Tourists take photos while sitting on the steel ladder leading to Atuleer village in Sichuan province. (Wu Chuanming/For China Daily)
A tourism development company in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, has signed an agreement with the Zhaojue county government to turn a formerly inaccessible village into a tourist destination.
The company plans to invest 300 million yuan ($44 million) to tap rich tourism resources such as a canyon, karst caves, hot springs and virgin forests in Atuleer and its two neighboring villages, according to Jin Wenming, an official from the Zhaojue county government in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture.
The three villages are inhabited by ethnic Yi people and will be of great appeal to tourists, Jin said.
Liangshan, one of Sichuan's least developed areas, boasts China's largest population of Yi people, who are known for their worship of fire.
Atuleer, a village that lies atop a cliff more than 1,400 meters above sea level, used to be famous for relying on an 800-meter zigzag network of rattan ladders with no railings, which was its only link to the outside world.
The rattan structure - a chain of 17 small ladders tied together without any railings or other safety features - had been used by villagers for years. They relied on it to reach the nearest market several kilometers away once a week to sell peppers and walnuts, and to buy necessities.
Photos published by a Beijing-based newspaper in May of pupils climbing up the cliff on the rattan ladders sparked public outcry and prompted Liangshan officials to address the issue.
It was impossible to relocate the villagers, who did not want to leave their time-honored habitat, so decision-makers in Liangshan promised to replace the rattan ladders with steel. Construction of a steel ladder with handrails was completed in November at a cost of 1 million yuan, with the Liangshan and Zhaojue governments splitting the cost.
It took three hours to return home via the rattan structure, but the steel ladder has reduced that journey by an hour, said Er Dijiang, head of Atuleer.
Accessibility also means more chances for villagers to find wives, he said, adding that before construction of the steel ladder, a villager marrying a woman from outside the village had to carry his bride to his home on top of the cliff via the rattan structure, making it difficult for young men to find spouses outside the village.
Since the steel ladder was introduced, six young men have married women from outside the village, Er said.