Departing Shanghai for a weekend getaway to the ancient village of Lijiang.
AN ESCAPE TO THE ANCIENT VILLAGE OF LIJIANG
by Jeanne Lawrence
SHANGHAI. Sometimes you need a getaway from your getaway! Though Shanghai is fabulous, living among 20 million inhabitants I sometimes yearn for fresh air and the country. When I saw an ad in the expat-oriented City magazine offering a four-day weekend escape, I called and booked a tour immediately.
Thursday, Arrive in Lijiang (Yunnan Province)
Our small group left Shanghai in the morning and arrived at the ancient city of Lijiang, in Yunnan (“Clouds of the South”) province, just after lunch. Bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar, Sichuan and Tibet, this most southwest province, populated by 40 million people, is very geographically diverse.
Lijiang is an ancient and well-preserved town, home to the Naxi people, descendents of Tibetan nomads as well as Bai, Pumi, Lisu and Yi and other minorities. It was an important stop on the ancient “Tea Horse Road,” traversed by caravans transporting tea from southwest China and horses from Tibet.
After the picturesque old town survived a catastrophic earthquake in 1996, it was put on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, chosen for its ethnic charm, historic significance and traditional architecture.
Flying into Yunnan, the southwestern most province of China.
Driving through the countryside from the airport to Lijiang.
Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Transported to an earlier time - pedestrian traffic only.
Lijiang’s quaint traditional houses, made of earth, stone, and intricately carved wood.
In the old Lijiang, Villagers wear their ethnic costumes.
What! No cars are allowed! Only bicycles.
The signature grey tile rooftops of Lijiang.
Many older houses are being reconstructed.
Lovely stonework in a traditional courtyard house.
Lijiang, home of the Naxi clan, was called Dyan in ancient times
Strolling, Shopping, and Yunnan Tea
Inside the town gates, we were transported back in time by the sight of the quaint wood, earth, and stone houses, with the tradition of interior courtyards filled with flowers. Many have been turned into guesthouses, restaurants and boutiques for tourists.
I love that no cars are allowed! We enjoyed walking on the polished cobblestone streets, stopping by Sifang, the main square, following a labyrinth of narrow path and crisscrossing canals of melted snows just as residents have done for centuries.
In town, we shopped for souvenirs and the special regional teas. Yunnan is known for Pu’erh tea—aged in caves, produced in vintages like wine and sold compressed and hardened into bricks for easy transport and storage. It’s said to help with digestion and have anti-cholesterol properties.
Buying gifts to bring home to the little ones.
Pu’erh Tea, aged like wine, is a Yunnan specialty.
Traditional Chinese embroidered shoes.
Hand-crafted silver jewelry in Lijiang.
Weaving is an old tradition here.
Melting snow from the mountains turns the ubiquitous water wheels.
School children in ethnic dress add to the town’s charm.
Dongba is the only hieroglyphic language used today.
Lijiang sights are very different from Shanghai.
In the city’s center, our 4-star hotel was built around the traditional courtyard.
Friday Morning: Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Culture Museum
Lijiang is famed for its climate. Sure enough, we enjoyed a clear, crisp fall day, and the majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Shan) and its 13 snow-capped peaks sparkled under a crystal blue sky.
We arrived via minivan at beautiful Yuquan Park, in whose midst is Black Dragon Pond.
Near the entrance, we visited the studio of artist Guan Yao Jiu, who paints Chinese themes on rice paper using no brush but only his hands.
We then went to the Lijiang Shi Dongba Culture Museum, which preserves the history of the Dongba, the 1000-year-old Naxi religion. There are examples of the 1,400 pictographs in the Donga language, is the only the extant language still written in hieroglyphics. Dongba Scriptures, historical documents, music, costumes and paintings are also on display
The massive orchid grows outside an art studio.
Guan Yan Jiu works with his hands (and no brush) to create traditional designers.
Black Dragon Pool reflects Jade Mountain Snow Mountain.
My turn to pose at this much-photographed spot.
The scenery inspires many artists.
In the Park artisans practice their traditional crafts.
Extraordinary, delicate hand-embroidery for sale.
A demonstration of hieroglyphic writing at the Dongba Culture Museum.
The ancient Naxi language, Dongba, consists of 1400 pictographs.
Ethnic garb is among the items on display at the Dongba Museum.
High-quality, local product objects sell in the Museum shop.
Friday Afternoon: “Impressions Lijiang”
After lunch, we passed through the famous Dongba Valley and headed to the base of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for the 2:00 show of Impression Lijiang, a musical produced by the internationally acclaimed Chinese film director Zhang Yimou. Yimou is known for the extravagant opening and closing ceremonies he created for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Chairman Mao greeted us upon our arrival.
In the open air, semi-circular theater accommodating 1,200 people, we sat in rock-shaped seats outfitted with padded cushions. A spectacular view of Jade Mountain was before us. “It’s rarely so clear,” said our guide, who believes the mountain snow is melting. That would be tragic.
Impression Lijiang is an historical epic about the Naxi and Mosuo peoples and the ancient Tibetan and Chinese tea and horse trade. It was a dangerous enterprise, for it involved riding through treacherous mountain trails.
Some 500 amateur actors played roles as 10 different ethnic groups from 16 different towns and villages—all in native costume and with 100 horses onstage.
After the performance, as is the tradition, we climbed the steps to a bronze cauldron, wrote a wish on paper, and threw it in. To ensure that the mountain granted our wishes, we were told to raise our arms and bow to the snowy peaks. Of course I did. It’s worth a try.
Friday On the drive to see the Impressions Lijiang, we pass Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
In the theater seating 1,200, the ramps represent mountain trails.
Some 500 performers enact a historic epic about the Tea and Horse trade.
Spectators enjoy this breath-taking view.
The Naxi tribe wear sheepskin capes adored with the sun, moon and stars.
For our dreams to come true, you must raise your arms and bow to the magical mountain.
More beautiful, traditional ethnic garments.
After the performance, we walk up the hill for the best view of the mountain.
As a tradition, we write wishes on paper and toss it into the cauldron.
Saturday: Tiger Leaping Gorge / Ligiang’s Town Center
We spent our third day visiting the must-see local attraction, Tiger Leaping Gorge. One of the deepest in the world, it has sheer cliffs and thundering waterfalls.
We walked along the Upper Yangtze River and then into tunnels bored through rock so tourists can reach the spot where water rushes around the rock that gives the place its name: The legend is that a tiger eluded hunters by using the rock to get over the gorge.
On the way back, we rode through the countryside, green with orchards and small farms. I noticed workers plowing with oxen and sowing by hand, just as they’ve done for hundreds of years.
Back in the city, our guide told us about the matriarchal society of the Naxi minorities: the women work, while the men sing, drink and play. He also said the Naxis don’t believe in an afterlife, but rather in enjoying every day because rich or poor, everyone ends up at the same place. I suspect the men enjoy the days more than the women!
Saturday morning - First a snack, then a tour of Tiger Leaping Gorge.
A man-made tunnel makes it safe for tourists to reach one of the world’s deepest gorges.
It’s even easier to let others do the walking for you.
Legend has it that the Tiger eluded hunters by using this rock to leap over the gorge.
Driving back through the Yunnan countryside, we pass typical farm houses.
Some farmers still plow and sow by hand, as they have for hundreds of years.
Saturday afternoon walking around the city, a big tourist attraction in China.
Dancers perform in Sifang, the main town square.
With the rising income level, the Chinese are visiting historical sites.
Stopping to watch candy made by hand.
Local food, international food – whatever you want is here!
In the evening, the lighted streets look magical.
We crisscross many bridges over the canal to arrive back at our hotel.
Sunday: Morning at Leisure and Farmer’s Market Shopping
We had a free day. I went walking early in the morning, before the tourists were out, and stumbled upon local farmers carrying baskets of produce to a vast market that totally eclipsed any other farmers’ market I’d ever seen.
Stall after stall was filled with the freshest, most lush produce and an abundance of fruits and vegetables that were all totally new to me. I wanted to take all of it back to Shanghai. But sadly, I had to rush off to catch the flight home.
I’m already planning my return. The Lijiang Banyan Tree Resort, just on the outskirts of town, I’ve heard is heavenly so it won’t be long before I give it a try.
Discovering the spectacular weekly farmers’ market.
The abundant produce was wonderfully fresh.
Farmers from the area bring crops into the city market.
In the matriarchal Naxi society, men spend time enjoying themselves.
While the woman work, such as the local street vendor.
Climbing Lion Hill, I take a last look at the view of Old and New Lijiang.
Sunday afternoon - At the airport, last chance to buy local goods.
Back in Shanghai by evening, I stop by the airport bookstore, delighted to see My Life with Picasso by my friend Françoise Gilot.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence. New York based Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in Shanghai and San Francisco, and wherever else she finds a good story.