After a bathroom break, walking up and down the road three times, consulting both the Lonely Planet and three websites, I finally figured out a bus route to get across the city from the south to the west bus station to get a bus for Lijiang. I took one bus from there to somewhere near the train station, walked a few blocks, and found another that went directly to the west bus station. I was very fortunate to get a seat both times. The second bus ride was a bit eventful as the much-harassed bus driver had to pull over twice to have yelling and screaming arguments with two different riders (Of course I couldn't follow the arguments, but I would guess they were probably misunderstandings based on this being an express bus to the public bus station; it wasn't stopping at many stops that that number bus usually would if not an express), and once to punch buttons and beat on a faulty piece of equipment on the dash.
Anyhow, I made it to the bus station, which was a crowded mess with construction going on as always, and bought a ticket for the 11:20 to Lijiang. According to Lonely Planet, the trip should take ten hours. We hurdled down the interstate uneventfully for nearly five hours, until suddenly we had a beautiful view of the huge lake near Dali; the clouds parted just enough to allow a few sunbeams to escape, moving over the water like spotlights.
Soon after, a sign along the interstate said Lijiang, 120 kilometers (about 75 miles). It couldn't possibly take five more hours; if we continued at highway speed, it shouldn't take more than an hour. But surely the guidebook wasn't that far wrong...
It wasn't. Almost as soon as I thought all this, the bus veered off the highway to the most forlorn looking rest area I'd seen yet, on a pot-holed side road. Why did the driver choose this out if the way place? Didn't we just pass a rest area right along the interstate not too far back?
Once we loaded back onto the bus, I understood. Instead of heading back to the interstate, we continued down the narrow local road, almost immediately turning into switchbacks. We weren't going to follow the valleys on the highway; we wrote going straight up and over those mountains.
The first slopes were green and rounded, dotted liberally with tall white wind turbines, adding an otherworldly flavor to the view. We soon left them behind as we followed the ridges. On the right, I could see how high up we were by the distant view of the valley below. On the left, my view was of the increasingly rockier summits, and occasionally pockets of snow. I tried for several miles to get shot of a particularly high and imposing peak.
Undoubtedly the view on this route was much better than the interstate, but it did make for a much longer trip as we passed through tiny villages and squeezed the bus past dump trucks on narrow lanes. At one point we came to a slightly larger small town, and that's where things really slowed down. They were working on enlarging the road, but for now they just have it ripped up completely. We bounced and jolted over dirt and gravel for what felt like five miles.
We finally did make it into Lijiang; we did make it quicker than I originally thought, in just a shade under nine hours, but still, four hours of that were that last seventy-five miles.