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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 16:56:52

CHINA 2012: 7 - Lijiang to Shangri-La

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lijiang is a city of 1,370,000 people where almost 60% owe their income to the tourism industry, according to our guide.  The other main employer is agriculture, largely wheat, corn & potatoes - the altitude is too high for rice.  There are 22 ethnic groups that comprise 57% of the population, the rest are Han Chinese.  There are no tall buildings as it is in an earthquake zone.  We have been told farmers have their own plot of land, and they keep any income they generate from farming; however the government owns the land and can take it away by compensating the farmer. The old city, a world heritage site, has a population of about 12,000 Naxi people, the ethnic group our guide belongs to.  They have the delightful tradition of women doing all the hard work while men paint, write, read, carve wood, play music and make their wives proud by being good hosts when guests are over.  There used to be 30,000 in the old city, but many have moved to the new city as rents increased.  The old city covers 3.8 Km2 (1 ½ square miles).  No wonder my feet hurt so badly after we walked it!  The city goes back 800 years. It is interesting that the Chinese government not only tolerates ethnic groups, but encourages them to maintain their language, costumes, and traditions.  Many don't speak Mandarin, as they communicate with each other in their own language. After a 30 minute drive we caught a cable car up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.  The area is beautiful, with a dazzling blue lake, coloured by mineral deposits, and the mountains are covered by pine forests.  The top of the cable car is 3.400 meters (11,152 feet) and the tallest mountain in the group is 5,596 meters (18,355 feet) high.  To get the cable car there is first a line to catch a bus (they are lined up one after the other), a 15 minute drive through the mountains and then to the cable car line.  Guide Li says in high season the line can be 2 hours. While waiting for the bus we noticed a performance going on with horses and many Naxi people in costume, so we inquired but the guide she said it wasn't in our program.  We insisted upon seeing the next performance, so she reluctantly agreed - we paid for the tickets.  Our arrival back at the base area coincided perfectly with the start of the next performance, which proved to be more than worthwhile.  The cast of 350 portrayed a history of the Naxi people, and their part in the tea route.  It seems every boy's dream was to be the leader a caravan crossing the high and dangerous pass into and across Tibet.  The performance was outdoors, and when it started to rain employees quickly passed out free rain capes to the almost 1,000 spectators. The next stop was another small, old village where we had a low end lunch before looking at some frescos painted in 1380, during the late Ming Dynasty.  They had been partly destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but are still quite well preserved.  There is also a large Buddhist/Taoist temple we explored.  After that it was back to the hotel, where we tried out the huge indoor pool before marching into the maze of streets of the old town again.  The guide says you haven't truly explored the area if you haven't become lost, so I guess we qualify!  She was programmed to show us through the old city, but we had enough of her for one day so told her to take the night off.  One line she had that I thought was funny was that she tells groups that if they can't remember her name just call her MBA - Married But Available.  Marilynn didn't think it was quite as funny.  She told Marilynn that women don't like her because their husbands do. For dinner we decided to venture into the old city again.  I followed the route that got us back last night, but Marilynn decided we should take a new route of shop lined streets with few restaurants.  After changing direction various times we found a small area of restaurants, so sat at one, ordered a couple of beer and were relieved to see the menu had English.  Unfortunately no one who worked there had English or Mandarin, so requests and explanations were unsuccessful. After ordering several dishes the waitress came back with the order pad, in Chinese characters, and crossed out the item we wanted most, so Marilynn cancelled.  We paid for the beer & left. I found a route out of the old city near the hotel entrance, where we went into the bar for drinks and snacks.  We are both starting to reject food, there has been so much.  This hotel is one of the best that we have stayed in anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our first stop was the old tea caravan town of Shigu, located on the First Bend of the Yangtze River, where we were not unhappy to say goodbye to our guide.  She is one of the highly programmed old style guides where everything must be done exactly per a fixed program.  She understood very little English, and explained little not specifically in the program.  Marilynn had more patience that I did - she interrupted the guide's non-stop discourse with the driver to try to get information on what we were seeing, but it was very frustrating. There are many old Mao era vehicles still on the road.  They seem to be powered by one or two cylinder engines, which are mounted externally in the front of the truck.  Another model that we saw frequently on our 1985 visit to China is like a two wheel garden tiller attached to a trailer.  It has hand brakes and a steel gas pedal on the floor.  They sound like the old East Hope one cylinder boat engines (tunk, tunk, tunk) and are desperately slow, particularly on a hill where they invariably have steam pouring from the engine. The guide was gone Marilynn climbed in the front seat beside the driver and we had some laughs.  The driver had very few words of English but he was quick to pick things up and had a good sense of humour. Our new guide, Tsering Nayma, a Tibetan, joined us at Tiger Leaping Gorge.  The drive has been spectacular, on narrow highway winding around harrowing curves on the side of mountains.  There is little sign of civilization - just miles of pine, cedar and fir forest.  Tiger Leaping Gorge is a narrow gorge set between high cliffs where the mighty Yangtze River, the third longest in the world at 6,300 km (3,917 mi), is forced to squeeze between high canyon walls.  The total gorge, which is almost 20 km (12 ½ miles) long, has a vertical drop of 213 meters (700 ft).  At its narrowest point it is only 20 meters (65 feet) wide.  As we neared Shangri-La the countryside became very Tibetan with stupas, prayer flags and herds of yaks.  The city was renamed from Zhongdian after the fabled lost paradise in an effort to increase tourism.  The altitude is 3,400 meters (11,152 ft) and the population is 50,000, a small town by Chinese standards. Our twisting, narrow route today was paralleled by another super highway in construction.  This road will connect Lijiang to Shangri-La and eventually to Lhasa, Tibet.  This will further tie this reluctant autonomous zone to China.  The first step to remove Tibet's isolation was the completion of the Chengdu to Lhasa railway - it was nearing completion when we were in Lhasa.  Tibet was closed to all foreign visitors on May 25 this year following two Tibetans burning themselves to death.  There is also an illegal celebration on the date of the uprising against the Chinese in 1959 which is annually suppressed.  The new links should increase Chinese immigration into Tibet, and provide quicker military access. Marilynn noticed both our driver and the guide have one long fingernail, and asked why.  It is to have a convenient item for scratching the ear or nose. Our hotel is a restored old Tibetan style building and our room is on the third of four floors.  There is no elevator and with the altitude we were puffing after scaling the stairs.  The room is beautifully done in old style furniture but with all the modern conveniences, including wifi.  Before entering the hotel we were required to turn in our shoes and put on supplied slippers - a bit of a problem with my big feet.  The best we could do is to crush the back of the slipper and let my heels hang out.  We were seated at the window overlooking mountains and pasture where farmers wearing traditional Tibetan garb watched over the yaks.  The food and service was great.  We are delighted that we will be here for three nights.