The Old Town of Lijiang
We travelled to the Old Town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a blend of architecture from several cultures and an ancient ingenious water supply system.
Day 731 was mainly spent reading, writing and looking out of a train window, two trains in fact as there is no direct way from Chengdu to Lijiang; we went via Kunming.
Many of the mainline stations are a good few kilometres out of the city centre; we’d heard that finding our hostel could be difficult and it was late evening, so our hostel had kindly organised a taxi for us. We arrived to be greeted by the most adorable golden retriever Ang-ni, wagging her tail and wanting her tummy stroked. I think we’re going to like it here.
Day 732, we hadn’t set the alarm as we were going to have a chillax day. I was amazed when I looked at my watch to see it was 9:15 am! Wow, we must have needed sleep. It was time to explore the old town of Lijiang otherwise known as Dayan. This UNESCO World Heritage Site goes back more than 1,000 years being a commercial centre along the "Old Tea Horse Caravan Trail".
What the place is also famous for is its complex and ingenious network of canals supplying water to the old town from the Jade River and springs of the Yulong Snow Mountain. The River is divided into three tributaries and the from each of these into many streams which flow through courtyards and lanes from north to south. These were channelled into ponds for the inhabitants to use. Sadly, much of the original waterworks has now been destroyed by modern constructions.
We wandered along the cobbled streets lined with small restaurants, boutiques, and gift shops. The area reminded us of Pingyao, more touristy, no pollution and prettier with little stone bridges over the waterways. I’d recommend other travellers to spend more time here and leave out Pingyao from their itinerary, but Tim doesn’t agree. I think it was the wall that was the winner for Tim or was it the museums?
After reaching the main square, we walked up a steep side road and immediately were away from holidaymakers. We climbed stairs up to winding cobbled lanes and stopped for a coffee with great views of the typical grey hip roofs and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range beyond. And what an enormous Teddy Bear they had here!
We were trying to find “Big Waterwheels”. I haven’t a clue why we were making it difficult for ourselves, but we kept going the wrong way. Not that it mattered, we found it quite funny that every sign we saw had an arrow for this site 840 m away. Anyhow, we had a lovely time strolling along streets covered with colourful paper umbrellas, coming out at the main square again, this time to music and we were lucky to see a line of elderly Naxi women and a couple of men dancing in their local costumes.
Since the Old Town was included on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list, the city has become a typical tourist hotspot, resulting in the cost of housing and food rising causing many local people to move out.
At last, we found the allusive Big Waterwheels, the backbone of moving the water to all the homesteads. The area was rather touristy though. We met some delightful elderly Naxi ladies who agreed to have their photo taken and were intrigued to see the end result. It's a shame they didn't smile though, as their faces lit up when they did.
One of the delicacies of this region is the Flower Cakes, or locally as Xian hua bing. We had to try some, so once we got back to our Homestay, Tim popped out and bought three different types, all made from flakey pastry with a paste made from edible roses. Delicious ... and cheap!
There is far more to see in the Old Town of Lijiang, a few museums about the various ethnic communities, former residence of a few people we have never heard of and a walk to the Black Dragon Pool, worth spending more time here, but we had other plans for our next day.