CHENGDU, May 3 (Xinhua) -- On a precipitous cliff by the roaring Dadu River in southwest China's Sichuan Province, Gulu Village has sat in isolation and poverty for hundreds of years.
Chang Zhaolin is among some 400 Yi ethnic minority people living in the village, known as the "Village on the Ladder to the Sky," situated on the 1,000-meter-high cliff. The name "Gulu" is said to be an onomatopoeia taken from the sound of a rock falling from a mountain. In the past, residents used a ladder when they wanted to leave the village.
"When I was little, we used to climb down the cliff with a ladder made of sticks and cane," recalled Chang, 50. "The wind was usually quite strong and often made the ladder dangle. When we looked down, our legs would be shaking."
In 2003, the local government built a narrow road, less than a meter wide. It takes more than six hours from the village to the cliff bottom and back via the road, which snakes along the mountain edge.
"On a market day, we had to set off before dawn and always got back to the village at night," Chang said.
Soon the treacherous journey will be a thing of the past. A ropeway for cable cars connecting the mountaintop and the bottom of the cliff has been built, and official operation will begin soon.
The ropeway is about 650 meters long and 700 meters high. Its cable cars can hold up to 40 people each. What once took three hours from the village to the cliff bottom will only take three minutes.
"We are currently looking for a company to operate the ropeway," said village official Luo Yunlian. "We will not only facilitate transportation for fellow villagers, but also try to attract tourists to boost the local economy through the ropeway."
"EVERYBODY GETS NERVOUS"
Legend has it that more than 400 years ago, the forefathers of the Gulu villagers had a huge fight with two other big families in Tianba Town, and only six of their ancestors survived. Two of them climbed over the mountains and the Dadu River before reaching the cliff. They settled into the dangerous landscape, realizing that the spot was easy to guard and hard to conquer. They could overlook their hometown from the top of the mountain.
For now, elementary students in the village have to walk three hours down the mountain road to go to school. Chang Zhaolin said that even adults have to walk the road with extra care, especially when they carry heavy baskets full of goods on their backs.
"Everybody gets nervous when they go on the narrow road," he said.
ROPEWAY TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD
In 2013, authorities began discussing plans to tackle the transportation problem in the village.
"Local villagers demanded a highway be built, but it would cost more than 50 million yuan (7 million U.S. dollars)," said Hou Hongbin, an official of Yongli Township, which administers Gulu Village. "Besides, building a highway would inevitably damage the ecosystem in the mountain."
Experts suggested that a ropeway would be a better choice to connect the village and the outside world, but the idea was met with strong opposition at first.
"People were suspicious because none of us had tried a ropeway before," Chang said.
To ease their concerns, authorities went door to door to explain the plan.
"We told them about the safety of a ropeway and the benefits it would bring," said Hou.
"A ropeway will not only make it easy to leave and return to the village while protecting the local ecosystem, but will also boost the local tourism industry, which can guarantee long-term revenues," said Luo Yunlian.
The villagers finally accepted the plan, and with government funding of 24 million yuan, construction began on a ropeway stretching over the Dadu River in August 2015.
The ropeway is supported by H-shaped hangers and two parallel cables, which keep two cable cars stable even in strong wind. A separate ropeway has been built near the main one for use by safety personnel in case of emergencies.
The ropeway underwent testing late last year. During the test runs, curious villagers came to the construction site every day.
"I did not expect the journey out of the village to be so easy!" said villager Li Shucai. "Besides, it will be fun to travel in the air."
Authorities plan to develop tourism to boost the local economy and eliminate poverty. A tourist service center has been built near the ropeway station, and the local government has helped renovate traditional houses, build village roads and public restrooms to create a "Land of Idyllic Beauty" to attract tourists.
The local forestry bureau has given out more than 130,000 walnut saplings to local villagers to encourage cultivation of the crop in the lush green mountains.
"We are confident that Gulu Village will improve in the future," said Luo Yunlian.