Must-See Yunnan.

"Yunnan is without doubt one of the most alluring travel destinations in China" says the Lonely Planet. How right they are! Despite rushing this huge province in SW China, we enjoyed some wonderful sights and saw some very interesting peoples as my diary records...

Dali Village And Zhoucheng. 2002-09-23.

"It's raining and Dali village looks to have narrow streets so we park outside the walls and don our macs to walk the 250m to the one place I want to visit, Mr. China's Son Café. Only for the name you understand (which I should explain: my mother was Ellen China). Ann and Maureen join me for the walk and we find a small treasure house. 'Mr. China' is an aged chinaman who has written two books, the first being "Mr. China's Son", and who has as a result of his literary fame, visited the States and the UK amongst other places. He speaks and writes decent English. The café's walls are paeans of praise to our eponymous hero together with some interesting stuff on Bai traditions. Dali is a Bai village and 'Mr. China' is a member of the Bai minority. Inter alia, 'Mr. China' sells copies of his books so I buy his first and he pens a lengthy and touching message in the front. We go away rather astonished and pleased.

…[Next we stopped at] Zhoucheng where there's lots more rain, a pathetic little market and some really interesting narrow streets. We wander, take photos, buy a tablecloth and get some eggs. Many of the women who are selling here where the Bai dress with a large Bo-Peep hat, but it's notable that a very large proportion of the women, selling or not, sport the hat."

Lijiang. 2002-09-24.

"I walked into the old town the heart of which is 100% tourist-commercialised. Which is a pity because it is clearly something, a well-preserved old village with lots of fine traditional buildings and a rabbit warren of rough-stone flagged roads and alleyways. Interspersed between the thoroughfares are loads of waterways, some stream-sized, many much smaller. Some of the streets border the streams and there are some lovely bridges. The whole manages (just) to triumph over the commercialism.

Part of the reason for this is that the place is still a 'real' living organism peopled by the Naxi minority. These folks had a matriarchal society which is still intact in some parts of the region, and their traditional costume is still intact in Lijiang and not just in the shops. Lots of women wear the slightly billowy 'cloth cap' which sometimes has residual blue 'ear flaps'. They also sport a pinafore and on their chests a cross of white material which supports a back protector: many people carry baskets on their backs like rucksacks. (Yesterday we noted how many of the Bai supported baskets by means of a thick band of material across their foreheads, but the Naxi don't seem to do that).

I walk out of the centre into the streets that are still 'old town' but have no tourist shops. It's still there with occasional tradespeople working in their front rooms and blokes sharing craic in a shop. This was the Lijiang featured in the memorable TV series "Beyond the Clouds" which Margaret and I loved. I would not be surprised if that series had been instrumental in transforming the old town centre. The place is now a World Heritage site but like so many such sites in China, Tourism with a capital T seems to dominate Heritage. And I think Pingyao had much more Heritage than Lijiang displays which is practically nothing.

…[The evening is spent] with Tom and Juanita [J is Mary Hunter's sister] and the rest of the crew. A multi-cultural restaurant, the Sakura, has been recommended by T&M's guide. It's in a part of town heaving with eateries so a recommendation is helpful. The menu is indeed varied - Naxi, Japanese, Italian, Korean - and the owners appear to be Korean. The food is exceptionally good and exceptionally reasonable in price. We get 10 or more generous dishes plus 8 huge puds (the apple pie is literally a whole apple pie) for less than 30 Yuan ($4USA) a head! And we have a very good evening together."

Lijiang To Zhongdian. 2002-09-25.

"In the early afternoon we observe two women with the most extraordinary headgear, akin to a rectangular umbrella. Headgear is the sign of your ethnicity but we don't know which group we are seeing.

In mid-afternoon we see an unusual village in a small area of flat land well below the road. The houses are radically different from anything we've seen with shallow-pitched roofs and a timber frame filled with something like wattle and daub. During the next hour we discover what we have seen, a Tibetan village. We enter a large high plateau which appears to be entirely settled by Tibetans. The architecture is significantly different from anything we've seen before, richly decorated houses with some very fancy woodwork. The one thing we have seen before, in Gansu south of Linxia where there are many Tibetan villages, is/are the large upright drying racks for hay (and here turnips). The people here behave differently. They are all smiles and waves. On this plateau there are substantial herds of yak-crossbreed cattle and we discuss how long it is since we saw herds of cattle. They are very uncommon in those parts of China we've seen."

North Of Zhongdian - Deqen. 2002-09-26.

"We drove on … down into the spectacular river valley we were to follow for the rest of the day. For virtually its entire length, the river Lancang (better known by its more southerly name, the mighty Mekong) flowed like a huge brown snake through high steep mountains, boiling with currents that were frequently circular or even contrary to the direction of flow. Where we first met it, the river (or perhaps it and one of its tributaries) formed a great V encompassing a massive ridge. All along its course, the river flowed through rocky though not entirely bare topography, the rocks being of the most extravagant colours, often exotically mixed. Purple was well represented as were yellow, blue and green. At one point the river was actually purple! Quite sensational."

Les Brook.

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