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Published: December 8th 2007
The red, muti-tiered lanterns swaying from the roofs of traditional, wooden Naxi buildings
. The uneven cobblestones of dimly-lit winding streets. The sound of water rushing thru canals. These simple things alone were enough to cause us to fall head-over-heels for Lijiang. Add a RMB 40 hotel room and we were hopelessly in love.
The three-hour journey from Dali was fun. On board we met Windy, Wang Lee and their girlfriends (all Beijingers) and soon the back of the bus was a regular comedy club. Invariably, we all ended up staying at the same hotel.
Home of the Naxi people, Lijiang is divided into new and old. The new section is much like any other modern Chinese city. The old city exuded authenticity, charm and romance like no other city we had ever visited including Dali. The narrow lanes and right-angle turns made it impossible for vehicles to drive thru Lijiang 'Gucheng' but daylight hours, especially on weekends, would find the streets gridlocked with human traffic. Our favorite pastime was trying to get hopelessly lost in the maze of shops, restaurants and quaint back alleys. And we did quite a few times emerging on the edge of town only to
pop right back in. The detail and intricacy of hand-carved doors, window frames and roof trimmings was astounding. Scenes from Chinese myths and legends, dragons, karst, flowers and abstract patterns popped off, in 3D. And the Naxi trademark roofs curved gently and always carried some fearsome dragon at each point. Clean, clear water flowed thru the series of canals and over green algae bent in the direction of the flow. Stronger carps played salmon trying to swim upstream while weaklings wiggled their red bodies in the shallows under the shade of weeping willows. We'd cross ancient bridges, pass giggling groups, play 4th quarter basketball, learn to play Chinese poker, snap a million pictures, devour delicious Naxi fried fish and avoid a meal of 'crispy skin infections'
On the northen edge of town was Black Dragon Pool Park
- a Qing legacy. Our rickshaw rider pedalled furiously up an incline before the road levelled out, passed a looming statue of Mao and then plunged down to the park entrance. RMB 120 got both of us in. And right away we got our money's worth. The Black Dragon Pool
was flat and mirror-like and big. Stretching over the pool was the White Marble Belt Bridge
decorated with fowers and frogs. Behind the bridge was impressive Five Phoenix Hall
. Closer to us, on the left was the much smaller pavilion Pence Pavilion. On the banks of the pool and up the side of Elephant Hill grew lush, green vegetation. In the background (relating to position rather than effect) was Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain)
's jagged snow covered peaks and their perennial cloud. Individually, each of these elements has the potential to take your breath away. But together, they were stupendous
; almost too beautiful. Together, they were unreal; mere figments of our active imaginations. The camera's self-timer fired off a shot and froze that particular moment in history. We were smiling; wide awake in a dream.
Tearing ourselves away we walked a narrow path and a temple came into view. On every square inch of its fence and even on the railings of the stairs were hundreds, nay thousands, of padlocks. Some were crusty with rust and other were sparkling new but each had Chinese engravings and other special markings. We thought we'd get a lock too (you know, for posterity
). A girl led us inside. Downstairs was an exhibition of
ornate sculptures, delightful paintings and priceless dynastic vases. She guided us upstairs. The hall was huge. A Buddha dominated a side wall illuminated from beneath by weak red bulbs. Cushions faced the Buddha and burning incense flavored the air. Also in the room was four men in ceremonial attire and elaborate headdress. She introduced one as 'The Dongba Master'. The Master was really a religious priest and the word 'Dongba' encapsulates the culture and the script of the Naxi people. The master started to light candles as if preparing for some ritual. We quickly indicated that we had only come for padlocks. He didn't seem to mind and led us off to a small table on one side. The brother in the far left corner started a slow, deep, creepy chant. And, intermittently, the brother closest to the Buddha hit a small gong. Rotating turns, we engraved our names and the words 'Love, Health, Peace' on the lock, left a 'donation' of RMB 99 and hurried outside. We fastened the lock on the fence almost in line with the Pence pavilion vowing to return one day to check up on it.
Deeper into the park we visited historic temples
with ying-and-yang patterns in the floor tiles, well-tended gardens, crossed five more bridges, caught more stunning views of Yulong Xueshan and sat in for a soothing concert from the Naxi Orchestra. At one square a group of Naxi women, in traditional wear, danced in a circle to traditional music. Mingway Lu, an English-speaking Han who was guiding some French tourists, roped Shanna in to help explain the Naxi way of life. He explained that the seven circles at the back of the women's clothes represented the seven stars of the constellation Big Dipper. The hardworking Naxi women women would leave for the fields so early and return so late that they'd always see the Big Dipper. By the time she had finished translating, Vibert had disappeared. He was in the middle of the Naxi line doing a kind of Naxi electric slide
with the women. After the dance, we paused long enough for light conversation, the usual inspection and photos. Around 7 pm, the same night, we returned to witness the park in a blaze of lights.
The 'great minds' theory played out as the original Beijing sextet ended up in the same bus, going to the same destination,
without previous agreement. And, yes, we all had the same love affair with Lijiang - China's 'Queen of Charm'.
😊 Windy, Wang Lee and friends
😊 The beautiful Naxi ladies
😊 Selina for teaching us to play Chinese poker
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