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.
Our room is on the middle level at the far end of 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.
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.
We’re entertained during lunch by some cute little goats beside the restaurant. They remind me of my goat friends in Oman.
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, 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).
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.
We like the town immediately because it’s not crowded with tourists. It definitely feels off the beaten track.
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.
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. 🙂