|Now on our third day here, and we have finally lucked out with the weather. Its been rainy off and on for first two days, but today is just constant. So catch up time for internet.
Can not say too impressed with this place. It really is beautiful, but in a twee, China meets the Cotswolds (UK) kind of way. The old town of Lijiang is really lovely with old Chinese architecture, cobble stone streets, and lots of canals and small stone bridges (and like Dali - no vehicles!). Mostly 200 years old plus architecture. Sounds wonderful does it not! But even more than Dali, it is packed with Han Chinese tourists on summer holiday. Han Chinese are the dominant Chinese race, mostly from the north. It is almost impossible to get around the cobble stone streets with the masses, and they all have their umbrellas up - up in the rain, and they also keep them up in the intermittent lovely sunshine that we had on the first two days! Worse still, is that the government exercises a policy of moving the Han Chinese in to these areas, literally ethnically changing the landscape, and slowly destroying the traditional lives of the local inhabitants - in Dali, it is the Bai people, and here it is the Naxi. Most of the beautiful architecture are restored Naxi buildings, but they are now mostly shops, owned by Han, and selling kitsch souvenirs to Han.
And on top of this, being high summer, with the amount of tourists, the attractions triple in price. At least here in Lijiang you can just walk around as the town itself is the main attraction, but you have to be a bit selective as to other things to do. Even going to the park is pretty dear ($7.50 US)! So we are making an effort to do what we can, and save some money for the many major sites of China still to come. They will be very pricey as well, but will at least be worth it, while the attractions here, it is difficult to justify paying the more than european prices, especially when they have obviously just recently hiked the price up well above inflation rate.
The two best parts of being here so far, are one, the beautiful 200 year old wooden Naxi building which is our hotel. It is a gorgeous building with all rooms facing onto a central courtyard. A great place to relax, especially as it is just off main old street, but is very quiet.
and two, on first night here, going up above the crowds and sitting in rooftop bar watching the sun go down over the tiled rooftops of the old town. This was the only time the weather cleared enough to see the really stunning mountain peak of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain - fantastic name and fantastic mountain - 5,600m high! This stands directly above Lijiang, and the clouds swirled around it briefly and then it was gone again. Lijiang for the record is 2,400m above sea level, so temperatures are reasonably cool.
Tonight, we have spent the money, and hope this is a highlight of being here. We are going to see the Naxi Traditional Orchestra, in a lovely old building down the road. They play classical Chinese music, some of which is over 1,000 years old, and on the same old style instruments. Some of their instruments were hidden/buried by their owners during the Cultural Revolution, and the survivors of this still make up the band. Needless to say, they are now getting on in years! *Post note - this was a lot of fun indeed. 30 piece orchestra, and six were octagenerians! And many more were over 70. Most of the old men had great old white goaties, which they kept very well trimmed (aka Ho Chi Minh). There was only one younger man, and several younger women. The women had amazingly shrill voices, and this sounded surreal with the old men chanting for some songs. The old fellas looked like they enjoyed it inbetween naps when the music was being explained. The sad part was above their heads were photos of their 34 comrades from the band who had passed on. You do wonder whether they will be able to continue to teach the music to future generations.
On another side note, they have some amazing things on the menu here. We may try to photo the 'local specialities' page to put on website. But just for the record, we have now tried Yak meat - not bad at all, and deep fried tree skin! The waitress laughed when I ordered that one, and I thought they may have missed out a word. ie tree frog skin. (they eat frogs skin here as a delicacy), but no it was actual tree bark (skin) and was pretty tasty deep fried and added with a bacon salad!
Tomorrow, we head to Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is where the Yangzi river starts its dramatic journey through one of the deepest gorges in the world (next to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain). Not sure how much we will see in this weather, but it is supposed to be great hiking country. After that, we head further north to Zhongdian, in the lower Himalayas where the non official Tibet starts. The place is nicknamed Shangri-La!
* Another postnote. What a difference a day makes. We woke to an amazingly clear day in Lijiang and were thankful that we had not booked our bus out. The clouds cleared and Jade Dragon Snow mountain came out in all its glory for us to see, it was a breathtaking sight and we quickly raced off to the Black Dragon Pool Park to enjoy the views from there, nice way to finish off our time here and we left with a much better feeling about Lijiang. The park by the way was the same one as above which cost $7.50, and was much more worth going in once it was a clear day with the mountain overlooking the lake, bridge and Five Phoenix Tower (built during the Ming Dynasty, 400 years ago). This is the photo opportunity for all of Yunnan, and we of course had to replicate it - see the photos.