Monday, January 13, 2014


My first morning  in Lijiang I slept in a bit, got a shower, and did a load if laundry.  The hostel has some rickety metal stairs up to the roof, where there is sunny area filled with clotheslines, so my first view out into the Lijiang old town was from the top of the hostel.  Immediately below was the concrete playground of the local middle school.  As I hung out my laundry I listened to shouts if the kids as they had their gym class, playing some sort of pass-the-ball game.

And then I was off to explore. Lijiang, or at least the Old Town, which has now been surrounded by a modern city of over a million people, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The old town has a history of more than eight hundred years, and was once a major trading post along what was called the Tea Horse Road, which ran south through Burma and into northern India, and north curved around through Tibet and Sichuan Province, with tea from Yunnan and horses from Tibet being the most popular trading goods.  The trade route was important enough that it was often called the Southern Silk Road. 

The old town is different from many other ancient Chinese towns as it has always been inhabited by a minority, the Naxi (Nakhi) people, who have their own history and culture.  They have their own writing system, way of hunting with falcons, and were one of the few cultures to use a matriarchal system of inheritance, in which family holdings were passed down the female line instead of the male.  They even have their own religion, the Dongba religion, which is similar to an ancient religion, Bon, that was common in Tibet before Buddhism. 

The old town itself is quaint and pretty, with little bridges crossing over the little canals that wind through the town. It's a maze of cobblestone streets; I just wandered along picking streets at random most of the afternoon, only using my map if I wanted to try to find something specific.  The traditional architecture of the wooden buildings with their tiled roofs has been carefully preserved, at least on the outside, but of course now all the buildings hold souvenir shops--loom-woven scarves, products made from the local yaks, and recordings of local music made up at least half of the shops, with seemingly identical shops on every street.  Still, it was a pleasant place to wander. 

After I caught a glimpse of the mountain that make the backdrop to the city, I followed the streets north, trying to get a clearer view, which brought me finally to the Black Dragon Pond Park. 


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