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Dali

From Shuhe we caught a ‘baker’s van’ taxi to Lijiang’s massive new railway station and retraced our route two hours South to Dali. Dusk was drawing in as we approached, skirting Erhai, the 25 mile long lake just outside the town.

First view of Erhai from the train

First view of Erhai from the train

Dali is two cities: the ancient town where we stayed and a modern metropolis Xiaguan (or New Dali). Dali was traditionally the stronghold of the Bai people. Ethnicity is taken seriously in China. All Chinese identity cards list people’s ethnic groups and there is an effort to maintain costume and culture, if only for the tourist market (both internal and external).

After a long taxi ride through Xiaguan we arrived at our modern hotel in the Old Town.

The area was hit by a terrible earthquake in 1925, so the old town with its 14th century has probably been largely rebuilt. It certainly continues to be redeveloped to cater for modern tourist needs. Our hotel here was much more conventional than anywhere else we had stayed so far.

We only had a couple of nights here and illness in the group meant that we didn’t explore the town as much as we wanted to.

Three of us went looking for a taxi to visit Erhai. The area round the lake – once just fields and a small village – is being developed rapidly with apartment blocks. We could see major infrastructure developments being carved into the hillsides on the opposite shore as well.

The taxi dropped us off at one of the four major gateways. Dali, unlike Lijiang and Shuhe, is built on a regular grid system and its more difficult to get lost. I gave it a good go though.

The gateway and wall

The gateway and wall

You can see the Monkey in the background. He was available to be photographed all over town, often with his friend the pig.

Yes, definitely Dali

Yes, definitely Dali

We missed stuff wherever we went on this trip but I feel we missed a lot more in Dali. Circumstances and time were against us. Before we knew it the alarm clock was ringing and we were desperately hunting for a taxi to Dali airport…

 

Baisha

Baisha main street

Baisha main street (click for larger size)

We had a day trip to Baisha from Shuhe. It’s only a short taxi drive away but you do feel as if you’re beginning to move away from the theme park-iness of Lijiang and Shuhe old towns (they are not theme parks, but they are pretty full on tourist traps).

Which is not to say that Baisha isn’t tourist-oriented. There are plenty of road-side stalls selling the usual yak bells, yak bone combs and spoons, roof cats and the like. There are a decent amount of eating places as well. It’s just that it’s a smaller place with more day visitors than people staying.

Road side eatery

Road side eatery

You’re a lot closer to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain here. There are treks to the mountain from the village. Depending on who you believe the mountain has been climbed only once by an American team or there is a cable car and donkey trail to the summit. It’s possible that both are true (but refer to different summits).

The village was once the capital of the powerful Naxi people. There are murals here dating back to the middle ages and an embroidery school keeping alive ancient Naxi traditions. With our unusual lack of forward planning we managed to miss both of these.

Main square

Main square

We did, however, visit the office of the famous Dr Ho. The doctor and his son have a formidable talent for publicity. Bruce Chatwin spent time with them in the 80s and they have diligently collected testimonials from those who have followed him. These include Michael Palin during the filming of his Himalaya series.

We also visited Dr Ho’s new house – a courtyarded timber building covered in celebrity testimonials. He’s obviously doing pretty well, but it’s hard to be critical – he was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution.


Dr Ho’s house wasn’t the only new development. New timber-framed buildings are springing up. We liked this one because it also serves as a meat drying frame…

Meat being air-dried

Meat being air-dried on the upper floor

We did do a bit of shopping. I bought a yak bell – starting price 390 kuai, final price 60 kuai. Now all I need is a Yak.

Unfortunately the Mysterious Shop was closed.

Mysterious shop (apologies for the lack of focus)

Mysterious shop (apologies for the lack of focus)

We did get to meet some local people. They were happy to be photographed.

Women in traditional Naxi costume

Women in traditional Naxi costume

we wandered out of the town down to the valley floor. The view of the mountain was much clearer from here. The bridge over the river had been repaired with stones that had religious images on them.

I think Baisha was one of my favourite places. We got slightly stranded there waiting for a free taxi. While we sat in the sun we watched two men working on a pig’s guts, cleaning the entrails in the stream. Dog after dog came to watch the men at work, none of them daring to dart forward to try and steal some of the offal. It was like watching children with their noses up against the sweet shop window.

 

Shuhe

After Lijiang we travelled to a new ancient town. Shuhe is only a couple of miles away and is part of the same UNESCO world heritage site. Traditionally it is associated with the Bai and Naxi people, though the large influx of Han Chinese into Yunnan is reflected here as well.

New build

A new building using traditional techniques near to the town centre. Many of the building labourers were female.

One thing we like about Lijiang was that some of the traditional ethnic groups are based on matriarchal societies. Our taxi drivers were, for instance, unusually for China, often women.

A lot of the travel guides describe Shuhe as less commercialised and touristy than the main Lijiang old town but our visit showed that Shuhe is catching up fast. There was a constant noise of jack hammers as the streets were dug up to install new cabling and much of the town was being redeveloped to increase its tourist potential.

The following gallery gives some idea of our couple of days in Shuhe:

Shuhe was on the Ancient Tea Horse Road and we found its museum while we wandered around. The museum is set in several halls of what used to part of the Mu mansion complex. In its time the Tea Horse Road was as important a trading route as the Silk Road. It runs between Yunnan, Tibet and India. As well as a trade route it became a cultural corridor, aiding the spread of Buddhism in the area.

The museum also has a hall with the history of Shuhe’s leather-working industry. There are still active workshops in the town. They discouraged photography in most of the museum, but here are a couple of shots…

Used in the manufacture of tea

Used in the manufacture of tea

A courtyard in the museum

A courtyard in the museum

Lijiang

That's me

That’s me

This is a picture of me – just to prove I was actually there.

There, in this case, being the old town of Lijiang. In the background is the 18,000’+ Jade Dragon Snow Mountain which dominates many of the local views.

We stopped in the old town. It’s been here for 800 years but was largely rebuilt after a major earthquake in 1996. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist destination for Chinese visitors. The new city has been massively redeveloped in the last few years.

We spent three nights in a beautiful courtyarded inn. It was cold (the city’s at about 7,500′) but the air is clean and crisp.What you can’t see is the stinking cold I have (and still have). The beard is there because there wasn’t room in our luggage for my razor.

We didn’t get to see the Mu Palace, but it’s fun just to wander the cobbled streets and window shop in the endless touristy shops.

If you’re there and missing Western food (of course you won’t be) I’d recommend N’s Kitchen in a little square near the centre (No. 17, Jishan Alley). It’s on the first floor, so it’s easy to miss. It’s also a place where you can get advice on local cycling and walking and maybe employ a guide.

Here are a few pictures from our visit…

There weren’t many Westerners about. We stopped to watch some traditional Naxi dancing in Square Street and became something of an attraction ourselves. People wanted to be photographed with Pat because she was a foreigner. We should have charged 10 kuài.

Pat with new friends. Naxi dancing in the background

Pat with new friends. Naxi dancing in the background

We spent Christmas Day in Lijiang. Christmas dinner was a meal on the outdoor terrace of a restaurant. It was a pretty special Christmas.