Batad Rice Terraces, Philippines

Photos by Robert Gardner

In the fastness of the Cordillera mountains, 250-km north of Manila, Ifugao tribespeople have carved a livelihood from bare rock. Over the centuries, generations of Ifugao have laid stone after stone constructing dikes to hold back what little soil washed off the mountainsides creating vertical gardens that rise as "stairways to the heavens."

Rice terraces are common throughout Asia but nowhere are they as spectacular as in the rugged mountains of northern Luzon. The Ifugaos have resisted integration into mainstream society and still practice their traditional farming and religion although headhunting is on the wane.

The Department of Tourism runs a hotel and youth hostel is Banaue which has become a mecca for tourists visiting this area. Comfortable buses make the journey from Manila and PAL runs flights to the area. At the hotel you can experience the local color, such as folk dancing, in the comfort of the lobby while sipping cocktails. Model villages and vista points are within easy "loafer" distance. You can shop for the famous woodcarvings such as the Ifugao warrior whose shield protects his vital weapon and the warrior-in-a-barrel.

For the more adventurous there are a number of other viewpoints and villages near Banaue. Batad is one such village and is famous for its ampitheater-like terraces rising to the mountaintops. It's about 16-km from the hotel but the distance can be shortened 12-km by taking a jeepney part way. Still, getting to Batad requires hiking over a steep ridge into the bowl-shaped valley. Pictures and words hardly do justice. Go visit!

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