Excerpts from Travel Journal of Louise Jandacek
I’m certainly not an expert on Chinese geographic regions, but my first impression of Yunnan was it’s stunning beauty, a garden state overflowing with flowers and picturesque landscape. I thought to myself that this has to be the most beautiful region of all China. It was as if Kunming (population over 6 million) was situated in the middle of a giant botanical garden park. We were to find out that Yunnan was the province of Eternal Spring due to elevation and consistent spring like weather.
Even as we drove out of the city to the Stone Forest my admiration for the well tended fields continued. Instead of large farms with fields of the same crops, these were small plots, just an acre or so of a variety of vegetables, rice, soybeans, tobacco. The terrain was mountainous, or at least rolling foothills of the Himalayas. All the work was being done by hand, people, not tractors were tending the land. And each plot was meticulous. I saw one ox pulling a cart and some other cattle grazing.
Our ride in the bus took 1.5 hours, arriving at the Stone Forest in a misty rain.
The Stone Forest is a limestone karsts. When the water retreated, erosion finally made the present day forest. Originally vertical, some were tilted at different angles in the 1833 earthquake. Most limestone is gray but with hard water deposits some parts look like pastels. Most surprising to me was the the natural pool of water, trapped among the stone forest. Fantastic reflections, large expanses, it was breathtakingly impressive. We walked for several miles on the trails, climbing up and down the rocky paths.
Along the way we passed some ethnic minority group having lunch and they offered to share with us. They all had rice in their bowls, to which they added a variety of other things. My favorite was a spicy hot bean curd. The people were dressed in traditional clothing, smiling, happy that we were interested in their culture. What a great experience.
First morning in China, went for a walk near the hotel and came across this market, offering a vast variety of fruits and vegetables, some of which I’ve never even seen before.
The entrance to the park included two stone lions. Ying and Yang, the male and female. Notice the female has a young cub. During the Cultural Revolution many of the old traditional sculptures, like these lions, were destroyed. When times changed new lions were put back at the main gate. Symbolism is quite important, everything has a deeper meaning, representing things like prosperity, longevity, happiness, freedom, etc. It was rather meaningful to our guide that she was born in the year of the buffalo, that it is her totem, good luck animal.
“The Ancient Tea-horse Road” is a commercial passage mainly for tea-horse trading between the inner land and Tibet. In the history, “The Ancient Tea-Horse Road” was across the western frontier of China.
Unlike other museums with staff collecting a fee, things under glass, everything labeled, this museum was just open for anyone who wandered in. No staff, no fees, touch it if you wish.
Hardly to be called a road, it begins from Yunnan in Southwest China, runs along the eastern foothills and deep canyons of several grand rivers, and then heads into Tibet spanning the two highest plateaus of China (i.e. the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau), and finally reaches India, south of the Himalayas.
The size of the market was at least 2 acres, selling produce, herbs, meat, fish (including eels and crawdads), and along the edges other vendors with clothing, pots and pans, shoes, etc. The watermelons and squash were enormous. I couldn’t even contemplate lifting one. If these fruits and vegetables would have been in competition for the NM State Fair, they’d have walked away with ALL the Grand Champion ribbons.
We had several cooking lessons on the trip, aside from watching this woman make Chinese pizzas in the rain at a street stand we also got to roll out the dough and make them ourselves. It was raining on and off but the stand was under an umbrella. It was a family business where the woman actually made the pizzas while her husband baked them and sold the finished products.
There were two types, one sweet with cinnamon sugar, rose leaves, and spicy bean curd. The second type was with pork sausage, chives and bean sauce with chile.
The bus took us to the home of an ethnic minority Bai family, consisting of grandparents, son, daughter in law, and a little girl about 5. The grandparents were our hosts for lunch. Welcomed into their kitchen we saw the area used to clean vegetables, about the size of a large sunken bathtub! You sit on the edges. Sorry I don’t have a photo. There is a brick used to cover the drain when not in use to prevent rats from using it as an entrance to the house.
Following lunch we walked through Old Town Weishan on our own, without Fiona translating.
Our bus went up windy switchback roads to reach the monastery, with beautiful views of the valley below. The Chinese people have been very friendly and kind, some trying to say hello.
Specifically some women from a country village were at the monastery for a 3 day retreat to pray to their ancestors for health, prosperity and happiness for their village. They were also taking lessons in fortune telling, and something about a book with predictions based on birthdays, etc. The ladies offered us tea but our group was returning so we had to say no. They wanted to know our ages, married, kids, etc. We were doing with mostly with sign language. They were explaining about the gift of incense as they prayed to the ancestors.
As long ago as the journeys of Marco Polo (1254-1324) there was mention of the exquisite embroidery from this region. Caravans took embroidery from Lijiang along the Tea and Horse Road.
The thread is silk. At the shop we visited there was a master teacher and about 10 of her students working on embroidery looms/wooden frames/on silk cloth. There are no knots, just the thread doubled back on itself. The back is perfectly smooth.Whereas traditional commercial embroidery thread in the US divides into 6 strands, the silk divides into over 100. It amazed me that the women’s eyes could see the fine detail hour after hour and day after day.
Checked into the Old Town Hotel, Lijiang. The bus couldn’t get into the old narrow streets, so we walked on cobblestones about 15 minutes through a maze of narrow walkways. Lijiang gets some 10,000,000 tourists a year. I believe it! It’s the Chinese version of Estes Park CO, only with a lot more people. There was a severe earthquake about 20 years ago but all of Old Town was rebuilt in the same old fashion.
Dongba is the religion of the Naxi people. The Dongba have no pagodas or temples, just priests, music, dancing and pictograph writing. Their history goes back 1000 years. The heart of their religion is harmony between nature and people. Their history stories combine the Tibetian, Dali, and Lijiang peoples, and including a connection with Thai people across the border.
Much of the old culture was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but some things were hidden away for decades. When the regime change, those items were brought into a museum.
In one case, the religious painting at a private home was covered over with a giant portrait of Chairman Mao, saving the priceless painting underneath. Others were painted over with black paint, unfortunately hard to remove later.
We walked around the Black Dragon Pool. It’s an absolutely stunning park. We passed many pagodas, bridges….including the “lost lover bridge”. Most of the parks here have exercise equipment. Just as US parks might have picnic tables or playgrounds for children, here the adults (including seniors) are using exercise equipment. I’ve only seen one overweight man in Yunnan and no overweight women or children. Everyone walks a lot and the diet seems to be 95% rice, tofu and vegetables. The clouds eventually lifted from the 18,300′ peak of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. No rain this day! The first rainless day since we arrived.
This is the last set of photos for our time in Yunnan, China. The next day we left Lijiang for Kunming, Beijing and our flight to Mongolia.