On the advice of Dylan from the hotel in Dali I saved myself a couple of quid by getting the bus to Lijiang from the side of the road instead of booking it through an agency in town. That’s how I came to spend most of my afternoon sitting between a dusty road and a building site and most of my evening sitting on the one remaining minibus-seat, in the middle, at the back, having to grab strangers’ shoulders and knees whenever we went over a pothole to avoid being thrown down the aisle. That day I’d been reading about a particularly nasty bus crash in South American, and sure enough twenty minutes into the journey we passed the scene of an accident where a bus and taxi had collided head-on.
Much as I like complaining, though, that’s pretty much where it needs to end, because there’s nothing bad to say about my four days or so in Lijiang. The first thing I did when I got there was to get completely lost, which in most places would be a negative. In Lijiang Old Town it was a pleasure. The mass of little winding passages and canals seemed to be exactly designed to give me that feeling of being thrown into an alien world which most travelers are looking for in one way or another.
When I’d asked for directions enough times I finally found what turned out to be one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in – Mama Naxi’s Guesthouse – and headed for bed. Every night was an early sleep and nobody seemed to bother getting drunk. There just wasn’t really any need.
The next day I went out with Carla from Argentina to take a look at the lake, which provides one of the most famous views in China. It was a cloudy day, so the mountain in the background wasn’t really visible. Still, it’s improved with a few flowers in the foreground.
On the second day I joined a few other people from the hostel and cycled out to a Naxi village about 10km away.
There wasn’t a lot of difficuty finding it, but a morning’s cycling was tiring, so we ended up hanging out in a cafe for a couple of hours.
The village is famous for being the home of a particularly renound doctor. We found him pretty much by accident, but within a minute he’d lured us into his house to insist we read articles written about him in the western press, one by Michael Palin who apparently featured him on his ‘Himilaya’ series.
Amanda was feeling a little ill, so he prescribed her a bag of grey powder to drink with hot water and told her the most important thing was to be happy.
After we cycled back she gave it a try and immediately became a lot sicker. Mama Naxi said that everyone goes there and gets the same bag of powder. Ah well.
The next day was my last full one, and I spent most of it hanging out in cafes, reading and writing.
In the evening I went along with the same crew, plus a guy from Shenzhen called ‘Echo’, to see the famous Naxi orchestra.
Traditional Chinese music was wiped out everywhere else in the country during the cultural revolution of the 60s and 70s. Naxi musicians hid or buried their instruments and used the opening of China in the 80s as an opportunity to form a band.
The music was decent, the long speeches in-between maybe a little less so, but it was a good thing to have seen. The next day I left, along with most of the other people I’d met, who were mainly going north to hike Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is something I’ll have to save for another time. It’ll be a good excuse to come back to this wonderful little city.