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.
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.
You can see the Monkey in the background. He was available to be photographed all over town, often with his friend the pig.
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…
We’ve been away to Yunnan Province in Southern China. It’s not the sort of thing I usually do. We have had a wonderful time.
I’ve read and heard a lot about China, and we have family out there, but it was still a revelation to be there.
It’s strange but, on the face of it, it felt a less authoritarian society than the UK. There are a lot fewer police around, CCTV cameras are rarer and people feel free to vent their spleen (of which, more later). That said, we did not demonstrate about democracy or human rights – we might have run into the authorities a bit more if we had.
The capitalism we encountered is pretty red in tooth and claw. I was reading Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists while we were there and it’s depiction of a cruel and largely untrammelled capitalism with many victims seemed very relevant.
Anyway… We flew from London via Beijing to Kunming for two nights. The city has been massively redeveloped in the last 20-30 years. There is high rise everywhere and a lot of the old city has been swept away. The roads are a nightmare of traffic jams, even though the elevated motorways are three deep in places.
The taxi ride from the airport took about an hour. We had booked an apartment in a tower block near the centre. From our 22nd floor position we could see new building sites and infrastructure improvement in every direction.
A day spent in the city centre revealed a few older, low-rise streets but the majority of the place is concrete and proud.
We liked the pagodas, temples and traditional gates but they were often dwarfed by their surroundings.
Finally I’ll leave you with an image of the Hump Bar. I didn’t go in.
After a couple of days recovering from our flight we headed to the railway station for an eight hour rail trip to Lijiang. There were six of us and an enormous amount of luggage squeezed into the car that took us there. The suitcase in my lap took my mind off the traffic jams and the unusual driving styles.
The station was chaotic to our eyes. We handed over our passports and hoped our pre-booked tickets would be issued. The system seemed to work and we rushed through security, joined the queue* and made our carriage with ten minutes to spare. More later…
*There’s not really any such thing as a ‘queue’ in China. This is reflected in the driving styles.