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Baoxie Plank Road

An ancient Chinese proverb states "The road to Sichuan is harder than climbing the sky". Certainly before the advent of modern roads and rail the Sichuan basin was impossible to reach without a long and dangerous journey through harsh mountains where cold, fatigue, hunger, bandits and wild animals waited for those entering the region.

One of the most common ways into the basin was to break the journey through the mountains via the much smaller Hanzhong basin to the north. This basin was itself very difficult to reach. During the Warring States period (453BC-221BC), the Boaxie Plank Road was constructed as a way through the mountains to the Hanzhong basin. It was built to facilitate trade into and out of the basin, but during the wars between the rival states of Qin (to the north), Chu (to the east) and Ba-Shu (to the south and west, occupying the Sichuan basin) it was used many times for military expeditions.

Today, the Baoxie Plank Road is a rickety road of precariously perched wooden planks, which are gradually replaced every few years, stretching 146 miles through the Qinling Mountains. The road itself is treacherous-looking and not for the faint hearted. It does, however offer spectacular views of the mountains and valleys and leaves one wondering how on earth entire armies once managed to march along its path!

There are many ghostly unexplained phenomena associated with the Plank Road. The most famous is that of phantom armies which are heard (and occasionally seen!) marching single file along the course of the road, snaking their way off into the distance. It is usually said that these armies are ghostly soldiers from the warring states period, although Han dynasty warriors have also been suggested.

Mysterious lights have also been reported by travellers along the plank road at night. These are usually described as small and spherical, sometimes following people or flitting around them. Some believe these lights to be the spirits of people who have either fallen or jumped to their deaths along the Plank Road, although other theories have also been advanced, such as nature spirits.

P A McHugh

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