Yellow caps and roasted yak in Lijiang, Yunnan, China

December 23, 2009 at 5:06 pm 1 comment

For every western tourist in Dali there are around 20 Chinese tourists in Lijiang. They come in their hoards, snapping photos and toting the canary yellow caps assigned to them by their enthusiastic, flag-wielding guides. They fill the tiny winding alleys of the old town to bursting point, oohing at the beautiful curved roofs and ahhing at the gurgling streams that run through the cobbled streets. They take it in turns to pose next to the slowly rotating water wheels and hop on the Tibetan cowboys’ horses. At night they file into the hundreds of overpriced traditional Naxi restaurants spread across town, wolfing down courses of fried baba, hotpot, pigs ear, mushrooms with meat stuffing, yak and the odd insect. After dinner they retreat to the local bars to view and often partake in Naxi dance shows. On their way, they stop to light a floating candle and watch it disappear as the river snakes its way under bridges and between houses.

The idea, according to the guidebooks, is to get up before the tourist rush kicks in. What the guidebooks don’t tell you is that Chinese visitors are so thorough in their tourism that long before you even think about getting up they have already taken close to 200 photos, have devoured half a yak and have lit incense sticks at 6 temples across the city. Your best hope of avoiding the scrum, as we found out, is to elbow your way out of the old town and head for the beautiful Dragon Pool Park.

Unfortunately Gary’s hard-drive corruped and he lost a lot of pictures from Lijiang. Here’s a picture of the park from Google Images.

With Jade Snow Mountain (or mini Everest as Gary likes to call it) for a backdrop, even a rubbish pile could look picturesque but there is something pretty magical about spending an afternoon sitting in the sun watching the reflection of Deyue Pavillion in the rippling water. Although the park gets its fair share of tourists, and a steady stream of beautiful brides posing with grooms dressed in top-to-toe white, few seem to make it past the pavillion so its easy to find a quiet spot overlooking stone bridge. We didn’t time it well but word on the street suggests that the local orchestra practice in the park every afternoon.

For the more adventurous it is absoultely worth renting out a bike (if your backside has recovered from the trip around Er Hai yet) and visiting one of the local villages. Once you get out of Lijiang it is pretty easy pickings with vast fields, traditional rural towns and mountain vistas. If your behind has not yet recovered you can seek out Dr. Ho, a legendary local doctor who will brew you up a tea and spin you a yarn for a generous donation.

Our favourite day trip was to Shuhe, 10km outside of Lijiang and by far the superior of the two. The small town is pretty much what Lijiang would look like if no tourists visited it – women banging out metals on their doorstep, people lounging at outdoor tables drinking tea and freshly picked corn hanging out to dry. Of course there is the usual mishmash of clothes and souvenier shops and a western restaurant or two but the whole thing smacks of authenticity more than Lijiang which, despite its traditional architecture and old world charm, was only recently built after an earthquake destroyed the original, less picturesque version.

Most importantly, Shuhe hosts a free outdoor song and dance performace daily at 3pm and 7pm. Technically you have to pay a pretty hefty admission to visit both Shuhe and Lijiang in the first place but if you don’t use the main gates no-one will ever ask. The dance recital is absoultely fantastic, and well worth the trip for its vast array of traditional costumes, beautiful girls and skillful boys who, despite wearing fur bellytops manage to look surprisingly threatening and manly. While traditional Chinese music often sounds like a bag full of wailing cats, Naxi music is far more palatable and is the perfect backing track for all of the love stories played out onstage by the startlingly attractive cast.

More pictures from Lijiang (those not lost to the corrupted HD) can be found in the gallery


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Beaten, broken and violated in Er Hai, Dali. Tiger Leaping Gorge-ous, Yunnan, China (Day 1)

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