This is my third trip to Lijiang and I still love this place and truly enjoy soaking up the ambience of the Old Town which was listed a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1997. Lijiang is situated in the North-western part of Yunnan Province in China and it was an American botanist Joseph Rock and Russian travel writer Peter Goullart who travelled throughout the area extensively, who were instrumental in introducing the Western world to this beautiful place.
Karen and I had initially wanted to do a 3 hour round-trip walk from my hotel in the ancient city of Lijiang up to Lion’s Hill, which is the highest point and where the pavilion overlooking the city is situated but ended being driven up there by our Naxi guide. He was afraid that we might get lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets and miss our late morning flight back to Kunming.
Climbing up to the 5th floor of Wangulou was a breeze and we honestly did not think the view up here would be anything less than spectacular. You enjoy an unobstructed vista of the Li River Valley including the old and new city of Lijiang but the sore point was that they have increased the entrance fee ten-fold from a mere RMB5.00 to RMB50.00 in April 2013.
The local government has instituted in recent years, a ‘Town Preservation Fee’ of RMB80.00 which all tourists have to pay and you would have to produce the receipt for verification at all the different tourist sites. I am all for it and sincerely hope that the revenue collected will be appropriated for the protection and benefit of Lijiang Gucheng and the local residents there.
Lijiang Gucheng or ancient city has over 800-years of history which dates from the late Southern Song Dynasty and was part of the Ancient Tea Horse Route also known as Silkroad which started from Burma, crossing Lijiang, Shangrila County, Tibet journeying through Mesopotamia before reaching the Mediterranean Sea.
Lijiang which sits at an elevation of 2400m is strategically built where the Jade River divides into 3 sections and its streams form the canals and waterways that gives Lijiang her life and charm. Some have dubbed Lijiang as the ‘Venice of the East”.
We set out at about 6.30am, so that I could capture some shots of Naxi architecture and buildings without the throngs of tourists and passersby which makes photography almost impossible.
Naxi culture is largely its own native Dongba religion, literary and farming practices that is largely influenced by Confucian roots of Han Chinese history and some influence by their Tibetan neighbours as seen in their musical scores. The Naxi minority people have their own native dress, writing and language and thus form one of the 56 ethnic groups in mainland China.
Naxi houses are similar to Han styled ones in that there are one up to 4 buildings centred around a courtyard and sometimes with linked adjoining courtyards.
The entrance and example of a Naxi house built with mud bricks and wood which may seem crude and simple in appearance on first impression.
On closer inspection, some Naxi houses have interesting casement windows and doors and sometimes wall decorations include depictions of scenes from epics, dancers, warriors, animals, birds, flowers and even Dongba gods.
A fine example of an elaborate and delicately carved semi-circular portal depicting double Dragons signifying power, strength and good luck for people who are worthy of it.
One activity I especially enjoy is sipping Chinese tea, cracking Sunflower seeds and people watching in the cool of the evening at a restaurant such as this.
Such an elegant courtyard that is perfectly balanced by strong wooden pillar supports, detailed woodwork carvings on the balcony and doors and a rock garden in the middle that makes it a comfortable and airy living environment.
As the sun sets over Lijiang, a transformation begins. I like the way the setting sun bathes everything in soft light and I feel relaxed and at peace with the universe.
Walking around the quieter sections of Lijiang is sheer delight. Famous for her amazing system of canals and waterways, what better way to admire the beautiful houses in this vicinity and appreciate their way of life.
It was time to enjoy a steaming Hotpot of Wild Fungi picked from the mountains and cooked to perfection in a rich chicken broth packed with a variety of aromatic Chinese herbs! This nutritious chicken soup tasted yummy and kept us warm in the cold Spring night!
After the earthquake of 1996, many young Chinese artists, students and adventurers took to Lijiang as a favoured destination for Spring Break. The little restaurants that used to be run by Caucasians running alongside the main canal have all disappeared and to my dismay, ‘Bar Street’ with clubs pumping out litres of liquid gold and loud, pulsating music has emerged instead. Some clubs have live bands and dancing floors for those who think nothing of the RMB200.00 a pop revelry!
I love the Lijiang I knew before better, where it’s a lot quieter, charming and less touristy. Now the multitude of shops seem to be peddling the same factory mass-produced goods and it is not as interesting as before to look into the tiny shops to discover lovely handmade, one of a kind products by the locals.
In spite of all the changes good and bad that modernity brings, a visit to Lijiang is still a wonderful experience. Yunnan province has many places of interest that are unspoilt and beautiful and you would definitely have an awesome time when you come to this part of China.