"If you have time for but one
  province in China, Yunnan should
  be it.
"
           
- Lonely Planet
 

 

Volunteer in Kunming, Yunnan,
a city with year-round Spring weather. Trips to 26 cultures &
5 nearby countries.

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Lijiang


Introduction

Lijiang is one of the most famous National Scenic Areas in China. The Ancient Town of Lijiang has been inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 1997 for its well-preserved ancient buildings and its unique Naxi culture. It is a utopian-like place where people can enjoy tranquility and take the time to appreciate and reflect about life.

Lijiang is well known for gorgeous landscape and beautiful scenery. You can visit the renowned World Cultural Heritage Old Town of Lijiang, and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (or Yulong Xueshang) is the extolled as one of a must-visit National Scenic Areas in Southwest China. You can have the best view of the newly approved World Natural Heritage of the Parallel Flow of the Three Rivers here in Lijiang.  The First Bend of Yangtze River and the Tiger Leaping Gorge are the only ones of their kind on the Yangtze River. The Laojun Mountains have been praised as the World Plant Genetic Bank. Lying right between the famous Lost Horizon Shangri-la and the renowned historical and cultural city of Dali, Lijiang is the perfect place for you to travel around the most popular region of Yunnan.

Besides its marvelous lands, the ethnic cultures here are just as extraordinary. The Dongba culture has been passed down from generation to generation. The Dongba characters are one of the few hieroglyphics still being used in the world today. On the shore of Lugu Lake dwells one of the surviving matriarch societies that still maintain the practice of Walking Marriage.

The Old Town of Lijiang

Lijiang's old town (including the Dayan old town, Basha housing cluster and Shuhe housing cluster) was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List on December 4, 1997. The history of the town dates back more than 800 years and was once the famous confluence for trade along the old tea horse road linking most parts of western Yunnan and Tibet. The Town is uniquely characterized as "River winding through every house and willows weeping before every family", a well-known scene in South China. The orderly system of waterways and bridges can be seen everywhere, making Lijiang a unique city in China. You are expected to pay 80 RMB as an Old Town maintenance fee. 

This is how the World Heritage Committee gave its justification for inscription for the Old Town of Lijiang

Lijiang is an exceptional ancient town set in a dramatic landscape which represents the harmonious fusion of different cultural traditions to produce an urban landscape of outstanding quality.

The Mu Mansion

The Mansion resembles the grand view of the Lijiang Old Town in terms of local residential architecture. It was the palace for the Mu family, one of the most influential clans, that had reigned over the Lijiang area for more than 400 years during China's Ming and Qing dynasties (around the 14th to 18th centuries). During a severe earthquake which occurred in February 1996 near Lijiang, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, 186,000 houses collapsed. The World Bank sponsored the renovation of the Mu Mansion after the 1996 earthquake. The admission fee is 35 RMB. 

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
       
At its elevation of 5,596M, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain top is covered by snow all year round. The main peak in front looks like the head of a dragon, and the other peaks follow in a line as if there were a transparent white dragon. The mountain hence got its name, “The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain”. The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain has been regarded as a holy mountain by the Naxi people and the ethnic groups living around Lijiang. People believe it is the embodiment of “Sanduo”, the Patron Saint of the Naxi people. To date the Sanduo Festival remains one of the grandest celebrations for people who live here. Among the tourist sites, there are Ganhaizi, a big pasture with spacious views; Baishuihe, White Water River, a valley with a crystal clear river running through; Yunshanpin, the legendary site of the Third Kingdom of Jade Dragon; and Bintalin, Ice Tower Forests, with typical glacier scenery.

It will cost 60-100 RMB to rent a car and drive you there. Bus No. 7 from the Old Town will take you there as well, at 15 RMB/person.

Entrance into the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for an all-inclusive ticket will cost 190 RMB.     

The Black Dragon Park

Also known as the YuQuan Park, or Jade Spring Park, it is about one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the center of Lijiang Old City. With crystal clear spring water, elegant hills and architecture reminiscent of ancient times, people come here to experience a sense of tranquility and calmness. It was built around 1737 in China's Qing Dynasty, and you can find many old buildings here which speak of its history. You can arrive there by buses 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9 from the city area. The admission fee is 60 RMB.

Ten-Thousand-Flower Camellia  
      
Also known as the YuQuan Park, or Jade Spring Park, it is about one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the center of Lijiang Old City. With crystal clear spring water, elegant hills and architecture reminiscent of ancient times, people come here to experience a sense of tranquility and calmness. It was built around 1737 in China's Qing Dynasty, and you can find many old buildings here which speak of its history. You can arrive there by buses 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9 from the city area. The admission fee is 60 RMB

The Ancient Town
of Shuhe 

The Ancient Town of Shuhe is located 4 km (2.5 miles) to the northwest of the Ancient Town of Lijiang. Shuhe, in the local Naxi language, literally means "the village at the foot of the high mountain". In 1997, the Ancient Town of Shuhe, as an integral part of the Old Town of Lijiang, was listed by the World Cultural Heritage and  then by the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization of the United Nations. The Ancient Town is also one of China's national AAAA level scenic areas and one of China's Key Protection Units of Cultural Relics. The town is one of the original places of Naxi people and the Mu family, who became the ruling clan in Lijiang.  You can experience authentic customs and traditions of Naxi culture here more than anywhere else. Plus the residential houses have also kept the unique style of that of the Naxi people. All these attributes have been drawing visitors from China and from abroad. You can take a tourist bus from Lijiang Old Town to get to Shuhe. The admission fee is 50 RMB.

First Bend on the Yangzi River
Located in the town of Shigu (literally translated as Stone Drum), 45 km (28 miles) from the Old Town of Lijiang, is the gorgeous scene of the First Bend on the Yangtze River. The rapidly flowing upper reaches of the Yangtze River is called Golden Sand River in Yunnan. It is slowed down by the Hailuo cliff and forced to form a phenomenal V turn, which is a rare scene on a river as large as the Yangtze River. With its broad channel, the river looks like a still mirror, though the current is actually rapid. On the shore are ribbon-like willow plantations and beyond that flat fertile lands joining terraced fields. Shigu Town has always been an important stop on the Old Tea Horse Road, Caravan Road and strategic fortresses throughout its history. In the 13th century, Kublai Khan crossed the Yangzi River right at this point and then conquered the Dali Kingdom which at that time was the ruling authority in Yunnan. During the Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Red Army also passed through here to fight against the Japanese army.

The Tiger Leaping Gorge        
As an essential part of the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage Site, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is located 60 km (37 miles) north of Lijiang City. Approximately 17 km (10 miles) in length, the gorge is where the Golden Sands River passes between the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the Haba Snow Mountain. It is more than 3000 meters from the surface of the river to the top of the two snow mountains. There is a gigantic rock standing in the middle of the river, and the roaring river passes around it. Legend goes that in order to escape from hunters, tigers jumped over to escape by stepping on the rock in the river, hence the name "Tiger Leaping Gorge". To successfully raft through the gorge has been a big dream for brave rafters. However, there are no more than 150 people who accomplished it without losing their lives.

The Lugu Lake
Located 76 km (47 miles) from Ninglang County of Lijiang is Lugu Lake. With an altitude of 2685 meters (8809 ft), it is the highest lake in Yunnan province. With an  average depth of 45 meters (148 ft), the deepest point being 93 meters (305 ft), it's the second deepest lake in Yunnan province. Here live the Mosuo people, a sub-branch of the Naxi people. What's unique about them is that the Walking Marriage inherited from the matriarchal society is still being practiced. Here men and women do not marry each other in the usual way, instead men go to visit women and stay with them only during the nights. In their own language they call each other 'A-Xia' which means "close partner". In the Mosuo family, women play a dominant role. Hence this place is called "the Women Kingdom" by anthologists because of the matriarchal societal system.

Laojun Mountain National Park
The Laojun Mountain is named after the mysterious founder of Daoism, Laozi, also called Laojun. Legend for this mountain goes that as Laojun passed the mountain, he dropped his magic mirror. The shattered pieces fell on the ground and turned into the 99 dazzling lakes of Laojun Mountain. Laojun Mountain is one of the vital habitats for the endangered Yunnan golden monkey. Also, nineteen of the 92 mammal species and 79 of the 152 bird species found at Laojun Mountain are included on the global Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) list. Here are sheltered a tremendous amount of higher altitude plants, particularly rhododendron forests. More than 10% of the world's rhododendron species are found here. Admission fee is 80 RMB.

Cultures and Customs

Naxi People and DongBa Culture
The Naxi is a minority with a long history and a brilliant culture. They have become known worldwide for having kept their own ancient and unique Dongba culture, and thus claim to be a small ethnic group that has created a grand culture. The Dongba culture is named after the Dongba religion. The Dongba religion is a primitive religion of Naxi nationality, believing in multi-deities and is the combination of Buddhism, Taoism and Benism, a local belief system. In the Dongba religion (Dongba means "the intelligent"), Dongba is believed to be an embodiment of witch, doctor, scholar, artisan and craftsman and an important successor of the traditional culture. Dongba Sutra is the essential part of the Dongba culture. The sutra contains history, philosophy, religion, folklore, literature, astronomy, art, and medicine, and it’s not an exaggeration that it is called the encyclopedia of Naxi ancient society.

The language and scriptures which are used to record the Dongba Sutra are just as significant. Nowadays, the language is composed of about 1400 picture-like characters and symbols that are still being used by Dongba researchers and artists of the culture. It is one of very few hieroglyphs that are still "alive" in the world, and is regarded as a precious culture relic of the Naxi people. The Dongba Classical Literature was accepted as a written world heritage by UNESCO August 30, 2003.

In Lijiang, the Naxi people and other ethnic groups celebrate a festival that people don't observe outside of Lijiang--the Sanduo Festival. The festival falls on the eighth  day of the second lunar month. During this time, people from all over the region assemble at the Sanduo Temples for a grand memorial and sacrificial ceremony.

According to legend, Sanduo was believed to be a patron god who watched over and guarded the local people. But "Sanduo" is actually the spiritual idol created by the Naxi who have lived generation after generation at the foot of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The national hero and patron god is the projection of the adoration for beautiful nature and the desire of having a promising future.

The Naxi Orchestral 
Among its splendid cultures, Naxi Ancient Orchestra is well-known around globe. It is said that the Naxi Ancient Orchestralcan be dated back to the Fourteenth Century, and is the music with the longest history in Yunnan, probably the only one of its kind around China and the world in terms of long history. It was the combination of the art from central China and local Lijiang culture. Having survived for more than 500 years, the Naxi Ancient Orchestra now is still dazzling in its glory. Its popularity has gone beyond Lijiang, and is accepted all over the world. The Naxi Orchestra was invited to perform in America, Belgium and Netherlands in October 1995. After this, the Naxi Ancient Orchestra was played on radio stations in West European and North American nations. Scholars and researchers swarmed to Lijiang for studying. There is a Naxi Orchestra performance every evening from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at Jishan Alley No. 11, Xinyi Street (新义街积善巷). Admission fees range from 100 to 160 RMB.

 

 

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