Novices and monks gathering
for morning prayers at one of the many Buddhist temples in Lijiang.
The photograph advertising the trip was seductive - a Chinese sala framed by
beautiful Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and its snow-capped peaks. I soon
discovered that it was the view outside of our small villa in Lijiang. I
also discovered that Yunnan Province is so full of beautiful scenery that
you simply can’t take a bad photograph unless you forget to remove the lens
cover from your camera.
scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and the ride was magically hushed
except for the tinkling bells of the grazing yak below.
We flew from Chiang Mai to Kunming, and then changed to a domestic Chinese
carrier for the one hour flight into Lijiang. Our resort was located on the
edge of town with a full view of the mountains, and it was luxurious. We
dined on a Chinese banquet fit for royalty in surroundings that were equally
elegant and then settled in for a good night’s rest. The resort, although
full, was incredibly quiet. The next morning we met our guide and driver and
headed to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
Lijiang has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site; and the Chinese
government meticulously protects the environment surrounding this
world-renowned tourist area. Private vehicles are not allowed on the
mountain or its foothills. Our driver parked at a bus station, and we
transferred with our tour guide to a state operated bus for the next part of
our adventure. Our bus was filled with tourists from other parts of China,
all as eager to see the beauty of the area as we were. We passed a lovely
area on the mountain with many small and large waterfalls. Bored looking yak
in full festival regalia stood by waiting for tourists to climb aboard for
old town Lijiang the aqueducts nourish a myriad of willow trees, and there
are said to be 350 bridges in this tiny area.
We were surprised when our bus pulled into a parking area less than half way
up the mountain; and we learned that even these vehicles are allowed to go
no further. The longest cable car ride I’ve ever experienced waited, and I’d
go to Lijiang all over again just for this ride. The scenery was
breathtakingly beautiful and the ride was magically hushed except for the
tinkling bells of the grazing yak below us and the cheerful Asian tourists
calling out “hello!” as we passed them on the lift. We ascended to Yak
Meadow and enjoyed the yak, alpine flowers and mountain people going about
the task of living and working at that daunting altitude.
lychees and other fresh fruits for sale from the street vendors in old town
In the afternoon we decided to spend time in Old Town Lijiang. We arrived
when local families were walking around, children were playing in the water
fountain and tourists were everywhere. It was a delightful reminder of the
historic district of our home city but much more colorful because of the
many minority people and their costumes. Old Town Lijiang is marked by
countless little lanes meandering in all directions from a central square;
and each lane is paved with local stones and filled with tiny houses and
shops featuring local architecture. The aqueducts nourish a myriad of willow
trees, and there are said to be 350 bridges in this tiny area. Lijiang is an
area to be explored for several days. We left with regrets the next day and
drove through the mountains to Zhongdian (Shangri-La).
I could have easily skipped the drive and flown from Lijiang to Shangri-La.
The touted tourist attractions - Stone Drum Village and Tiger Leaping Gorge
- were disappointing. The mountain scenery was beautiful, but Yunnan
Province sits in the foothills of the magnificent Himalayas and is filled
with beautiful mountain scenery. I would have enjoyed more time in Lijiang
and less time on the road.
I was not disappointed in Shangri-La, although I must confess that our
resort was the first that I had ever checked into that featured bottled
oxygen along with bottled water. The greater altitude and more rarified air
was a challenge. The resort was composed of Tibetan houses that had been
moved to the location overlooking mountains and plains, and it was gorgeous.
Our guide was a very political 20 year old who identified himself as Tibetan
and a follower of the Dalai Lama. He was pleased that I was determined to
walk up all 150 steps of the 17th century Tibetan Buddhist monastery just
outside of town, and I did so by following the example of my fellow tourists
and resting every 8 or 10 steps. Age notwithstanding, even robust trekkers
were panting. Before the Cultural Revolution, the Gadain Sumzanling
Monastery was home to over 1,600 monks. Fewer than 700 survived. I rang the
bells and turned the prayer wheels for all of them.
father and child walking through a pasture with the imposing mountain range
in the background.
We were fortunate that the annual horse roundup was taking place just
outside of town. The wind was cold and it rained, but I’ll never forget the
Tibetan cowboys and their colorful ponies. I’m glad we found Shangri-La, but
I missed the oxygen, so I was ready to leave after only two days.
We left early the next morning and spent the day exploring Kunming. We
wandered through the old market area and small children called out “hello!”
Then we toured the Kunming Museum, and were delighted with what we found.
The museum focuses on the history of Kunming, but supports itself with sales
from an attached antique shop that is just as interesting as the museum.
Copies of museum pieces are available, but far more interesting are the
local antiques that are offered for sale. Nothing over 150 years old may be
sold, but many interesting small collections of silver, jade and other
decorative objects are there. We also found one of the most delightful
conversations of our vacation waiting in the museum shop. Our guide and the
other museum staff offered us tea, and it was then that we discovered that
all of them spoke English. They were open and friendly and not at all wary.
We had a frank, if somewhat tactfully-phrased, discussion on their lives and
those of their families, their work and play and hopes for the future. As
with so many others, China captivated us.
The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
is one of the many must see sites.