We have travelled with Marc to other parts of China for work on previous occasions (see posts on Beijing, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Shanghai) but this was the first time that we had an opportunity to visit field sites and completely natural areas in China.
We drove from Kunming to Lijiang located near the Yulong Mountain (it also goes by the fancier name of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain). Lijiang is famous for its 1000 year old town that was once the hub of the tea horse caravan trail (tea was exported out of China in exchange for horses). The Old Town of Lijiang is a UNESCO Heritage Site. Lijiang was surprising to say the least. What we found, instead of the small quaint town we were expecting, was a city centre lined with upscale modern buildings filled with high-end shops. Even more shocking was the Old Town of Lijiang, which was covered with multicolour lights, tacky gift shops selling all manner of things they were trying to pass off as “ethnic”, including djembe drums from West Africa. One store even had large wood statues of Native North American people. To complete the picture of tourism gone wrong, there are dozens upon dozens of bars and karaoke and dance clubs trying to outcompete each other on who could be louder. I don’t think that’s what UNESCO had in mind when it deemed the Old Town of Lijiang a World Heritage Site. To be fair, we only spent an hour in the evening (which was as long as we could stand it) wondering around. Would it be different during the day when the loud obnoxious bars and clubs are closed? I hope so.
In contrast, we spent the next day in the peaceful setting of Yulong Mountain, where despite the tourists, we found quiet beauty. Yulong Mountain consists of 13 peaks and is home to one fourth of all plant species in China. This is also where the southernmost glacier in the Northern hemisphere can be found. A visit to the Yulong Snow Mountain Scenic Area can be quite expensive as there is a hefty entrance fee and then shuttle bus and cable car fees to get you up the mountain. There are different cable cars to get you up to different elevations and of course each came with its own individual cost. Fortunately, we were able to avoid most of the fees as our host had applied for permission to bring us to the field sites, which are located inside the scenic area.
If any of you have travelled within China, you will understand why I added the word “completely” when I mentioned natural areas in the beginning of this post. Many “natural” areas in China have been “enhanced” (think paved paths, music flowing from rock-shaped speakers, snack stands every 50 meters, etc.). It was refreshing to walk in a forest with nothing but the sound of animals and the smell of earth and plants; and not the smell of hot dogs and fish balls. Although there were those where you get on and off the cable car. More nature is in store on the blog. Next up – Tiger Leaping Gorge!