Some of the farmhouses in Yunnan would shame even the finer ones in our own little area. We were able to visit the farmhouse of a family in Shangri-La province and were bowled over by its grace and magnificence.
A Tibetan-Yunnan province farmhouse consists of an ample two or three storied building with the animals generally kept on the ground floor, a large courtyard which is high-walled in with an entrance portal and some smaller buildings built on each side of the courtyard.
The dimensions of the main house are truly vast and the decoration is simply miraculous. Just the wood used to frame the house comes from mammoth-girthed pines. The beams and windows are particularly intricately carved.
In summer the main house is used to accomodate up to four generations sleeping around a fire whose smoke leaps up through a hole in the ceiling in a mediaeval style reminding me of the arrangement at Penshurst place in southern England. In winter the smaller rooms on the sides of the inner courtyard are used to house the occupants because it’s easier to keep them warm.
The furniture, cupboards and chests of the large mansion, a sort of piano nobile, are elaborately carved and beautifully painted. I have never seen such wonderful rural carvings before except perhaps in Nepal.
The floor planking is something to die for…
It seems that, like the Tyrol, wood-carving is an activity that happily passes away the long winter nights and is also used to represent the prestige and standing of a family. At the very least, it shows just how much people in this area delight in objects of beauty and elegance.
The latest trend is to enclose the inner courtyard with a huge conservatory-like structure. This means that the area can keep warm even in the minus 15 centigrade temperatures of winter and, with the use of solar panels (which are truly expanding investment now in an ever more-eco conscious China); life becomes ever more comfortable in an area which has always been noted for its extreme climatic conditions. I’m not too sure whether these super-conservatories enhance the nobility of these houses but they certainly help conserve heat.
In every case we were treated with true courtesy during our visit.