Lijiang, land of contrasts
The second stop on our Chinese honeymoon was Lijiang, specifically the old town in the centre of the city. This area is more than 800 years old and is amazingly well-preserved, no doubt helped by the ban on cars within the old town’s limits.
We stayed in the small but cosy Shanghai Family Hostel, a real contrast to the luxury of our Kunming hotel. Perhaps the best part of the hostel was the owners’ lovely dogs Coffee and Milk Tea.
At first I wasn’t sure about the old town. The buildings were certainly beautiful but it seemed that every one of them was either a small hotel or a shop selling identical local clothing, jewellery or trinkets. However, once we got out to the edges of the town we found much more interesting places and people including the artist Ma Yu who welcomed us into his studio.
China has more than 50 ethnicities and the Lijiang people are Naxi (or Nakhi). This is a very old culture with a different language and belief system to other parts of China. We attended a recital of Naxi music, much of it over 1000 years old (some of the musicians were not much younger) and learnt about their Dongba religion when we visited ancient places of worship. Buddhism is also widespread in this region and we found some amazing Buddhist sites on mountainsides and nestled within other old towns.
There was a great variety of ways to explore Lijiang and we travelled on foot, by bumpy taxi, cable-car, chair-lift, motor-boat, punt and even horseback. This was my first time on a horse and I probably wouldn’t have picked trekking up a mountain as an ideal first experience. However, it turned out to be a lot of fun and the two hours passed by with only a handful of occasions when I feared for my life. Monica was, of course, a natural. We both grew quite fond of our respective horses and were sad to leave them behind when it was time to dismount and move onto the water. If there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s getting on and off small boats. So I’m not sure quite how I ended up doing it three times in a week.
Another highlight was Snow Mountain, a mountain so immense that it has only ever been climbed once. The mountain is famous in China and, as we both love snow, we couldn’t pass up the chance to go up (part-way!) and jump around like two big kids in the snow.
One of the most touching visits was also one of the hardest to accomplish. We went to see the Ten Thousand Camellia, a camellia tree a LONG way up yet another mountain. The air was very thin by the time we had reached the tree but the journey was definitely worth it. This tree is famed in Lijiang for two reasons. Firstly, it’s actually two trees which were planted together over 500 years ago – they have entwined and the blossoms are always a mixture of the two colours. Secondly, the tree has a guardian: a 95-year old man who tends to it every day, never coming down the mountain. He first saw the tree when he was three and has looked after it ever since. He seemed one of the most content people I have ever met.
Lijiang Old Town and the Shanghai Family Hostel
(and we weren’t kneeling down, the snow was really that deep!)