Lijiang, Dali & Shangri-la – Yunnan Province
After three years of writing about my travels in this fabulous country, this is my last travel story. I had been to Yunnan in 2013 for work but did not get to see the fabulous sights so I booked a five day trip in December when I knew it would be rather cool but mainly hoping there would be snow on the mountains. I was in luck, the beautiful Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang had part of its peak covered and from my hotel I had a fabulous view. This hotel is very lovely and staff are incredibly professional and friendly (Lijiang Resort and Spa – http://www.pullman-lijiang.com). In Lijiang there is a lot to do including seeing the Lijiang Impressions show which demonstrates the traditions and lifestyles of the local Naxi, Yi and Bai ethnic minorities against a backdrop of Snow Mountain. Also worth a visit is the Old Town of Lijiang, Shuhe Ancient Town and/or DaYan Ancient Town. Shuhe is only a ten minute walk from the Lijiang Resort so for convenience I went there. I also walked around Black Dragon Pond Lake [the north gate of the Lake is actually connected to DaYan Ancient Town]. The Lake also has a backdrop of the beautiful Snow Mountain. Outside the Lake there is a great little museum of Naxi culture which is definitely worth a visit. My guide told me that the Naxi pictograph script with about 1400 characters is the only pictograph script still in use. She also told the Naxi creation story which is very interesting and involves Father Sky and Mother Earth and nine brothers who cut open the sky with an axe and seven sisters who opened the earth with an axe. A lot more to the very interesting story so a visit to the museum is a must. Another lovely place to visit is Lugu Lake but as this is about 200 kms from Lijiang it probably is best to visit on the way to or from Shangri-la; which I did.
On my second day in Lijiang I took a day trip to Dali which is about a six hour round trip. Whilst at Dali I took a rowing boat ride on lake Erhai. This lake is a very important food source for the locals and many have trained cormorants to carry out the daily fishing…several fishermen also put on a show with their cormorants for the tourists. Next stop was to Xizhou Village which lies between Erhai Lake and Mount Cangshan. It is occupied by about 2500 residents of the Bai minority. This Village is not overrun by tourists and does not have the usual shops selling Chinese nick knacks – actually there are no shops selling anything apart from delicious local food (Xizhou baba which is a savory or sweet flatbread – delicious)and drinks (local Sandao tea). The Bai people have extensively decorated homes, usually painted white with intricate hand painted designs.
Next stop was to a landmark of Dali city: Chongsheng Temple and the Three Pagodas. The grounds are enormous and when we arrived at the top of the hill at the main temple (by golf cart) you can see temples, the three pagodas, reflection pools and Lake Erhai. It actually reminded me of being at the top of Jingshan Park in Beijing overlooking the Forbidden City [of course on a good pollution day].
I then took a two day trip to Shangri-la; again by car from Lijiang. On the way I stopped at the first bend of the Yangtze River which was spectacular. Next stop was Tiger Leaping Gorge – again spectacular but with 500 rather steep steps to climb down to the gorge and of course the same 500 on the way back [up].
In Shangri-la I stayed at the Songtsam Retreat (www.songtsam.com). I had wonderful views of the Songzanlin Monastery and the grasslands. The hotel was fabulous; staff incredibly friendly and a really memorable evening. The high altitude was something I wasn’t used to but the GM of the hotel gave me some medicine and that seemed to work. What I particularly loved about the villages in Shangri-la was the yaks/pigs and goats just roaming along the roads; on the highways; or just crossing the road to either get to better food or to get back to their homes. Everyone slowed down to ensure the animals were not injured which was lovely. There was also one particularly cute dog in a very interesting outfit at Dali Old Town…[established during the Ming Dynasty and is said to be a gateway to the Silk Road in southwest China) but back to the dog…probably very warm but in a badly mismatched outfit including dog cargo pants!
I loved Yunnan and one sight I particularly loved whilst being driven to both Dali and Shangri-la were the terraced mountains. They were very green and lush in Dali and rather brown this time of year in Shangri-la – but still amazing to see.