Friday, November 24, 2006

Enchanting Lijiang

The city of Lijiang, in China's southwestern Yunnan province, is a fascinating place. We spent a full week here and in surrounding areas from October 30 to November 6. Lijiang is the longtime home of the Naxi (pronounced nah-shee or nah-hee) minority. The town itself is a maze of narrow stone cobbled lanes and small canals which until recently provided the residents' drinking water. It's strictly pedestrian traffic in the old city - no cars - which makes it pleasant to simply stroll around for hours - or even days.

Although the place is heavily touristed, it nonetheless has great deal of charm. Among the hundreds of souvenir shops that fill the ancient buildings are quite a few with really interesting, locally produced arts and crafts. In many cases, you can watch the sculptors, artists and weavers at work. The wood and mud brick Naxi architecture in the city center fared quite well when a strong earthquake hit the town in 1996, killing hundreds and leveling most of the newer concrete structures outside the old town. It's now a UN World Heritage site - well deserved, I'd say.

Many of the old women wear traditional Naxi clothing, and the pubs lure Chinese tourists with groups of women singing in traditional garb.

There's also the stunning backdrop of Yulong Xue Shan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) to add to the town's majesty. This Himilayan peak rises above the city to an elevation of 5500 meters (somewhere around 18,000 feet). One other enticing feature Yunnan can boast compared to China's crowded east coast - blue sky!

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