There are 56 ethnic minorities in China. All of them have their own language, customs and culture. On the border of Yunnan and Sichuan province lies a place which is home to one of them – Lijiang.
Lijiang was the first place where we went for holidays and I must admit it made an impression on me. Old traditional houses with rich decorations and carvings create labyrinth of tiny streets lined by water canals trough all the city. When we arrived there it was late night (as we drove there from Guangdong province which was so far the worst experience in China because a) it was bloody long drive and b) we were 5 people in small car and of course I had to sit on the middle back seat which is the most uncomfortable seat). We found our accommodation which was lovely home stay like hotel owned by friendly old guy. Tired from the long drive but looking forward to the next day.
At the edges of the city where we stayed the streets are quiet but towards the city center they become more and more live. Hundreds of small shops offering souvenirs such as wood carvings, traditional paintings or calligraphy, color scarves, hand- decorated handbags and thousands of good for nothing things. Just typical tourist place – shopping, shopping, shopping. It’s something what you can’t avoid because the shops are literally everywhere. I noticed there were many shops with drums. It works like this – you buy a drum together with reggae type music CD. Then you can play your own song on the drum. The music from CD just helps you as a background. It was pretty cool but I would expect this maybe in Jamaica not in China 😀
Besides all the souvenirs shops there are also hundreds of food stands, small canteens or restaurants. I can tell you as a ”beginner” in China I couldn’t believe the amount and variety of the food. Colorful lemonades, ice creams, potato chips, barbecued skewers, sweets, dried yak meat etc. One just can’t resist. One thing deserves special mention – local chili making. There are a few shops selling chili. I remember one. There was a lady making chili and garlic mixture in a big wooden bucket in front of the shop. The mixture was so strong that just passing by this place made your eyes cry! I bought one can of it and after two years I still have some at home. It’s really hot and I have a feeling as longer I have it as hotter it is 🙂
Yunnan is a tea province. I would say it’s just a sin to go to any place in Yunnan and don’t taste the tea. The most famous Yunnan tea is definitely Pu’er. It has long tradition. It’s special fermented tea and it is said it has a lot of benefits for our health. Well not all people like it because of its special earthy taste. Unfortunately we didn’t have experience with Chinese tea that time but we wanted to try. So we found a tea shop and asked for tasting. A young boy was friendly and offered us seats by the special tea table (as I later found out tea tables have apparently the same importance as the tea itself) Tea drinking process is very unique and impressive. It’s not as easy as we do – just pour hot water into cup with tea bag and that’s it. In China it is very different. It has its rules 🙂 Drinking tea is something like ceremony which shows how important the tea is for Chinese people.
After sunset the city enlightened and it was even more charming than in daytime. We were curious how the local night life looks like. There are many bars. Most of them have some kind of live music mostly local musicians play folk or rock music which is really pleasant and relaxing. But we found something really different. That place was incredibly noisy and full of neon lights. Even if this is not our idea of fun we decided to try. After entering this semi open air bar each of us got wooden block. We absolutely didn’t have idea what is it for. We found out soon. There was a stage in the middle, DJ played a song and after the song finished the host jumped up on the stage and started shout something into a microphone. It was all in Chinese so we didn’t understand but it must have been something really exciting because people were screaming and yelling and after finishing his speech the host grabbed a bottle of beer and drank it at one time. And this was the moment to use those wooden blocks. While he was drinking the beer other people in the bar started to bang the blocks on the table and made incredible noise! Crazy! We stayed there just until somebody noticed there are two ”whities” in the bar so all people started to pay too much attention to us. So we rather left 🙂
Besides plenty of shops there are also a lot of travel agencies offering various types of trips. We wanted to see some more from Lijiang area so we stepped into one. But there was no English staff. Never mind we thought, this is so touristic place we will find another one and there will be somebody who can speak English for sure. No. We have tried about four or five or maybe more I don’t remember but no one spoke English. Honestly we even didn’t meet any other foreigners in the town which was quite weird. We gave up then and asked one of our colleague to help us arrange a car to take us to Jade Dragon snow mountain. This mountain is actually glacier so there is a snow all year round. Of course if something is arranged via third party in China it never works (it’s I would say something like Chinese folklore…) so we didn’t end up at the glacier but the driver took us to Spruce plateau. It’s actually part of the snow mountain but you can’t get to the top of the glacier from here. Doesn’t matter, we bought a tickets and took a cable car up to the plateau. We found green meadow with yaks and horses surrounded by massive mountains, sharp fresh air and surprisingly no souvenir shops. Beautiful! And even more beautiful were waterfalls and lakes with emerald water at the foothill. So after all we appreciated that the driver took us there.
Above I mentioned that Lijiang is home to one Chinese ethnic minority group – Naxi people. As we had only short time to spend in Lijiang we unfortunately didn’t have chance to explore the Naxi people culture so much. But you can’t miss traditionally dressed ladies in the old town strolling through the streets selling usually hand made goods. Their dresses are very decorative. These ladies are inseparable part of Lijiang and make it very colorful and oriental. Lijiang is a tourist center of Qinghai-Tibet plateau area and the real culture of local people stay a bit in shade of commercial tourism. The city itself is incredible place and it must be seen but in my opinion the real treasure of this area lies outside of the old town in small villages and eternal beauty of surrounding nature. And that’s what I want to explore on our next visit of Lijiang…