LIJIANG, Yunnan Province, SW China


Lijiang ("beautiful river") sits at an altitude of 8.280 feet in the foothills of the Himalayas. Our flight there descended through majestic mountains and over lush valleys dappled with shadows and light, blues and greens.

Our hotel was situated just a few feet from the entrance to the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town is a maze of narrow, winding stone alleys, canals filled with fish, back streets with Naxi homes, many small shops and restaurants, and other sites.

Lijiang and the Old Town are home to the Naxi (Nah-shee) minority people mentioned above, who are related to Tibetans. Every night there was Naxi singing and dancing right in the square outside our hotel. This music, with its special rhythms and sounds, is a time capsule dating back through many dynasties and centuries.

We were privileged to visit a Naxi village where you will see some of the interesting faces above. The Naxi are a matriarchal society, so the women do all the work, and the men socialize and play games all day. Above you will see a woman shucking corn in her open-sided house (and it was cold that day). By our standards, she had nothing in the way of comforts, but she told our tour director she was happy. Many of the people in this village have never been to Lijiang which is only about 15 miles away and so this is the life they know. It was very, very humbling.

Our local guide, Tom, is of the Yi minority group, which lives in the hills. He was the first member of his village to graduate from university. His parents are not literate, but he speaks Yi, Mandarin, and English quite well. He was extremely poor as a child. He said that his family could not afford books, so that when he would get one, they would sew it together over and over again to enjoy it. He said, "To us, books were like candy." Can you tell he won my heart just a little bit?

We took the cable car up to 18,360 foot Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which was an adventure in itself. You don’t see any pictures because we were fogged in! We also visited Tiger Leaping Gorge at 11.700 feet and Stone Drum Town at the first bend of the Yangtze as she comes down from the north and turns east to cross China.

Lijiang is quite charming and different with its mountain minority groups and dramatic terrain.

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