Lijiang

a morning of travel & arrival in shaxi

Sunday, February 8:  This morning, we leave our hotel in Lijiang at 9:40, so we can catch the 10:30 bus to Jianchuan.  There is a new expressway between Lijiang and Jianchuan, so we arrive at 11:55, sooner than we were told we would.  The expressway makes for smooth driving and the scenery along the way is pastoral and soothing.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a country with so many tunnels, and this route has its share.

In Jianchuan, the bus station is small, not really much of a station at all.  In fact, it’s only a parking lot crowded with buses of all stripes.  We run to the bathroom, where we have to pay a toilet-keeper .200 kuai to use the toilet before getting on another bus to Shaxi.  We have to use the dreaded trough-type toilets, which are the most disgusting things imaginable.  They basically have waist-high tiled walls, no doors and a trough that you squat over.  Water is supposed to run through them but often doesn’t, meaning the stench is nauseating.  I will be glad to leave China and never have to see these kinds of toilets again.  In all the countries I’ve traveled, 26 in all, I’ve never encountered anything as bad as these.

The bus to Shaxi is a small rattle-trap affair that waits in the parking lot until it’s full to the brim.  At 12:15 we take off for Shaxi.  After forty-five minutes of bumping and grinding along windy and potholed two-lane roads, we arrive in Shaxi at 1:00.  Alex, who is prone to motion-sickness, isn’t one bit happy about the ride and is already dreading the thought of repeating the ride when we leave.

When we arrive at the entrance to Shaxi, we have no idea where our hotel is.  We pull our suitcases down the cobbled streets, in the general direction of the town’s interior.  We ask a few people along the way where Dali Shaxi Cato’s Inn is, using my Booking.com printout with the name in Chinese.  We’re waved along by various people, indicating we’re going the right way.  Suddenly, there on the street, we encounter the same group of tourists we met in the Naxi Orchestra Concert Hall in Lijiang.  They tell us we’re heading in the right direction.  It doesn’t look like much is going on in this town, and I ask one of the women how they like Shaxi.  She says, “It’s lovely. Go on a bicycle ride in the countryside!”

At a corner of a big square, we ask a young man sitting at a restaurant about Cato’s Inn.  He smiles and says, “That’s me!  Follow me.”  We follow him down the street to his hotel, where he checks us in and introduces us to his sister Nancy, who speaks excellent English.

Cato’s Inn has a rooms surrounding a lovely courtyard.

Courtyard at Cato's Inn in Shaxi

Courtyard at Cato’s Inn in Shaxi

Our room is on the middle level at the far end of the courtyard.

Our room is on the middle level above the courtyard

Our room is on the middle level above the courtyard

We ask Nancy where a good lunch place is and she tells us to go down the road to Woodfish, to the spot where we met Cato.

streets of Shaxi

streets of Shaxi

We grab a seat outside at a small table.  Alex orders Kung Pao chicken with rice and I order pasta with a vegetable sauce. It takes us quite a long time to eat our large servings.

Alex, waiting for lunch at Woodfish

Alex, waiting for lunch at Woodfish

Woodfish

Woodfish

We’re entertained during lunch by some cute little goats beside the restaurant.  They remind me of my goat friends in Oman.

little goats join us for lunch

little goats join us for lunch

goat friends

goat friends

more goat friends

more goat friends

Alex at Woodfish

Alex at Woodfish

After lunch, I wander into the square and take pictures of the ancient theater.  It’s quite an impressive structure that proudly dominates the square.

Shaxi Theater

Shaxi Theater

Shaxi, pronounced ‘Shah Shee,’ is a culturally diverse town, home to the Bai and Yi minority people.  It once played an important role as a busy trade station on the Tea and Horse Caravan Road, an important branch of the southern Silk Road. Just over one thousand years ago, this ancient trade route connected Tibet with Eastern China. In exchange for teas from Yunnan, Tibetans traded their famous breed of horse to Song Dynasty officials in eastern China, who were busy defending their territory from invaders from the north. Thus the Tea and Horse Caravan was born. Shaxi became the main trade station along this route (Teahorse.net: Shaxi hotels and travel: Yunnan). 

Shaxi Theater

Shaxi Theater

Tibet and China no longer trade along this route, but Shaxi still has that border-town feel. Old cobble-stoned alleyways wind through the town. The World Monuments Fund has listed Shaxi as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world; therefore, Shaxi has undergone massive efforts to preserve ancient architecture and culture.

Shaxi Theater

Shaxi Theater

We like the town immediately because it’s not crowded with tourists.  It definitely feels off the beaten track.

Shaxi Theater

Shaxi Theater

Directly across from the stage in the square is Xingjiao Temple.  We don’t go in today because we have more important things to do.

restaurant in Shaxi's central square

Temple in Shaxi’s central square

After taking my quick pictures of the square, we head back to the hotel, where the owners have told us they have bicycles we can use for free. 🙂

Categories: Asia, China, Dali Shaxi Cato's Inn, Jianchuan, Lijiang, Naxi Concert Hall, Shaxi, Tea and Horse Caravan Road, Theater, Travel, Woodfish Restaurant, World Monuments Fund, Xingjiao Temple, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

the old town of shuhe: a charming town along the ancient tea route

Saturday, February 7:  When we hop on the bus in Baisha, we ask the driver, “Shuhe?”  He waves us to the back, which is the usual way Chinese people let you know you’re in the right place. I never know if I’m pronouncing Chinese names properly, thus I never know if people understand where I want to go.

On the bus, we chat with an American expat who is working in Lijiang.  I’m so envious.  What a place to work!  If I were working in Yunnan province, I’d definitely think twice about leaving China.  Nanning, on the other hand, I will easily be able to leave.  Guangxi and Yunnan are two different worlds.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has listed the Old Town of Shuhe as an important component of Lijiang.  It is a well-preserved example of a town along the tea-horse ancient road that led to Tibet.  Leather products were the town’s specialty.  Shuhe is one of the earliest settlements of the ancestors of the Naxi people.  It is called “the hometown of springs,” and the Naxi minority regard the streams as holy.

The bus drops us shortly on the edge of Shuhe, and we wander into the labyrinth of streets to see what the town is all about.

Shuhe

Shuhe

We stop at an adorable family run cafe where Alex has an apple-carrot juice and I have a mango smoothie. We enjoy looking at the framed photographs on the wall of the family’s holidays in Yunnan.

Alex in a cute cafe

Alex in a cute cafe

outside of the cafe

outside of the cafe

There is a deep pool at the end of the town called Long Pool (Dragon Pool); it’s the source of water that winds through the village in neat canals.

waterways through Shuhe

waterways through Shuhe

more waterways in the town

more waterways in the town

Shuhe's cute streets

Shuhe’s cute streets

Cafe on the Creek

Cafe on the Creek

Old Town of Shuhe

Old Town of Shuhe

what-not shop

what-not shop

the creek

the creek

streets of Shuhe

streets of Shuhe

at the end of a lane

at the end of a lane

foodstuff for sale

foodstuff for sale

We are both delighted with this adorable town and wish we had come earlier.

personal space

personal space

cafe

cafe

gardens

gardens

streets of Shuhe

streets of Shuhe

cheery businesses

cheery businesses

Pony time

Pony time

Horse-drawn carriage

Horse-drawn carriage

bicycles

bicycles

flowers

flowers

We don’t have any particular aim here, so we just wander aimlessly.  I love meandering through this quaint town, enjoying the old wooden buildings, the colorful scarves and ponchos in the shops, the red lanterns and yellow flags, the signs with their artistic Chinese characters, the chalkboard menus, the potted plants and ivy, the bare weeping willows and trees, and the reflections in the canals.  This town has a lot fewer tourists than Lijiang, which is a much bigger town.

canal through town

canal through town

walking on water

walking on water

reflections

reflections

lady in waiting

lady in waiting

serene scene

serene scene

We catch a bus back to Lijiang for 10 yuan, a much cheaper fare than the 80 yuan we paid a taxi to get to Baisha.  On the bus, we meet a  Chinese mother traveling with her son; he is on holiday from his university in Shanghai.  The mother can’t speak English, but the son can, and he asks us a lot of questions about our travels.  I think it’s marvelous that as a mother and son traveling together, we meet another mother and son from a different culture and are able to have a lively conversation with them.

Back in Lijiang, we’re dropped at the north gate and we make our way back slowly to the south end of town.  This time, we take a street we’ve missed on our walks before now; this street is like Shuhe’s in that it has a stream running beside the streets.

spitting yellow frogs

spitting yellow frogs

bursting with color

back in Lijiang ~ bursting with color

cafe scene

cafe scene in Lijiang

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

cafe in Lijiang

We find these ethnic Naxi ladies sitting on a bridge.  I am so disappointed later to find how blurry the picture turned out. 😦

ethnic ladies in traditional costume

ethnic ladies in traditional costume

Back in the square near our hotel, the sun is going down and a warm and waning light is setting over the pavilions.

square near the south gate of Lijiang

square near the south gate of Lijiang

We go later to the restaurant where we ate dinner our first night in town.  This time Alex orders yak meat with peppers and I have steamed mountain fish with the head still on.  Despite the fish’s ugly face, the fish is tender and succulent and smothered in a most delicious sauce.  We both enjoy our meals immensely.

dinnertime cafe

dinnertime cafe

After dinner, we get cozy in our hotel room, where surprisingly we find an English movie on TV: James Bond’s Tomorrow Never Dies.  This is one of the few nights during our travels that we can find anything worth watching on Chinese TV.

Tomorrow morning we’ll be taking a bus to Shaxi, a town midway between Lijiang and Dali.  We have to take a long-distance bus to Jianchuan and then change buses to get to Shaxi.  I dread it, as I always hate taking buses in China, but there is no other way to get there.  I just have to take a deep breath and hop on the bus!

Categories: Asia, China, Lijiang, Old Town of Shuhe, Travel, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , | 21 Comments

lunch in lijiang & a peek at the baisha frescos

Saturday, February 7:  After walking around Mu’s Mansion and Lion Hill, Alex and I are famished.  We have now given up on our idea of riding bicycles to Baisha and Shuhe because it’s late in the afternoon, and we need to stop for lunch.  After we eat, we’ll take a taxi to Baisha.

There’s an area in Lijiang bustling with outdoor food courts and restaurants, so we head there.  Earlier in our walks around town, we’d seen a restaurant on the roof of a row of food stalls. The narrow outdoor restaurant overlooks a square on one side and a cute canal on the other.  It has wooden tables and chairs and an extensive Western and Chinese menu.  We pick a table with a view of the square and order a vegetarian pizza and crab & spinach egg rolls to share.  The food is delicious, and we really enjoy people-watching from our perch above the square.

Alex at our rooftop restaurant

Alex at our rooftop restaurant

Looking out over the square

Looking out over the square

me at lunch

me at lunch

Lijiang draws a cross-section of Chinese tourists, and we enjoy watching hippies with long hair and fringe bags, nerds with big black-framed glasses, girls wearing silly animal hats or hats decked out in flowers.  The Chinese are very fashion conscious and do make specific choices, as we all do, about the image they want to portray. Some of the girls choose to be cute, wearing tops with lacy Peter Pan collars, or sweaters covered in bows or hearts.  Some choose to be ultra-cool, wearing the latest fashions and looking very hip.  Some are jammed into leather leggings and tight-fitting tops.  It’s quite fun watching the couples too.  The boys are often sweet, carrying their girlfriends’ bags or jackets for them.  The boys are quite fashion concious too, wearing straight leg pants rolled up at the hem in pastel colors.

We love the view of the square on the one side; down below a man has a stall selling some kind of gelatinous snack.  He constantly is pounding on a sheet of the gel with a mallet and inviting tourists to try their hand at pounding it.

the restaurant on the roof

the restaurant on the roof

canal view

canal view

the canal on the other side of the restaurant

the canal on the other side of the restaurant

After lunch, we head to the north side of town where we’ll try to catch a taxi to Baisha.  We drove by Baisha on our way to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, so we know where it is.   We pass by this pavilion of hanging wishes near the north gate.

wishes

wishes

We hail a taxi and ask for Baisha, and the taxi driver tells us it will cost us 80 yuan.  This is highway robbery for a taxi, but we’re in a hurry so we take it.  As foreigners, we’re always getting ripped off by taxi drivers in towns where the taxis aren’t metered.  It’s annoying, but sometimes unavoidable.

When we arrive in Baisha, it’s pretty deserted and quiet.

Baisha Ancient Town is one of the oldest towns in Lijiang.  Its name means “white sand,” after the natural white sand in the area. Baisha was the cradle of the Tusi Dynasty which evolved from the Mu clan, and it was also the earliest settlement of the Naxi people. To be found today are many ancient buildings that were originally constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644): Dabaoji Palace, Liuli Temple, and Wenchang Palace. The well-known Baisha Frescos can be seen in Dabaoji Palace (ChinaTravel: Baisha Village).

Streets of Baisha

Streets of Baisha

We wander around the streets for a bit, but we don’t know where to find the Baisha Frescos.  Finally, we see this Chinese couple walking along with their bicycles.  We ask them about the frescos; they don’t speak much English but the girl knows enough to tell us to follow her.

following the Chinese couple to the frescoes

following the Chinese couple to the frescoes

They have a friend who has ridden up ahead to look for the frescos.  Eventually, their friend comes back and leads us all back to the center of the town, to where we were originally dropped off by the taxi. 🙂

Baisha

Baisha

Buildings in Baisha

Buildings in Baisha

Business in Baisha

Business in Baisha

At the end of Baisha Old Street, there is a cluster of temples called “Mudu” that were built in the Yongle era (1402-1424) of the Ming Dynasty. It consists of 3 yards: Sutra Collection Pavilion which is the dooryard, Liuli Temple which is the cloisters, and Dabaoji Palace which is the backyard.

Sutra Collection Pavilion

Sutra Collection Pavilion

The open area just inside the main entrance

The open area just inside the main entrance

Dading Temple was built by Ruler Muzeng during Wanli times (1573-1620) to Tianqi times (1621-1627) in the Ming Dynasty.  Presently, there are 16 frescos which record the pictures of Kalachakra Vajra (also named as the Happy Buddha) in Tibetan Buddhism.  As the temples are very dark inside, it’s difficult to get pictures of the frescos.

Dading Temple

Dading Temple

God of WenChang is honored in the WenChang Temple.  He had a strong faith in Taoism and preached Taoism doctrine in Sichuan.  His name was Zhang Yazi, but in 1316, he was entitled as “God of WenChang,” the god who was responsible for composition and academic work.  He played an important role in testing those who wanted to win a government position in the old times.  His reputation was once higher than Confucius in Chinese history, according to a sign outside this temple.

God of WenChang

God of WenChang

under the eaves at WenChang Temple

under the eaves at WenChang Temple

fancy doors at WenChang Temple

fancy doors at WenChang Temple

Dabaoji Temple was built by Ruler Muwang in the 10th year of Wanli Times (1582).  It has a square layout.  Its name was from a Buddhist scripture, Dabaoji, which contains quintessential Buddhist thoughts; it means “gathering everything good.”  Dabaoji’s frescos are the best preserved of all the Lijiang frescos.  The temple was acknowledged as a National Historical Relic on November 27, 1996.

Dabaoji Temple

Dabaoji Temple

Details under the eaves at Dabaoji Temple

Details under the eaves at Dabaoji Temple

According to a brochure about the Baisha Frescos, the earliest Baisha frescos emerged in the 17th year of Hongwu Times of the Ming Dynasty (1385), flourished during Jaijing (1522-1566) to Wanli Times (1522-1620) and went to decline at the end of the Ming Dynasty.  The Baisha frescos have high historical and artistic value and have been recorded in many published books, such as The Painting History of China and The Frescos in Temples of China.

Among the 28 fresco groups in the palace, the painting of Sakyamuni explaining the sutra passages to his disciples is the most famous and valuable one. The frescos were created by Han artists who collaborated with Tibetan artists.

Baisha fresco in Dabaoji Temple

Baisha fresco in Dabaoji Temple

We take our time wandering around the Mudu, but as it’s getting late, we need to figure out how to get to Shuhe.

Another temple in the complex

Another temple in the complex

We know Shuhe is somewhere between Baisha and Lijiang, so we consider renting bicycles here in Baisha at a kind of general store across from the temples.  However, due to an inability to communicate, we’re directed instead to a bus stop down the street.  Oh well, I guess we’ll take the bus!

Categories: Asia, Baisha, Baisha Frescoes, China, Dabaoji Temple, Dading Temple, Lijiang, Mudu, Sutra Collection Pavilion, Travel, WenChang Temple, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

a climb to the top of lion hill & wangu tower

Saturday, February 7:  Behind Mu’s Mansion, we climb uphill to find ourselves at the entrance to the Lion Hill Scenic Area, where we have to pay another entrance fee.  It’s such a beautiful day, and such a lovely forested spot with sweeping views of Lijiang’s traditional rooftops and the surrounding hills and mountains, that we can’t help but to climb all the way to the top.

According to a sign at the park, “the Lion Hill Scenic Area is an indispensable part of the Lijiang Old Town UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.  The name Lion Hill is given due to the hill’s outline which looks like a crouching lion.  Covering an area of 18 hectares, the Scenic Area boasts a verdant landscape with a forest cover of 90%, where visitors can find many birds and especially over 40 cypresses of 800-odd years.”

View of rooftops of Lijiang's old town

View of rooftops of Lijiang’s old town

Lijiang's rooftops

Lijiang’s rooftops

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Lijiang

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Lijiang

I always love to read the signs with Chinglish: “Don’t loitering under the tree during thunderstorms.”

I love Chinglish!

I love Chinglish!

The town of Lijiang from Lion Hill

The town of Lijiang from Lion Hill

The sign at the park entrance continues: “On the top of the Lion Hill stands famous Wangu Pavilion, a five-storied wooden pagoda-styled building with distinctive local features.  Known as a landmark in Lijiang, this 33-meter-tall pavilion is sustained by 16 big columns of 22 meters respectively, and each of its stories has independent eaves. It is the most famous wooden pavilion of bucket arches (an ancient Chinese building system in which brackets are inserted between the top of a column and a crossbeam) in China, thanks to its unattached columns stretching from the foot to the top roof of the pavilion.”

Wangu Pavilion

Wangu Pavilion

the flying eaves of the 5-storied Wangu Pavilion

the flying eaves of the 5-storied Wangu Pavilion

Wangu Pavilion

Wangu Pavilion

Wangu Pavilion from the far end

Wangu Pavilion from the far end

A sign on the Lucky Drum says: First beat for progress, Second beat for progress, Third beat for prosperity.

Lucky Drum

Lucky Drum

Inside one of the halls

Inside one of the halls

Colorful hall

Colorful hall

A sign at the Peace Bell says: All sefe (sic), Best wishes, Extra strong. I guess this means that if you ring the bell once, you’re safe, and so on.

Peace Bell

Peace Bell

Inside the hall on the opposite side of the garden

Inside the hall on the opposite side of the garden

Wangu Pavilion

Wangu Pavilion

We go inside the pavilion and climb to the top.  We find colorful and whimsical paintings on the walls and fantastic ceilings, along with vendors selling traditional arts and crafts.  It’s a quiet and contemplative atmosphere.

Some of the painted ceilings are amazing.

ceiling in Wangu Pavilion

ceiling in Wangu Pavilion

the steps, columns and ceilings in Wangu Pavilion

the steps, columns and ceilings in Wangu Pavilion

another ceiling in Wangu Pavilion

another ceiling in Wangu Pavilion

Another beautiful ceiling

Another beautiful ceiling

view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the newer town of Lijiang from Wangu Pavilion

view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the newer town of Lijiang from Wangu Pavilion

Last view of the gardens before we head back down the hill

Last view of the gardens before we head back down the hill

We’ve now spent so much time at Mu’s Mansion and Lion Hill that it’s quite late in the afternoon.  We’re also hungry.  As we walk into town to search for a place to eat lunch, we rethink our plan to rent bicycles to ride to Baisha and Shuhe.  We might have to find a faster mode of transportation, as today is our last day in Lijiang.:-)

Categories: Asia, China, Lijiang, Lion Hill Scenic Area, Travel, Wangu Pavilion, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , | 15 Comments

a morning at mu’s mansion

Saturday, February 7:  When we first arrived in Lijiang, Merry at our hotel told us we should visit “Moose Mansion.”  She gave us some tickets to get in and told us if we used them we could pay her for them at a discounted price.  If we didn’t use them, we could just return them to her.  We wondered about this “Moose” Mansion; we had no idea what it was or whether it was a worthwhile place to visit.  Other places seemed more appealing, so we kept putting it off.

Today, Alex and I plan to rent bicycles, although we aren’t sure where to do so; we think it might be nice to ride the bicycles to Baisha, an ancient village with some famous frescoes, and Shuhe, a town along the ancient tea route that some of my colleagues recommended highly.  Before we do this, though, we think we’ll drop by the mysterious mansion, what finally discover is called Mu’s Mansion. I’ve finally seen on the map the proper name of the mansion, although we’ve been calling it “Moose Mansion” all this time.  We head out into the streets of Lijiang, where we come upon this interesting fire engine, perfect for the pedestrian-only streets of the old town.

a Chinese-style fire truck for pedestrian streets in Lijiang

a Chinese-style fire truck for pedestrian streets in Lijiang

As we walk, we see cozy and inviting restaurants along the way.

cute restaurant

cute restaurant

According to ChinaTravelRUS: Mu’s Residence:  The Mufu (Mu’s Mansion) is Lijiang’s ancient ruler Mu’s official residence. Mu received his officials in this palace and although it was basically a residence, it also served as the center of politics, power and wealth in ancient Naxi. Mu was a ruler of Ming dynasty who commissioned this mansion to be built in exactly the same style as the Forbidden City.

I’ve been to the Forbidden City;  I like this complex more because of its beautiful grounds.

Entrance to Mu's Mansion

Entrance to Mu’s Mansion

The mansion was destroyed in the 1870s by warfare in the Qing Dynasty, but it was reconstructed, from 1996-1999 by the World Bank, along the lines of the original. It showcases an eclectic mix of Naxi, Bai and Tibetan architecture.

Mu's Mansion

Mu’s Mansion

The eight acre complex faces east and has Shizi Mountain, also known as Lion Mountain, at its back. Mu’s Mansion has two major parts, namely a living area and an office area.

The portions of the architectural complex include Guangbi Building, the Stone Memorial Arch of Loyalty, Hufa Hall, Sanqing Hall, Yimen Meeting Hall, Yuyin Lou, Wanjuan building, and many yards, corridors, rooms, side halls, and rest rooms.

flying eaves

flying eaves

flying eaves & lanterns

flying eaves & lanterns

lion protector

lion protector

Alex is especially interested in the weapons we find in the main hall.  Like many boys, he and my other son Adam have been fascinated by weapons since they were little.

weaponry

weaponry

Mu’s seat of power looks very impressive with its chair draped in a tiger skin.

Mu's seat of power

Mu’s seat of power

The Ming vases flanking his seat are iconic Chinese.

Ming vases

Ming vases

I always love colorful pavilions.  In the shade of this one, Alex hams it up for the camera.

Alex in the corridor

Alex in the corridor

I find the colorful architectural detail on the underside of the flying eaves so intricate and elegant.

rooftops

rooftops

another building in Mu's complex

another building in Mu’s complex

on the grounds of Mu's Mansion

on the grounds of Mu’s Mansion

The grounds are beautiful too, with pathways leading through gardens, ponds and bamboo groves.

pathway

pathway

another traditional building on the grounds

another traditional building on the grounds

bamboo

bamboo

It is such a lovely day to be walking around such a gorgeous place.  I find plenty of opportunities to take pictures, so we linger here a long time.

tree and traditional builiding

tree and traditional builiding

flying eaves

flying eaves

reaching to the stars

reaching to the stars

layers & layers of rooftops

layers of rooftops

Of course, Alex has to do his signature handstand for posterity.

Alex upside down

Alex upside down

Inside one hall, we find what I believe are replicas of the Baisha frescoes, some of which we will see this afternoon in Baisha.

frescoes

frescoes

a copy of the Baisha fresco?

a copy of the Baisha fresco?

hall of frescoes

hall of frescoes

sea of blue

sea of blue

yellow flags

yellow flags

We head up the hill behind the mansion, where we can see the rooftops of Lijiang Ancient Town.

rooftops of Lijiang Ancient Town

rooftops of Lijiang Ancient Town

flying eaves and yellow flags

flying eaves and yellow flags

I love the ponds and weeping willows.  I bet it’s really beautiful when the willows are green.

ponds in the complex

ponds in the complex

serene ponds

serene ponds

ponds & pavilions

ponds & pavilions

layers of steps and eaves

layers of steps and eaves

After exploring the grounds of Mu’s Mansion, we head up to Lion Hill, where we climb up a pavilion to see sweeping views of Lijiang and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Categories: Asia, China, Lijiang, Mu's Mansion, Travel, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

a tense afternoon at blue moon valley

Friday, February 6:  After the cable car deposits us at the bottom of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, we find there are several long and chaotic queues to get on buses to various destinations.  Luckily, Merry at the hotel wrote the name of Blue Moon Valley in my little notebook, so I show it to various people to make sure we’re in the right line.  There are tour groups aplenty in our line, aggressive Chinese tourists pushing and shoving their way to the front.  The jostling is enough to try anyone’s patience.  I don’t care if people are Chinese and I’m not; I absolutely stand firm against anyone who tries to cut in front of me, and I can be very nasty when someone does.

I’m not happy about this queue and such aggressiveness, but I’m trying to put on a positive face because I really want to go to Blue Moon Valley.  Alex isn’t even trying to hide his irritation and I can tell he just wants to give up and return to Lijiang.

The worst thing is that buses seem to be coming only sporadically, and there is a long time between them. No vehicles except park-run buses are allowed in the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Scenic Area.  This is good for avoiding traffic jams, but bad if it is very crowded and buses don’t run frequently enough.

We finally get on a bus which takes us along winding mountain roads to the valley at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.  Blue Moon Valley has beautiful lakes full of blue water and nice stone terraces.

Blue Moon Valley

Blue Moon Valley

According to a sign in the park:  “The name Mirror Lake comes from an antiphonal song sung by Naxi men and women.  The lake looks clear and bright like a copper mirror.”  The rest of the sign has a lot of incomprehensible “Chinglish” that I can’t even begin to decipher.  What I don’t understand is why Chinese officials who are writing signs, maps, or other tourist literature in English don’t get native English speakers to proofread their English before they put it into official literature!  There are certainly plenty of Westerners who speak English here in China.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

When we first arrive, we’re both hungry for lunch, but we don’t see any restaurants.  There are however, some food stalls.  We put together an array of snacks from the food stalls: corn on the cob, pork dumplings, boiled eggs, and skewered meat.  We carry them down the hill toward the lake, where we sit on some rocks and have a picnic.

There are tourists aplenty at this spot, and this is where Alex is about to lose it.  He is becoming increasingly annoyed by all the people and he makes his irritation clear to me.  My own tension over his attitude is building, but at this point I let it slide.  Little do I know the tension will erupt into a showdown later this afternoon.

Mirror Lake at Blue Moon Valley

Mirror Lake at Blue Moon Valley

Crowds of people are climbing over the stone terraces over which water is flowing; these terraces are much like man-made waterfalls.  For some bizarre reason, Alex and I decide to join the hordes trying to cross.  This makes me very nervous as I have to make several leaps across the water onto slippery rocks.  I do not want to fall into the water and ruin my camera, losing all my pictures!  At one point where a long leap is required, I decide I’ll turn around and go cross further up the lake, where an actual bridge is built over the water. 🙂

Mirror Lake with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance

Mirror Lake with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Waterfalls at Mirror Lake

Waterfalls at Mirror Lake

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

After crossing the bridge over to the other side, I run into a cow wandering about, nibbling on bushes.

a wandering cow

a wandering cow

I was hoping to get a view of the lake from the other side, but all I can see are the waterfalls.

waterfalls at Mirror Lake

waterfalls at Mirror Lake

waterfalls at Mirror Lake

waterfalls at Mirror Lake

At this point, Alex decides he wants to cross over the rocky waterfall terraces from the far side of the lake.  I tell him I’ll go ahead and cross back over and walk up to the top of the other man-made waterfall.  There is a big rock there where the multitudes are posing and taking selfies.  I point to the rock and tell him I’ll meet him there after I walk up further along the lake toward the mountain.

Mirror Lake at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Mirror Lake at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Looking away from Jade Dragon Snow Mountain over Mirror Lake

Looking away from Jade Dragon Snow Mountain over Mirror Lake

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

As I’m walking up the path to the big rock, I see Alex trying to cross the rocky terraces from the other side.  Suddenly I hear a shrill whistle.  I’m surprised no officials have tried before now to stop all these people from doing this dangerous activity, but now someone is yelling and motioning for everyone to get off the terraces.  I wince, knowing Alex is going to be really upset that he wasn’t able to climb across.

Meanwhile, I take my time strolling along the path beside the lake, where I take some beautiful pictures of the aquamarine water and the mountains beyond.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

I walk up quite a way because the views are so spectacular.

Mirror Lake at Blue Moon Valley

Mirror Lake at Blue Moon Valley

tree and bush :-)

tree and bush 🙂

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Mirror Lake at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

When I walk back to the rock to meet Alex, I see no sign of him anywhere.  His phone from the U.S. doesn’t work here in China unless he’s on wi-fi, so I can’t call him or even text him.  I wait and wait and wait and am getting really impatient.  I wonder if he has gotten on the bus to go back because the place is not that big and I can’t see him anywhere.  I don’t know what to do.  I don’t even know if he knows the name of our hotel.

Finally, after about a half-hour, I leave the rock and start walking back to the bus stop.  Along the way, I finally run into him.  He says, “Where have you been?”

I tell him that I walked up ahead just as I told him I was going to.  I ask in return, “Where have YOU been?”  He says he waited forever at the rock; he never heard me say I was walking up ahead.  He’s pissed and I’m even more pissed because I’ve really had it with his attitude.

Finally, I say to him: “Listen, you need to shape up your attitude now.  I told you before you came that you needed to prepare yourself for crowds of people here in China.  There is nothing you can do about it, so just accept it and take it for part of the cultural experience.  I am on my holiday and I’m not going to let you ruin it for me.  If you want to come along with me, fine, but you need to change your attitude.  Now.”

I march off leaving him to follow behind me.  We don’t speak for a good long while, until we’re finally back on a bus in route to the main entrance to the park.  There, we meet our driver, who has been waiting for us all day.

When we get back in the driver’s car, we’ve both relaxed a bit.  We enjoy the last views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain on the way back to Lijiang.

On the drive back from Mirror Lake - last views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

On the drive back from Mirror Lake – last views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Last views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Last views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

clouds nestle into Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

clouds nestle into Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Our driver drops us at the south gate of the old town, where we make our way back to the hotel.

Restaurant in Lijiang

Restaurant in Lijiang

square in Lijiang Ancient Town

square in Lijiang Ancient Town

Hotel in Lijiang

Hotel in Lijiang

We rest for a long while in the hotel, as we’re both exhausted from the outing.  Later, as we’re heading out to dinner, we ask Merry if she can recommend a place for us to eat.  She leaves her post at the hotel and walks quite a long way with us to show us her favorite restaurant.  She’s the best!

the restaurant where we have dinner

the restaurant where we have dinner

We have a lovely meal here.  Alex orders goat meat and vegetables (he’s brave!) and I have bok choy with mushrooms and garlic.  We share each other’s dishes some, enjoying the meal immensely.   We’re okay with each other now; we made it through a stressful day and I’m hoping the rest of the trip will go more smoothly than it did today.

Goat meat & vegetables for Alex and bok choy, mushrooms and garlic for me

Goat meat & vegetables for Alex and bok choy, mushrooms and garlic for me

We top off our meal with a mango cream dessert, the perfect & calming ending to a rather tense day.

Categories: Asia, Blue Moon Valley, China, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang, Mirror Lake, Travel, Yulong Xue Shan, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , | 20 Comments

a morning at the top of the world: jade dragon snow mountain

Friday, February 6:  Today, Alex and I hire a driver to take us to Yulong Xue Shan, also known as Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.  Before we leave, Merry at our hotel gives us two cans of oxygen.  She tells us that if we use them, we can pay her for them; if not, we can just return them.

The drive to the mountain has some spectacular views.  I can’t stop taking pictures out the window.

first views from the car to Yulong Xue Shan, or Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

first views from the car to Yulong Xue Shan, or Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Once the driver sees me trying to take pictures from the moving car, he makes several stops along the way so I can get out to take some better pictures.

The southern part of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains are about 30 kilometers north of Lijiang Ancient City. There are glaciers on the peaks that are the southernmost in the world.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

On Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, there are 19 glaciers, and the total area is 11.6 square kilometers. According to scholars, these glaciers have a history of over 80,000 years. The formation of the glaciers are “influenced by the marine monsoon, so-called the marine mild glacier.”  The glaciers can develop only in an area of high latitude and high elevation.  Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, located at a low latitude, can develop glaciers because of its high elevation and abundant rain, so that it has become the snow mountain with the lowest latitude and modern glacial distribution on the Eurasian continent (Lijiang of China).

Marker for Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Marker for Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

According to China Highlights: Lijiang Travel Guide: Consisting of 13 peaks, the tallest peak of the mountains is called Shanzidou (扇子陡); its elevation is 5,596 meters or 18,360 feet. The Rocky Mountains in America are less than 14,500 feet, and the highest peak in the Alps in Europe is about 15,800 feet. Only two people, both Americans, have ever climbed the mountain. They said it is extremely dangerous. One of the smaller peaks has an elevation of about 4,680 meters or 15,354 feet, and a specially constructed stairway and path goes up to the summit of that peak (but not the very tip) so that people can climb safely.

According to China Travel Guide: Jade Dragon Snow Mountain: “The mountain stretches a length of 35 kilometers (22 miles) and a width of 20 kilometers (13 miles). Looking from Lijiang Old Town in the south, the snow-covered and fog-enlaced mountain resembles a jade dragon lying in the clouds, hence the name.”

the mountain with wispy clouds

the mountain with wispy clouds

Our driver drops us at the entrance, where we pay the entrance fee and buy cable car tickets for the 3km long cable car that will take us to the smaller peak.

Alex and our driver

Alex and our driver

We take a bus up winding roads to the cable car entrance.  This is our view of the mountain.

view up the mountain from the cable car entrance

view up the mountain from the cable car entrance

The elevation at the entrance to the cable car is 3,356 meters.  We have to stand in a very long queue, which Alex isn’t one bit happy about.  Surprisingly the queue moves very quickly.

in a queue at the cable car

in a queue at the cable car

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Once we get on the cable car, we have some excellent views of some of the peaks.

view from the cable car

view from the cable car

We also have some exciting views of the route ahead.

view up the mountain from the cable car

view up the mountain from the cable car

view from the cable car

view from the cable car

Once we get to the top, we can see this scary looking viewing platform.  All of the walkways at the top of the cable car are wooden walkways, and I can’t help but feel like they’re a tad bit wobbly.

the first viewing platform once we get off the cable car

the first viewing platform once we get off the cable car

The walkway goes up as far as we can see, and as is typical in China, it is packed with people.  No matter.  In this case, the views are so spectacular that I, for once, am not really bothered too much by the crowds.

the walkway up the mountain

the walkway up the mountain

It’s easy to get winded at this elevation.  Many of the Chinese tourists are stopping on the steps to breathe using their oxygen cans.  Alex and I are determined not to use ours.  We just take our time, making numerous stops along the way to catch our breath.

Alex on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Alex on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Me taking a breather as we climb the walkway

Me taking a breather as we climb the walkway

I am really amazed at the Chinese engineering feat of building the cable car and the walkway up this mountain.  Much like building the tallest outdoor elevator in the world, the Bailong Elevator at Zhangjiajie, the Chinese are undaunted by any challenge.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

The views are truly spectacular, especially with the blue skies and the wispy clouds floating over the peaks.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

As we climb higher, we can see the cable car building and the viewing platform and the clouds below us.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

above the clouds

above the clouds

Alex at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Alex at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

blowing clouds at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

blowing clouds at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

As is usual, a number of Chinese tourists want to take our pictures, and we snag one of them to take a picture of the two of us together, mother and son. 🙂

me with Alex

me with Alex

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

A bunch of the Chinese tourists have climbed off the walkway and are playing in the snow.  Alex wants to do the same.  I tell him if he gets arrested by the Chinese authorities, he’s on his own.  He reconsiders but I don’t know why. 🙂

Chinese tourists getting off the walkway to play in the snow

Chinese tourists getting off the walkway to play in the snow

pinnacles at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

pinnacles at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

on top of the clouds

on top of the clouds

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Alex, who is a personal trainer, loves to do hand stands outdoors at special places and he picks the top viewing platform to do one.

Alex does a handstand at the top

Alex does a handstand at the top

snowscape

snowscape

I stand at the top beside the Chinese flag.  I just love it when I get pictures of myself with flags or trees or poles growing out of my head. 🙂

me with the Chinese flag growing out of my head

me with the Chinese flag growing out of my head

peak at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

peak at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

We are able to make it all the way to the top without using our oxygen cans, but we can see the Chinese in droves sucking down that oxygen!  We feel proud of ourselves that we didn’t have to resort to using ours.

After our long walk up, and much picture-taking, we head back down the walkway to the cable car, where we return to the bottom.

looking down into the valley

looking down into the valley

According to Lijiang of China: Jade Dragon Snow Mountain: In the mountains, one can find eight famous flowers of Yunnan: camellia, azalea, yulan, orchid, lily, harbinger-of-spring, gentian, and poppy.  In addition, there are over 50 kinds of azaleas, and the yellow azalea that is grown in the Britain Royal Plant Garden is transplanted from here. There are caladiums, worm grass, snowy tea, snowy lotus and over 800 kinds of medicinal materials. There are also all kinds of delicious mushrooms!

On the way out of the cable car building, we come to a shop where you can buy every kind of dried mushroom known to man.

After leaving the shop, we can see there are several horrendously long queues.  The longest queue seems to be for the bus to Blue Moon Valley, which several people have recommended we see.  Buses to take people to Blue Moon Valley come by very sporadically, so our wait is very long.  As you can imagine, both Alex and I get very impatient as we stand in line with the jostling crowds.

Categories: Asia, China, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang, Travel, Yulong Xue Shan, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

a stroll around black dragon pool park & a naxi concert

Thursday, February 5: After our rest in the hotel, we decide we’ll walk to the north end of town to explore.  We have tickets to see the Naxi Orchestra tonight, and we’ve been told that the concert hall is at the north end of town.  We’re at the south end.  Merry, our helpful English-speaking receptionist at the hotel, is nowhere to be found, so we try to ask the other people in the hotel if they can mark on the map where the concert hall is.  They manage to communicate that it’s too difficult to explain to us, so we should come back to the hotel a half-hour before the concert; someone from the hotel will escort us to the concert hall.  It’s quite a distance to walk from the south to the north, so we head out, hoping we will stumble upon it on our own.

Dayan, Lijiang’s Old Town, is not an easy place to navigate.  We have an artistic map that seems more about beauty than logistics.  The roads of the town are not laid out on a grid pattern; they wind and meander all over the place, with multiple crossroads.  Alex and I believe we are following the map to the north and finally, after a long walk, we stumble upon a gate.  We approach a guard and point to the north gate on our map.  He points to the south gate, but not our south gate.  Apparently we have walked a long distance from our south gate to another south gate.  We are still nowhere close to where we want to be.

We stop for a bit to study the map.  We try to get our bearings and head off in what we think is a northerly direction.  Finally we come to a large square.  There is a tourist information booth, but of course no one speaks any English.  We show the woman our tickets to the concert and our map, and she happily points out the concert hall just north of the square.  We head up the street, looking carefully on both sides of the street, until we spot the hall.  I take a picture so we’ll remember it later.

Naxi Concert Hall

Naxi Concert Hall

We continue to the north, where we aim to see Black Dragon Pool Park.  Lonely Planet China claims that with Yulong Xue Shan, or Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, behind the pool, “the elegant mid-pool Deyue Pavilion is outrageously photogenic.”

Entrance to Black Dragon Pool

Entrance to Black Dragon Pool

The pool here is known as Yuquan (Jade Spring), after the clear, pale green water that flows from the base of the surrounding hills.

Black Dragon Pool with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance

Black Dragon Pool with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance

Sadly, the elegant mid-pool Deyue Pavilion, is wrapped tightly in dark green netting for renovation, so we miss our promised “outrageously photogenic” view.  You can see the netted pavilion to the right in the photo below.  There is a smaller pavilion in the pool, with a little boat anchored nearby, which still makes for a nice view.

Black Dragon Pool with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance

Black Dragon Pool with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance

Black Dragon Pool

Black Dragon Pool

bridge and blossoms at Black Dragon Pool

bridge and blossoms at Black Dragon Pool

We walk across the bridge and to the other side of the pool, where we continue to head to the northerly end of the pool.

the bridge over the pool

the bridge over the pool

pool and pavilion

pool and pavilion

canal

canal

A cluster of compounds around the shore comprise the Dongba Cultural Research Institute.  According to Lonely Planet China, “dongba relates to the Naxi shamans, about 30 of whom are still alive and are kept busy here translating twenty thousand rolls of the old Naxi scriptures — dongba jing — for posterity.”

pretty building

possibly part of the Dongba Cultural Research Institute

Near the top of the pool is a cluster of halls imported in the 1970s from the site of what was once Lijiang’s major temple, Fuguo Si.

Halls of Fuguo Si

Halls of Fuguo Si

Coming back along the east side of the pool, we spot one of these halls, the Five Phoenix Pavilion, also named Fayun Pavilion, built in the 29th year of Wanli Period of the Ming Dynasty (1601) as a villa and family temple of Chieftain Mu, whose home in town we’ll visit later during our stay.  According to a placard in the park, “the roof of that pavilion is rich in change.  It was so-called for the eave angles in the form of five flying phoenixes.”

a view across the pool to Five Phoenix Pavilion

a view across the pool to Five Phoenix Pavilion

Five Phoenix Pavilion

Five Phoenix Pavilion

Five Phoenix Pavilion

Five Phoenix Pavilion

We continue our lovely walk back to the south of the pool where we have more views of the small pavilion and the mountain behind.

View over Yuquan

View over Yuquan

Yuquan

Yuquan

At the south end, we find Green Bridge, established in the 3rd year of Guangxu Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1877).  It is a corridor bridge.  The surface of the bridge is paved with colorful “slates” and the upper part is a tilt roof with upturned eaves.

Green Bridge

Green Bridge

Green Bridge

Green Bridge

There are three cascades under the bridge with clean water rushing out, thus it’s called Green Bridge, the best protected wind rain bridge in Lijiang.  It’s the outlet of Black Dragon Pool from which the springs run to the ancient town.

Alex with Green Bridge behind

Alex with Green Bridge behind

By now our feet are pretty sore and we’re hungry for some dinner.  We walk back into town, where, near the north gate, there is a row of Western-style restaurants, including KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.  I’ve heard the Pizza Huts in China are pretty good, with extensive menus that include a lot of items other than pizza, but I’ve never yet tried one because they’re quite expensive by Chinese standards.

On the way to the restaurant, we find this girl in traditional costume talking on a mobile phone under a trellis of wishes.

Ancient and modern

Ancient and modernWe

We have an enjoyable meal in the Pizza Hut, with me ordering fried shrimp, one of my favorite things to eat since I was around 10 years old, and Alex ordering Kung Pao chicken pasta.  He had such a struggle with the Naxi Chicken Salad this afternoon, filled with ultra-spicy chicken with bones, gristle and fat, that he’s relieved to find a not-so-spicy Kung Pao chicken with lean chicken meat, prepared more to Western tastes.  We top off our meal with two Corona beers.

We head to the Naxi Concert Hall after getting a little lost.  We settle into the dark and cold hall with a small crowd of other Westerners on a tour and a few Chinese people.  The stage is very colorful and we enjoy watching as they set up and the group comes out to the stage.

The Naxi Orchestra uses antique instruments to perform Song Dynasty tunes derived from the Taoist Dong Jin scriptures.  Banned from performing for many years, the orchestra regrouped under Xuan Ke‘s direction.  The conductor, now 86 years old, has also conducted orchestras in European countries.  Because of the deaths of many musicians, the group has dwindled from over 60 to around 20 over the years.  Most of the performers are 70-90 years old.  It is said the group is known for its ancient instruments, ancient songs, and ancient performers.

Naxi Concert Hall

Naxi Concert Hall

The music is a quite slow and haunting, and it’s interspersed with long explanations of musical history, first in Mandarin and then translated to English, by a woman narrator and by Xuan Ke himself.

The woman narrator introduces one musician: “He’s not the most handsome member of our orchestra, but he is the most romantic man.”  He sings a love story about a girl he fell in love with when he was rich and famous.  When he failed in business and lost all his money, his girlfriend left him.  At the end of his song, he sticks out his tongue. 🙂  He calls the song “The Heartless Girlfriend.”

Naxi Orchestra

Naxi Orchestra

Other songs are called “The Bound-Foot Girl Song” and “The Song of a Water Dragon.”  Many of the song lyrics are posted on an electronic screen at the corners of the stage; most are in Chinese but some are translated into English.

Naxi Orchestra

Naxi Orchestra

After the concert, which sadly was a little slow for Alex’s liking, we walk the long walk back from the north to the south of town, getting lost a few times along the way.  The Chinese crowds come out in force at night, so we have to do a lot of dodging to get through the crowded streets.  Alex is also pretty irritated by the hordes of people, even though I told him to expect crowds wherever we go in China.  What else can one expect in a country of 1.3 billion people?  Even though I gave him warning before he came, and Mike did too, I still don’t think he was prepared for the experience.

It feels good to get into my nice heated bed with the space heater blasting away.  Tomorrow we have a trip planned to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, where the crowds will really test Alex’s patience.  I however, really enjoy the outing because of the fabulous views. 🙂

Categories: Asia, Black Dragon Pool Park, China, Deyue Pavilion, Dongba Cultural Research Institute, Five Phoenix Hall, Fuguo Si, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang, Lijiang Orchid Land Boutique Resort, Naxi Concert Hall, Naxi Orchestra, Travel, Wufeng Lou, Yulong Xue Shan, Yunnan Province, Yuquan | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

a wander through lijiang’s old town

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.

in the courtyard at our hotel

in the courtyard at our 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.

Lijiang Orchid Land Boutique Hotel

Lijiang Orchid Land Boutique Hotel

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.

Streets of Lijiang

Streets of Lijiang

Streets of Lijiang

Streets of Lijiang

business signs

business signs

the square nearest our hotel and the south gate

the square nearest our hotel and the south gate

towering pavilion

towering pavilion

Welcome

Welcome

gate

gate

statue in a garden in Lijiang

statue in a garden in Lijiang

wall in Lijiang

wall in Lijiang

garden and pond

garden and pond

streets of Lijiang

streets of Lijiang

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.

gate in the old town

gate in the old town

close-up of the gate

close-up of the gate

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).

streets of Lijiang

streets of Lijiang

The old town has been beautifully restored.  I love all the wooden buildings with their gorgeous architecture.

streets

streets

Lijiang streets

Lijiang streets

peek to a courtyard

peek into a courtyard

Lantern shop

Lantern & what-not shop

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.

Alex contemplating musical instruments

Alex contemplating ocarinas

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.

ocarina display

ocarina display

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. 🙂

wandering the streets

wandering the streets

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.

A Naxi woman?

A Yi woman

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.

stuffed mushrooms

stuffed mushrooms

We find these symbols on a wall, and I wonder if they’re the Dongba hieroglyphics.

symbols on a wall

I assume these are the Dongba heiroglyphics

A man carries his cart past the outdoor food court.

a tricycle made for transporting

a tricycle made for transporting

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.

pounding something

pounding something

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.

tropical birds along the canal

tropical birds along the canal

canal between two restaurants

canal between two restaurants

tropical birds

tropical birds

Canal

Canal

canal

canal

cute canal

cute canal

painted walls

painted walls

Shops have the cutest little things imaginable.

owls & what-nots

owls & what-nots

Alex makes a new acquaintance, but there is a showdown between them.

Alex and friend

Alex and friend

We continue our wanders, going through various gates and alleyways and getting totally lost.

Chinese gates

Chinese gates

Another Chinese gate

Another Chinese gate

busy streets of Lijiang

busy streets of Lijiang

Finally, we find a little restaurant that is especially enticing because of the melodies played by a Chinese guitarist.

Zhongyi Restaurant

Zhongyi Restaurant

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.

Me in Zhongyi Restaurant

Me in Zhongyi Restaurant

The singer is so mellow that we can’t help but relax into our meal while we listen to him.

Singer in Zhongyi Restaurant

Singer in Zhongyi Restaurant

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.

Streets of Lijiang

Streets of Lijiang

cart on the street

cart on the street

carved wooden doors

carved wooden doors

coconut faces

coconut faces

canals

canals

Categories: Asia, China, Lijiang, Lijiang Orchid Land Boutique Resort, Travel, Yunnan Province, Zhongyi Restaurant | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

exploring qiongzhu si, the bamboo temple, in kunming & flying onward to lijiang

Wednesday, February 4:  This morning, Alex and I go for a walk in our Kunming neighborhood in search of a breakfast place.  We find a bakery where we sit at an outdoor table and eat some Chinese-style breads, which taste nothing at all like the breads we’re used to having in the West.  They always have some strange unidentifiable flavor in them.  Even when they’re supposed to be savory breads, say one with a hot dog inside of it, the bread is still sweet.

Our flight today to Lijiang isn’t until 7:55 p.m.   I have several issues I’d like to take care of today.  First, we’ve decided we want to go to visit Qiongzhu Si, the Bamboo Temple, so we need to arrange a return taxi to the hills 10 km to the west of the city.  Second, we will be arriving in Lijiang by plane quite late this evening, so I’d like to arrange an airport pick-up with our hotel, the Lijiang Orchid Land Boutique Resort.  I know Lijiang is an old town, with pedestrian streets, and I don’t want to arrive at the gates of the old town late at night and have to walk all over the town looking for our hotel.  Thirdly, I’d like to arrange to pay extra to keep our hotel room until 5:00, at which time we’ll leave for the airport.

First, I text my student assistant Angela, and ask if she’ll write my request to keep the room until 5:00 in Chinese.  She does so, and I show the receptionist the message; she agrees and charges us an extra 100 yuan.  Second, I text my teaching assistant Jack, because during exams he looked up the information about our Lijiang hotel and wrote the name and address in Chinese.  I ask him if he could call the hotel in Lijiang and ask for the airport pickup at 8:40 this evening.  He takes care of that for me.  Third, I show the Chinese name of Qiongzhu Si in my Lonely Planet China to the receptionist and I say “taxi.”  It all miraculously falls into place, but as you can see, nothing is easy in China, especially when no one speaks English.  Lucky for me, I have student assistants and teaching assistants and students who can help me to get along.

We hire a taxi to take us up to the temple; the driver will wait for us while we explore.  It’s a larger temple than I imagined it would be.  The Bamboo Temple was established during the Yuan Dynasty as the first temple dedicated to Zen Buddhism in Yunnan. It has been burned down and reconstructed several times. The present structure mostly dates from the late Qing Dynasty.

at the entrance to Qiongzhu Si

at the entrance to Qiongzhu Si

the eaves of the entrance to the Bamboo Temple

the eaves of the entrance to the Bamboo Temple

The temple is most renowned for the painted clay sculptures of the 500 Buddhist arhats.  In Theravada Buddhism, an Arhat is a “perfected person” who has attained nirvana.  In other Buddhist traditions the term has also been used for people far advanced along the path of Enlightenment, but who may not have reached full Buddhahood.

The sculptures, known as the “sculptured pearls in the oriental treasure-house,” were created during the reign of the Qing Emperor Guangxu (1875–1909) when the temple was undergoing major repairs. Li Guangxiu, a folk clay artist from Sichuan Province, took five assistants to Kunming where they spent seven years (1883–1890) creating the 500 clay sculptures (Wikipedia: Qiongzhu Temple and Lonely Planet China).

arhat statues

arhat statues

Temple grounds

Temple grounds

Buddha

Buddha

statues near the entrance

statues near the entrance

statues near the entry

statues near the entry

I’m not sure who this multi-armed god is in the temple below.  I always thought the multi-armed gods were Hindu, but this is a Buddhist temple. If anyone can enlighten me, I’d really appreciate it! 🙂

According to Wikipedia, the arhat sculptures are distributed over three buildings: 216 each are in the Fanyin Pavilion and the Tiantailai Pavilion, 68 are housed in the temple’s main hall, the Daxiong Hall. In the Fanyin Pavilion and the Tiantailai Pavilions, the arhat sculptures stand beside a central Buddha sculpture in six rows, with three levels in each row. Each arhat is about one meter tall and is characterized by unique facial expressions and body gestures. This is a radical break from the usual fixed style of Buddhist sculptures. Through the use of exaggeration, the artists created lively images. Some arhats are reaching for the moon with extremely long arms, some are crossing the ocean on extra long legs. There are bare-footed monks and naked-bellied Buddhas. Some are lost in deep thought, some are telling each other good news. Some are tranquil, some angry, some surprised, some curious. One is scratching his back, another is poking his ear.

surrounded by arhats

surrounded by arhats

the arhats

the arhats

arhat statues around multi-armed god

arhat statues around multi-armed god

I love this temple so much!! Not only is it colorful and well-maintained, but it surprises me that it’s here at all.  I really didn’t know there were any Buddhist temples in China.  I find in Yunnan Province, much to my surprise, there are many.  I also love all these arhat statues and the gorgeous grounds.  Or maybe I’m just happy to have blue skies and reasonable temperatures!

another temple on the grounds

another temple on the grounds

details

details

Below, to the right of the Buddha, you can see a crowd of arhats, one with an extraordinarily long arm. 🙂

here on the right you can see some long-armed arhats and others

here on the right you can see some long-armed arhats and others

I venture off the beaten track a bit and find myself on the fringes of the monks’ living quarters.

the monks' laundry and living quarters

the monks’ laundry and living quarters

I make my way back to the temple complex, as I don’t think I’m supposed to be in the monks’ quarters!

The Bamboo Temple

The Bamboo Temple

Qiongzhu Si

Qiongzhu Si

I love these temples

I love these temples

There is a vegetarian restaurant in one of the buildings, and Alex and I order some potatoes with peppers.  They are very oily, so I don’t eat many of them.

Alex at lunch

Alex at lunch

potatoes and peppers in oil with rice

potatoes and peppers in oil with rice

After lunch, we continue to explore the grounds.  I love the architectural details on these temples. I get so excited by buildings sometimes that I think I should have been an architect.

Qiongzhu Si

Qiongzhu Si

Qiongzhu Si

Qiongzhu Si

red lanterns

red lanterns

courtyard

courtyard

more red lanterns and wonderful details

more red lanterns and wonderful details

Love the flying eaves of Chinese traditional buildings

Love the flying eaves of Chinese traditional buildings

extraordinary detail

extraordinary detail

more wonderful details

more wonderful details

Buddha

Buddha

We see a path going up a hill, so we follow it to this long and colorful pavilion.

pavilion on the hill

pavilion on the hill

ancient sculptures

ancient sculptures

me by the pavilion

me by the pavilion

Alex of course has to do some hand stands as he’s a personal trainer and a calisthenics connoisseur.  He loves to do handstands in all kinds of outdoor places.

Alex does a handstand in the pavilion

Alex does a handstand in the pavilion

inside the pavilion

inside the pavilion

ceiling art

ceiling art

I love the view of the rooftops from the pavilion.

rooftops

rooftops

After thoroughly exploring this temple, we head back to our hotel, where, since we paid extra to keep it until 5:00, we relax until it’s time to leave for the airport.

I’m not hungry in the evening, as these Chinese meals with rice always fill me up.  Alex, who can eat anything anytime, opts for some beef noodles at the airport.  Our flight is slightly delayed but without incident, so we arrive at the Lijiang airport close to 9:00 p.m.

The driver sent by the hotel to pick us up is late.  After a couple of phone calls back and forth to the hotel, we finally meet up with him and get into his rickety van.  He begins his drive on the expressway, a very nice highway, but soon he veers off and begins driving on an old potholed road adjacent to the highway.  He drives on this road, bumping along uncomfortably, for nearly an hour!! Sometimes the road veers away from the highway, and it looks like we’re out in the middle of nowhere.  Then the road goes back to where we can see the highway right beside us.  I guess he’s trying to save money on the toll or something, because he never gets on the nicer highway until we are almost to Lijiang!

He takes us to the south gate of Lijiang Old Town, and he walks us through the town quite a long distance to our hotel.   I’m sure glad we arranged the hotel pickup because it would have taken us forever to find it.

Once we arrive, we check in with Merry, a wonderful Chinese young woman who speaks excellent English.  She turns out to be a big help to us during our time in Lijiang.  We will be here for 4 nights as Lijiang is supposed to have a lot of fun things to do in and around the town.  We’re thrilled with this lovely hotel and the beautiful town.  We can’t wait to explore tomorrow. 🙂

Our family room at the Lijiang Orchid Land Boutique Resort

Our family room at the Lijiang Orchid Land Boutique Resort

The only negative is that the room is quite cold and all we have is a space heater, pictured above, to heat up the entire space.   As you can imagine, anyplace in the room out of range of the heater, such as the bathroom, is icy cold.  Luckily, the bed can be heated up.  It’s not like an electric blanket; the actual mattress heats up.  It gets too hot if you leave it on all night, but it’s quite cozy when you’re just lounging around on the bed.

Our room at Orchid Land

Our room at Orchid Land

Alex’s bed is in a loft area up some stairs.  It has a little space heater too, but his bed doesn’t heat up like mine does.

Alex in his second floor loft

Alex in his second floor loft

After we settle in to the hotel, we go out in search of food.  It’s very late for dinner by this time, but we do find a little restaurant where we have quite a delicious meal, topped off with some tea, and a beer. 🙂

Alex at the restaurant in Lijiang

Alex at the restaurant in Lijiang

 

 

Categories: Airplane, Asia, China, Fairyland Hotel, Kunming, Lijiang, Lijiang Orchid Land Boutique Resort, Qiongzhu Si, The Bamboo Temple, Transportation, Travel, Yunnan Province | 14 Comments

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