Friday, November 21, 2008

Li-jiang, the beautiful city lost in time

I’ve heard of many accolades showered upon Li-jiang and came with high expectations. After all, this place which was also listed in the Unesco World Heritage list (for culture) is also one of the most-visited city in China and mentioned favourably in the Lonely Planet.

I wasn’t disappointed. The moment we wandered into this old city (there are actually three preserved towns), I was captured by the narrow, cobblestone alleyways, clear canals and old wooden shops and houses. I felt lost in time, as if transported to the Ming or Tang Dynasty. Many shops were lined with red paper lanterns and there were many cypresses, willow and elm trees surrounding the squares. The whole city was pedestrianized and within walking distance.

Our journey on foot took us to the Mu-fu, a grand mansion of the Mu family which was heavily destroyed by an earthquake in 1996. The expansive, clean and exquisite piece of architecture reminded me of many Chinese period dramas from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The mansion was connected to the Lion Hill (Shi-zi Shan) which is the line of division between the new and old town. The view from Wang-gu Lou (Looking-into-the-Past Pavillion) was superb as we found out why this city is one of the rare ones in China that doesn’t have a city wall. It was surrounded by grand, stately mountains and one of these mountains keeping guard over this ancient city is the Yu-loong Snow Mountain.

With crisp, icy cold mountain wind blowing in my face, I marveled at the architecture bathed in the fading sun-light. The first day came to an end as we walked past the Old Market Square thronged with mostly Chinese people, mostly Han but with a smattering of Naxi tribal people.

The resort was very comfortable and homely as we were granted a huge living room, maid, Internet access and many clean bath-rooms. Each breakfast was ‘home-cooked’ by our so-called maid before we go out travelling each day.

I was looking forward to the day’s trip around Lijiang and again it was a brilliant day. The morning was very clear with no sight of clouds as we headed towards the Yu-loong Snow Mountain (Yu-loong Xueshan).

Firstly, we hung out around a beautiful clear lake that reflects the brilliant blue sky and the snow-capped Mountain near the Baishui area. This area housed a small museum displaying painting and artworks from the Lijiang area. I also encountered my first lamasery as we went to the Jade Peak Monastery to view the 10,000 blossoms Camellia tree. Too bad it wasn’t spring-time and all we found was a gnarled, artistic-looking tree-bark and a grumpy old guard possessively guarding his cherished tree.

Li-jiang was also famous for it’s temple frescoes from the Dongba culture and we managed to see these frescoes and a salmon fishery before lunch.

Of course the highlight of the day was the very grand ‘Impression Lijiang’ show created and directed by Zhang Yimou, the guy who directed the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. This musical was set in a huge, open-air amphitheatre, with the snow mountain as its natural backdrop. Everyone was handed a red cap as all were exposed to the raw elements. The 500-over performers perform this show twice a day for at least 300 days a year. I higly-recommend this show to anyone who visits Lijiang. It is spectacular and very enjoyable.

The evening got better as we went deeper into the national park and crossed many beautiful rivers, valleys and gorges. The mountain slopes were cloaked in autumnal colours…we were captivated by the trees changing into shades of brown, red, yellow or orange. There were some yaks available for that picture-perfect location as many chuckled at a silly yak stuck in the middle of the cascade of water. It was a very pleasant spot that reminded me of the Alps in Europe.

The daylight hours came to a close and we were bundled back to civilization. As the satisfying day came to a close, we viewed the Hei-Loong Tan (Black dragon pool). This garden was featured in many magazines and being here at night was to me, better than daytime. The nocturnal walk was illuminated by the clear moon-light, free from smog and pollution.

I was also pleased to find out that my friends were up to a walk to the café and clubbing district in the old city. The whole area was transformed to a very hip, happening place resembling most watering holes in major cities. Many young foreigners flocked to the eateries, cafes, pubs and clubs along the most picturesque canals to party the night away. I was impressed by the amount of people partying and the easy-going nature of the people here. As our brief stay came to a close the following day, I vowed that I will come to Li-jiang again and will definitely stay longer.

The next chapter, CO4: Shangri-La, Great Expectations of Eden (unfulfilled)….

1 comment:

chongerin said...

What camera you used fr those scenary shots? Nice..