Zipping out to the shops

Every week, Ms Cha Huilan takes an unconventional route to the market.

The mother of two living in a Chinese mountain village cut off by a raging river dangles from a harness hooked to a zip line every time she crosses its violent rapids and jagged rocks to buy medicine for her mother.

Using a boat is out of the question for the villagers of Lazimi, which lacks proper roads and bridges. The rocks and foaming waters of the river Nu - which means "angry" in Chinese - make it too dangerous to risk.

"If they built a bridge, that would be nice, but for now, we can't get over there," said Ms Cha, who has come to see the zip line as just another inconvenience, even if her two-year-old has to cling on for dear life on every visit to the Saturday market.

Most villagers, who are members of the Lisu ethnic group, also zip across every Sunday for mass services at nearby churches. The nearest bridge over the river is 20 km away from the mountainside village.

The villagers have applied their own ingenuity in building the zip lines, inclined downhill and relying mostly on gravity, to cross the river Nu, which snakes from Tibet along China's border with Myanmar through the south-western province of Yunnan.

People estimate that about 20 to 30 hamlets in the region still rely on zip lines as their primary means across the river, although they are not always reliable as they become slippery when it rains.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2018, with the headline 'Zipping out to the shops'. Print Edition | Subscribe