Thursday, February 5: The town of Lijiang sits on a plain overlooked by the jagged ice-covered mountain of Yulong Xue Shan, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. It is also known as the capital of the Naxi Kingdom.
According to China Highlights: Lijiang Travel Guide: In 1997, three ancient districts of the Lijiang urban area were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List because they are in a dramatic landscape where the Han and Naxi cultures blended to “produce an urban landscape of outstanding quality.” The UNESCO description says that Lijiang was a key commercial and strategic site and that the “architecture is noteworthy for the blending of elements from several cultures that have come together over many centuries.” They also noted that “Lijiang also possesses an ancient water-supply system of great complexity and ingenuity that still functions effectively today.”
The three districts that are included in the Heritage List are the central Dayan District that is also called the Ancient District, Shuhe Town that is 7 kilometers NNW of the Ancient City District, and Baisha Quarter that is about 5 kilometers north of Shuhe Town. The Dayan Ancient City District, Shuhe Town, and Baisha Quarter are the main historical highlights of Lijiang.
We visit all three during our stay here, along with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
This morning, we have a marvelous buffet breakfast in the hotel. There are the Chinese noodle options, which we try, and eggs prepared to order. Some beautiful music is playing on a CD player, and I ask about one of the songs. I end up buying a boxed set of 5 CDs of Chinese music; we will hear this music played all throughout the town today.
There aren’t that many guests at our hotel; it is quite cold here at this time of year, so maybe that’s the reason. Here is the little courtyard in the hotel.
Here’s our hotel from outside the front entrance. Most everything is open air, so except for the large space heater in our room and my heated king-sized bed, it’s quite chilly.
Since we arrived late last night, we couldn’t see much of the town. We’re happy this morning to wander aimlessly around the town exploring.
Charming hotels, restaurants and colorful tourist shops are everywhere. The town is a delightful place to meander with its winding cobbled lanes, clean streams running beside many of the streets, rustic stone bridges, traditional wooden buildings and weeping willows.
Lijiang was built during the end of the Southern Song (1127-1279) and the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). The town was built at a stop on the “Chama” Tea-Horse Road that runs up from Dali in the south and then down from Dali to the Puer Tea growing region that grows a highly priced and popular tea. The people in Tibet traded horses for tea from Yunnan, and the town was a stopping place near the high mountains of Tibet.
In 1996, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Lijiang, killing 250 people in the first earthquake. Resulting mudslides and aftershocks killed more people. Many of the modern structures were damaged, but the traditional style houses proved to be remarkably earthquake resistant. This earthquake may have been key for UNESCO’s recognition of Lijiang for the World Heritage List in 1997, as the catastrophic event brought the town to the world’s attention. Many modern apartment buildings and other modern buildings were torn down, and the government replaced them with more traditional-looking houses. They also rebuilt, renovated and restored some of the old bridges and canals. So the area looked more like ancient Lijiang after the earthquake than before. (For more about the history of Lijiang, see China Highlights: Lijiang Travel Guide – History).
The old town has been beautifully restored. I love all the wooden buildings with their gorgeous architecture.
At one shop, Alex stops to try out some of the ocarinas. The ocarina is an ancient wind musical instrument – a type of vessel flute. A typical ocarina has an enclosed space with four to twelve finger holes and a mouthpiece that projects from the body. It is traditionally made from clay or ceramic, but other materials are also used—such as plastic, wood, glass, metal, or bone.
He finds the perfect one to buy that is the right amount of money and a good size, but alas, it is the shop’s last one and they don’t want to sell the last one they have in stock. Alex is disappointed.
While he’s looking at the ocarinas, I’m dipping into other shops in the vicinity, attracted as I always am by textiles. I buy two scarves while he’s browsing. 🙂
The Naxi people are the biggest ethnic minority here. According to Lonely Planet China, “the Naxi are descended from a race of Tibetan nomads who settled the region before the 10th century, bringing with them what are still considered some of the sturdiest horses in China and a shamanistic religion known as Dongba. A blend of Tibetan Bon, animist and Taoist tendencies, Dongba’s scriptures are written in the only hieroglyphic writing system still in use, with 1400 pictograms. Strong matriarchal influences permeate Naxi society.”
I spot this woman dressed in traditional costume and I assume she’s Naxi, but I don’t know with certainty. It turns out I’m corrected later and I find she’s a Yi. She is with her daughter, or a young woman anyway, and they ask for some money for the privilege of taking her picture. I give her some money and get a couple of nice portraits.
Near where we find this woman, we also find an area much like an outdoor food court, where sizzling food entices us on the sidelines. Alex grabs a snack, but of course I am leery of the meat in every dish, so I don’t sample the goods.
We find these symbols on a wall, and I wonder if they’re the Dongba hieroglyphics.
A man carries his cart past the outdoor food court.
In this little square is a man who is pulverizing some kind of sweet jelly-like food with a huge mallet. He encourages the tourists to try their hand at the pounding, but most people don’t have the strength and power he has.
On the roof of the “food court” is an outdoor restaurant with picnic tables overlooking the square. A canal is behind that, and then more restaurants. We walk along the walkways here and find the cute canal lined with flower pots and tropical birds.
Shops have the cutest little things imaginable.
Alex makes a new acquaintance, but there is a showdown between them.
We continue our wanders, going through various gates and alleyways and getting totally lost.
Finally, we find a little restaurant that is especially enticing because of the melodies played by a Chinese guitarist.
I order my typical scrambled eggs with tomato, a popular dish in China, and Alex orders Naxi chicken salad. Mine is good, but Alex finds his extremely spicy and the chicken is full of bones, skin and gristle. I can barely stand to watch him eat it but he stoically struggles through it.
The singer is so mellow that we can’t help but relax into our meal while we listen to him.
After lunch, our feet are tired from so much walking, so we head back to the hotel to relax for a while. Tonight we’ve bought tickets to see a Naxi concert, so we want to feel energetic for the outing.