One of the fun things about lengthy vacations is you get to change your mind with impunity. So it happened with the Tiger-Leaping Gorge: we had packed for a 3-day hike, gone to bed with our alarms set for 6 am, and at 5 I woke up in a sweat fearing danger on the gorge trek. I had checked the weather for Lijiang on the Internet that eve, which said we'd have sunshine days 1 and 3, rain on day 2, and temp's around freezing at nights. I had a creepy feeling in what Faye now calls a collision of logic, reason and gut instinct. She went along with my gut, so we quickly repacked and opted for a lengthy day-trip involving a 2.5-hr bus ride, a taxi ride to about the 3/4 point thru the gorge, a lengthy hike back through the gorge, and a return 2.5-hr bus ride.
It was a beautiful day-hike in scorching sunshine. The vistas of the gorge from about 1,000 feet above were magnificent and the trail in that section was wide enough to minimize the danger of anyone falling in! What we missed out on was the upper trails providing supposedly terrific views of the mountains rising above the gorge. After downing many litres of water in the burning heat, and returning to the town of Qiaotou, we caught the return bus ride to Lijiang.
Not 30 minutes into the ride back, the sunshine gave way to near torrential downpours, which continued interspersed with sunny breaks back to the city. Upon our arrival, the streets of Lijiang were overflowing with water, the temp had plummeted by at least 15 deg. C, and we made quickly for a new guest house in the old town. That night and the next, the temp dipped to around freezing, and as we huddled in our warm clothes in our lovely new room we thanked our stars for weather forecasts and instinct, thinking of the poor trekkers trying to negotiate the likely now treacherous mountain trails!
Back in Lijiang, we have gotten to try the food and observe the culture of the Naxi ethnic minority who number about 278,000 and are centred here. It has traditionally been a strongly matriarchal society decended from Tibetan nomads, in which women inherited all property, disputes were adjudicatred by female elders, and couples often remain unmarried with the woman always maintaining responsibility for child-rearing.
Although these traditions have dimmed somewhat in Lijiang proper, they are alive in other locales and women nevertheless maintain a strong position in their society. Traditional clothing (predominantly for women) remains prevalent as does the Naxi language in which nouns enlarge their meaning when the word for "female" is added, and conversely decrease the meaning by adding the word for "male". Our guidebook cites the example that "stone" plus "female" conveys the idea of a boulder; "stone" plus "male" conveys the idea of a pebble! The Naxi written language is also found around town, identifiable by its pictographs which, to me, resemble Egyptian hieroglyphs.
What is readily apparent throughout Lijiang is its pleasant population. Folks are calm and friendly everywhere you go; life does not move at the frantic pace of other Chinese cities; and pride in Lijiang's distinctive heritage is omnipresent.
Today we visited the delightful Black Dragon Pool Park, which reminded Faye and me of a particularly memorable Japanese garden in Kyoto. There, we scaled the taxing Elephant Hill on a lovely day to gain great views of the old and new cities set in a picturesque valley surrounded by local mountains.
As Faye and I lucked into a terrific hot-pot restaurant - similar to a fondue where a broth boils at your table and you chuck in various fresh ingredients you've ordered - the boys have qualified the unlikely place as also having the best cheeseburgers in China! It is located just next to our beautiful new traditional-style guest house (called the "Swiss Snow Inn" - the owner went to hotel management school in Geneva), in which we luxuriate with two adjoining rooms, the best showers around, a cozy downstairs fireplace and a lovely host.
For today at least, life is good...