After visiting the highly commercialized Lijiang Old Town at night I decided I wanted a more authentic experience of Naxi daily life. Enticing with its bright lights and buzzing sound of life well into the night, Lijiang Old Town for me has lost some of its charm. Rather than being given a glimpse of Naxi culture to appreciate, you are often over charged for the same trinkets that line the alleys. At night the water turns to wine as the clubs open and the youth enthusiastically open their wallets and jump up and down out of sync with each other as their inhibitions fade into the night. A far cry from the slow lifestyle used to describe the warm and welcoming Naxi people. So today is a day for exploring ancient towns. It is a scenic walk to Shuhe followed by a visit to Baisha which sits at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
Leaving October Inn I wind through the whimsical alleys. There are flowers hanging from baskets and leaking droplets of water onto the dusty ground. Stone, wood and slate make a striking combination to the old architecture that makes up this part of Lijiang. It is never just my destination that is the scenic pleasure of the trip. Lijiang offers such beauty and is best explored on foot or by bicycle. With the many short cuts the alleys give way to it is not long before i reach the south gate to Lijiang Old Town. It is the more ancient towns that I head for today though so I wander down the road and towards the North entrance of Black Dragon Pool.
A lot of the old part of Lijiang sits in contrast with the new architecture that is springing up everywhere. Unfortunately if there is one thing that never seems to stop in China, it is construction work. The modern design is sensitive to that of its surrounding style but together there is a clear divide between the old and new. What is slightly less obvious are the partial towns that are being developed in the style of old. If it wasn’t for witnessing construction and seeing merchants start the beginnings of setting up shop, I would have mistaken these fusion builds for old, near abandoned relics of a town that is no more.
Leaving Black Dragon Pool in my rear view I’m in owe every time the town opens up to reveal Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. I have no real hiking kit with me in China otherwise it would be those snowy peaks I’d be reaching for as today’s accomplishment. For now, it is ‘the hometown of springs’ for my first destination. The ancient town of Shuhe. Shuhe is one of the earliest settlements of the Naxi people and an extremely well preserved example of a town along the ancient tea route.
Without Tom I wind up walking to the main entrance of Shuhe and needing to pay the admittance fee of 40 yuan. There are many routes in for free but it is knowing where they start. The ancient towns do also fall on the bus route of numbers 6 and 11 for Shuhe and number 6 at the last stop for Baisha. If you take the bus to Shuhe I recommend walking to Baisha. It takes less than an hour and you’ll wander through one of the deserted fusion towns I mentioned earlier.
One thing that caught my attention wandering through Shuhe was the small open stalls that held locals playing small hand drums and playing a beat more familiar with African culture than Asian. Each time I passed one of these drum stalls I could have sworn the same song echoed out of them. Altered by the lost rhythm of the tourists that clambered in to join them. Live music is also a constant present in the streets of Shuhe with some incredible talent coming out of coffee shops and restaurants. I stop for lunch after hours of wandering. I’ve chosen The Cafe on the Creek to enjoy the calm of the water than runs through the town.
Once I’ve had my fill of food and Yunnan’s delicious coffee, it’s back on my feet and to my favorite app MAPS.ME to find the route to Baisha. Walking through rural areas give a better impression of life for the Naxi people. I pass two old women in their traditional dress and can’t help but admire how hard they seem to have worked their entire lives. I hold my phone up for a picture but they decline and I move on with only a memory of their image. The road to Baisha is open and stunning rural landscape. The town of Lijiang does offer such a balanced blend of modern, ancient, convenience and escape.
Getting closer to the majestic snowy mountain, I stumble into Baisha. It is later in the evening now so the town is incredibly quiet. The silence is penetrated by the growl of a dog as I try to quietly wander into the very closed Naxi Embroidery Institute. It is the most influential embroidery institute in Lijiang and aims to promote, preserve and develop other ethnic minority cultures, including Naxi, Dongba culture and Tangka culture. The dog manages to rustle up the attention of a young student who enters the courtyard. I apologies and begin to leave when he attempts a dialogue in broken English. The result is a private tour around the gallery of embroidered artwork. There are pieces in there that so closely resemble the delicacy of oil paintings that I linger staring as close as I can to the glass box they sit in.
I only capture one photograph of the gallery; I’m informed photographs aren’t allowed so I apologize and try not to take up too much more of the students time. Baisha is the smaller of the ancient towns and it’s not long before I reach the end of the road. I seek a local to aid in locating the bus stop as the walk back to Lijiang and up the hill to October Inn was only a little shy of three hours! I’m loosing light also and so I patiently wait nearly 40 minutes for the number 6 bus. There are mini vans that can drive you for 50yuan which if you fill the car isn’t so bad, if you’re happy to wait though the bus is a mere 1 yuan for the return journey.
Exploring the ancient towns has left me which a rather big appetite. Upon my arrival I smell Toms cooking and sit with my fellow travelers to discuss the days adventures. There are an American couple who arrived back from Tiger Leaping Gorge. After hearing their stories I book my bus ticket for the day trip to the gorge. The weather ahead is planned for rain and I don’t have hiking gear on me so going for the day, although slightly disappointing, is by far the sensible option. So come back to visit the Solo Pursuit for the adventure of Tiger Leaping Gorge.