05 January 2012

While missing in Yunnan I discovered Shangri La

When I was a child, my late grandmother told me that our ancentral origin can be traced back in the mystical mountainous region of Yunnan in China. I never paid any attention then, until one fine day I stumbled upon a travel documentary that showcased the hidden beauty of the region, the colorful tribes roaming the sleeping ancient town and the mystical wonder of those ethereal places. It inspired me and I said to myself "Wow...! I must go there."

My wish did come through. I was enroute the Bolehland from Beijing quite recently and I thought a short stopover in Yunnan wouldn't do me any harm. The first stop was in Kunming the capital of Yunnan which was only a 5o minutes flight away from Lijiang. Lijiang is one of the very well preserved ancient city in the province. The air-view along the way to Lijiang was very pleasing. The undulating terrain, isolated tiny villages high in the mountain, vast fertile lands in a diverse landscape were impressive enough and astonishingly beautiful. Luckily my sanity was still prevail otherwise I would have jump out and parachute off the plane just to experience the bird-eye view of this natural wonders. On a second thought, it was not entirely a bad idea though.

My 2 faithful colleagues and myself ended up spending 5 exciting days exploring the ancient town of Lijiang and her surrounding area. We literally inched ourselves up the snow-capped mountain and almost knocked out by lack of oxygen, braved the ear-deafening roar of Yangtze rapid in the deepest gorge, blended with the local tribes on a horseback, passed through scenic mountains, valley and lakes, paced ourselves slowly on the fine bluestones in the small alleys and traced the small streams that run through the ancient town. That was my kind of travel.

One thing that has lasting impression and really touched my heart was the people I met while in Lijiang. While communication was almost muted, sincerity and warm hospitality became a mutual natural bonding. It is a universal language through good gesture and pleasant body languages. Perhaps we were very lucky to have such good encounters. I do hope those were a representation of the whole local population. I do hope others will have the same pleasant encounters like us.

At the end of the journey, I still could not find and unravel the mystery of my ancestral origin. That elusive family tree can wait. I have the feeling that somehow there is a strong sense of belonging there. That intimate feeling was so real and it was very personal. That wonderful and mystical place has really captured my heart - forever.

Lijiang is a place where minority ethnics and diverse cultures blended in seamlessly and seemed to exist in a much lower temperature as compared to their neighboring Northern highlander.

While other part of the ancient world is facing a new invasion of Western believe and culture, Lijiang is still immune to this threat, well at least in this part of the ancient town. These Naxi old folks are their last bastion in preserving their well-kept tradition and custom.

A communal washing area is a common sight inside the ancient city of Lijiang. Fresh and clean water that runs down from Jade Dragon Snow Mountain radiates through the town in the form of many streams which provide a life-support essential to the entire population.

This local Mosuo girl weaving their traditional pashmina looked suspiciously at me when I snapped this photo. Just like any tourist spot, there were many shops that lined the street in the ancient town of Lijiang and sell the beautiful hand-made traditional handicraft for visitors to burn their pocket.

I just took a deep breath, savored the pleasured moment and enjoyed the spectacular view on the edge of nowhere, close to the top of the snow-capped Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. At over 4000 meters above sea level, oxygen which was taken for granted in the lowland suddenly became the most appreciated element.

My colleague told me that if he find Shangri La, he will never look back and return to this mortal world again. I asked him whether the above picturesque Blue Moon Valley fit his criteria. He replied..."you have to go to the underworld to get the answer."
Very true indeed :)

The azure color of the lake with a backdrop of majestic Yulong mountain was really awe-inspiring. Actually this almost surreal landscape was not in my original syok-sendiri itinerary, but with a good and willing personal tourist guide, the hidden beauty of the Blue Moon Valley unraveled before my eyes.

While standing on the edge of this rapid section at one of Tiger Leaping Gorge's deepest section I can't help myself but admired the greatness of our Maker. The 3 hours one-way trip across the mountainous region of Yunnan toward the mystical Shangri La that passed through many junctions of Yangtze river was blissfully heaven. This was a place with unparalleled beauty. A place worth exploring.

As Tiger Leaping gorge is claimed to be the deepest gorge in the world, going down close to the rapid and then up again was quite a challenge for some. If your leg or knee is not strong enough, those special carriers were ready to assist. With a small token you can ride like a king.

Along the way to Shangri La, I spotted this nondescript stall selling very potent looking chillis. I was to find out later that those were the hottest chili in China.

No. 1 Courtyard Hotel Lijiang is a traditional five star hotel with a very beautiful courtyard. It was through the kindness of our taxi driver which later turned into our personal tourist guide that took us to this place despite our uncertainty of our final destination (read lost).

It was not my usual fancy to show the condition of my hotel room. This one was special because for the first time in my life I slept on a waterbed. A good love nest for honeymoon couple. A very unusual experience for me.

This is the only mosque in Lijiang right across the road from our hotel. From the main road it was slightly hidden by the dense vegetation. The mosque situated just outside the peripheral of the ancient town on a slope behind the town bus station. Our guide didn't know the existence of this mosque, but my indispensable interpreter and talk person - Mr OCW managed to pin-point this location with laser sharp accuracy.

A nondescript eating place for Muslim tucked away and hidden front he sight of unwary travelers. There was only a handful of halal restaurants in Lijiang and you need a good local guide to pin-point the exact location as there was no apparent signage. I just trust the guide and my gut and I think he didn't bluff as the owner answered my salam graciously.

Mr. Yang (sitting on the far right) and my two travel companions enjoying the warm Naxi hospitality. Mr Yang was so gracious and very generous with his time and made all the effort to accommodate all our fancies.

The traditional yak's dishes for our lunch. The food was simple, fresh and very informal but yet shockingly very tasty. I just have to watch my uric acid level as throughout my 10 days China adventure, surprisingly red meat became my main staple food. Warm Yak milk to compliment the dish will make the whole eating experience sublime.

Lijiang is a place where many beautiful streams with fresh and clear water radiates through the town with small cafes and restaurants offer hungry travelers with their mouthwatering traditional and modern dishes. I didn't get a chance to sit down in one of the cafe beside a stream enjoying a cup of the most expansive tea in the world (Puer tea) because I was so busy snapping photos and got mesmerized by her sheer beauty.

The sun, the moon and open air... what else do we need to get the feeling of freedom while dumping our precious commodity in this open loo. This is the 21st century version of an exotic spa in the middle of nowhere. I thought I never had to experience this unique ancient ritual, but alas the nuclear-hot chili in my dish really had caused me to have another earth-shattering gastro-intestinal apocalypse here. What an experience!

This, in my opinion is the most beautiful and super-clean toilet in the whole province. It should be rated as a five-star toilet. Next time if I accidentally landed on this mystical land and miss the hotel booking I know where to gatecrash. Superb!

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