If the scary but beautiful route of Ha Giang, Dong Van and Meo Vac leaves us breathless, the full vitality of the plateau is demonstrated by the people who will long remain in our memory. Along the Ma Pi Leng pass, in a temperature of 8 degrees, we saw the people continuing their daily lives, quite used to the harsh weather and the children still hard at work helping their parents and ragged and faded clothes and barefoot.
Like many visitors to the Dong Van Plateau we are mesmerised by the many different shapes and facets of the rocks as the sun's rays fall upon them. Some look like pyramids, some like porcupine quills, some form layers like ocean waves. Together they make an endlessly impressive scene. It can be said that on the land shaped like the letter 'S' there is no place like Ha Giang where stone is all shapes and sizes. Trains is and extremely rare and spectacular landscape.
When the Nho Que river disappears into the valleys, we reach Meo vac! a small town with the 185km landmark. Although the standard of living for the hardworking people in the north is still very poor, we can almost feel the happiness blossoming between the stones. In our memories, the rice terraces, the green corn fields, the highland markets and the lovely pupils here will live forever and this journey call Happiness Road will never end.