A Unseco World Heritage Site… and cute too
10.31.2007 - 11.04.2007 65 °F
We arrived in LiJiang, from Chengdu in the afternoon. It was evident as we landed that we had transitioned into a different part of China. While well over a mile in elevation, the hills were now full of lush vegetation, and there was a more tropical sense about the place. Even the people looked different. This is the Yunnan province and it borders Vietnam, and Myanmar, and of the 55 ethnic minorities in China, many live in this province as they did 1,000s of years ago. There is much pride of ethnic diversity in and around LiJiang in the form of music, dance, language, artwork, and food, celebrating unique ethnic heritage.
LiJiang is relatively small town of well under a million people surrounding the old town of LiJiang that sits in its center. Our hotel (the Hexi Hotel) was in the old town and while the services at the hotel were a little dubious and old school, the location was absolutely wonderful in its quaintness. The beauty and preservation of the old town and the Naxi minority culture that calls it home is what earned the “Unesco World Heritage Site” certification.
We wandered the cobble stone streets and streams of LiJiang lazily, roaming from store to store and street to street, and we could have done so for days. There were wonderful crafts made by different ethnic minorities, food for locals and tourists alike, and fabulous people watching. Watching Naxi villagers wash their clothes or scrub pots and pans in the ancient aqueducts bordering these cobbled paths made it seem that the cars and buses that bring tourists by the 1,000s were some weird contraption from the future. And there were a lot of those contraptions and tourists. Han Chinese tourists were everywhere as well as a few European, Australian, and Israeli tourists.
We took two day trips from LiJiang. Our first trip was to Jade Dragon mountain national park. This was a stunningly beautiful place that sits at about 9,000 feet at the base. The base entrance of the park featured a giant herbal medicine store. Kind of like a pharmacy, except no prescriptions are required and it is all natural. They have things for just about every ailment. It was teaming with Chinese who snapped up some of these herbs and fungus like it was candy. Regardless of what ails you, there is a plant or a fungus that is your cure. Who knows if these plants are grown in the province, or in the park, but man, is it selling. We bought some spirulina and most of that is supposed to come from the ocean – why it seems more natural at 9,000 feet, who knows, but even we were sucked in. It was kind of funny, (in an ironic sort of way), that we were in an apothecary that was all about natural health while being surrounded by health conscious Chinese that were smoking like locomotives (70% of Chinese men smoke). Well, I guess tobacco is a natural herb too (more on this later).
Two massive mountain peaks of over 18,000 feet are in the park and they loom over the town of LiJiang like Mt Rainier looms over Seattle – except about 50 miles closer. We took a chair lift to a little over 12,000 feet and did a little hiking there before returning down the mountain back to town. That evening, we attended a Naxi music and dance show featuring Naxi people and a Naxi Elder. The musical harmonies and counterpoint were intoxicating not unlike a chant. The dancing was a bit goofy as was the elder :-)
Our second day trip was to the first bend of the Yangtze river and the Tiger Leaping Gorge. We drove about two hours through some of the most beautiful countryside we’ve seen on the trip. Much different than the Himalayan countryside, idyllic and lush farms with fruit trees, Leeks, Rice, Peppers, Corn and Marijuana border the road to the edges of the valley. What, Marijuana? Yep, there was marijuana being grown commercially and wild. I asked our guide about it and he told us that the seeds are used in cooking. Hmmmm…. We noted as we walked through the quaint old town of LiJiang that there were numerous pipes and giant bongs for sale as well. Hmmmm… maybe this is the secret to ensuring a long and prosperous life in the little village. Seeds for cooking…
Anyway, we saw the Yangtze and cruised our van along its banks for miles. It was gorgeous and meandering as we made our way down to Tiger leaping gorge where the Yangtze gets squeezed into a canyon that is over a mile deep. We hiked about two miles over groomed rock trails and through tunnels whose walls were pure quartz. The river was low, so the water volume was down, but even with that, the river was ferocious as it passed through the throat of the gorge and past the rock that the folkloric tiger jumped upon. You can tell this is a very dangerous place by the countless Chinglish warning signs accompanying you and warning of great disaster. “Cautio Suipery” or “Within 200 meters, notice the rock slide, is please run about by cliff”. As funny as it reads, it gets pretty real when you see a hand rail and path that has recently been crushed by a boulder, and an entire bridge section that has been taken out by a slide (all within the last 6 months). Apparently 5 or 6 folks die out here every year.
The last day was a goof around day where we went to a gorgeous park where a natural spring emerges and provides crystal clear water for the village waterways of LiJiang. They had a few kitschy tourist photos that I chose to partake in as well (note the golden monkey with Parker). We also did a little skating and cycling this day. The cycling proved to be much harder and less natural than Beijing with a few good hills and a few broken derailers. We found an excellent skate spot that had some great skating terrain and good viewing areas for those curious about those “sky board things”. Carol and Rebecca went to a fortune teller letting Rebecca know that she would be getting married in 2009, and travelling outside of the country. USA? We hope so! I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that Griffin considered LiJiang to be “puppyland” and there were cute little puppies everywhere. Griffin was making friends with puppies all over old town and the little dogs started to seek him out (seriously).