TASTY YAKS & MOUNTAIN SHACKS
We got to see Yulong Shai (i.e. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) up close today and it was awesome! With clouds hovering over the tallest peaks, we never quite got to see the entire expanse of 13 peaks exposed at once; it was still awe-inspiring though! We also got to eat some yaks – but more on that later…
The mountain is really more like a series of conjoined peaks, rather than just a single one. The entire “set” of 13 peaks stretches for 35km, with the highest one being 5,596m high. All the peaks are more than 4,000km high and the mountain is covered in snow all year round. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain gets its name from the fact that all the peaks look like the spines of a giant jade dragon lying in the snow.
There are a number of cable cars that can whisk visitors up to various view points around the mountain. The most popular is the one that takes people up to around 4,500m where the glacier is (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain’s glacier is the southern-most one in the Northern hemisphere). This cable car takes people up to such great altitude so quickly that most people need to make use of the oxygen canisters available up there! Due to the wind conditions and inclment weather however, that cable car was closed when we were there, so we settled for a trip up to Spruce Meadow instead.
Spruce Meadow is a large clearing up at 3,500m that provides great views up to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Accessed by foot from the top of the cabe car, the meadow was great because it was virtually empty – it was just us, the yaks, ponies, and goats*. We did the short walk around the meadow and got to see the local “wildlife” up close. Our conclusion: yaks stink.
*Being early summer here the animals have been brought up to these pastures by local Naxi farmers to fatten them up.
The altitude of the meadow was low enough that we didn’t have any issues, though we did notice how much effort it was to go for that short hike! The best part of the walk was strolling through some of the forest surrounding the meadow – the trees were covered with lichen and moss, creating some interesting shapes and making the forest seem other-worldly. We even got to see squirrels running up into the trees*!
*We learnt later that Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is one of China’s few natural sanctuaries; the mountains and its surround are home to 25% of all plant species in China and 30 kinds of animals.
The mountain is a holy place for the local Naxi people who have a legend about the mountain being a sleeping dragon. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain also holds a special place in the heart of the Naxi as this was traditionally the place where young lovers would come to commit suicide together and sacrifice their young lives in honour of true love and to escape from the arranged marriages. Seems like a tragic legacy to attach to such a magnificent place!
After our explorations of the area around Jade Dragon Snow Mountain we were taken to Baisha village for the afternoon. This tiny town of just 1,000 people is a Naxi village just 20km to the north of Lijiang. Though not far from the “big city” in terms of distance, the village was a world away in terms of vibe. Still a part of the Lijiang UNESCO World Heritage Site, Baisha is not part of the main tourist trail and gave us the opportunity to see a little of how Naxi village life has been lived for centuries.
We stopped in at a tiny restaurant for lunch where yak was the special of the day. Always keen to sample local specialties we savoured tender, flavourful pieces of yak stir fried in a garlic, ginger and chilli with vegetables. Poor yaks – they are truly delicious!
We even got to finish our lunch with a cup of Locally grown coffee. Coffee is a rarity here in China (at least out in these provincial areas) as tea is the universal drink of choice. We love the tea culture here, but being able to enjoy some Yunnan coffee was a treat. Yunnan produces 98% of China’s coffee which is why the brew is more readily available here. The strong brew made a great end to a great meal.
Satisfied and fortified we set off to explore the village – all 2 streets of it! There were women selling freshly picked vegetables and daily essentials on the street; yards of traditional batik fabrics drying in the sun; and men hammering copper sheets into bowls. It was like taking a small step back in time, watching daily life play out around us at a leisurely village pace.
The funniest thing we’ve seen in these small villages are some of the old relics from China’s communist era – like the old truck below, with its engine, ie half a tractor, exposed.
Baisha means “white sand” – the name is derived from the typical natural white sand in the area. This sleepy little village was once the capital city of the (small) Naxi kingdom, which is why, amongst the cabbage fields and rice paddies, there are a couple of old palaces and temples to explore.
Hidden in a back room of one of the temples are the Baisha murals, one of China’s oldest frescos. Painted in the 14th century, these religious paintings depict stories from Taoism, Buddhism, and the local Naxi religion, called Dongba*. Hidden by the local people, and thus saved from destruction during the Cultural Revolution, these frescos provided and interesting insight into how the Naxi people combined various aspects of all 3 religions to create their own unique belief system.
*We learnt from our guide that Dongba was essentially an animist religion that emphasised respect of nature, and anthropomorphised various natural elements and features. In many ways the description reminded us a bit of Japanese Shinto beliefs.
Finally, after perusing the Baisha frescos, we made our way back to Lijiang where a quiet dinner in a local restaurant awaited us. This really is a fascinating part of China and one that feels very authentic and is rich in tradition – something we’re really learning to appreciate in this rapidly evolving and progressing country.