Though now back at home from
Lijiang, my heart remains with that magnificent land that nestles deep in the rolling
mountains of the northwest Yunnan plateau.|
Ringing in my ears is the ancient music I was able to enjoy there - those melodies free and natural which, though dating as far back as to the period of full literary grandeur in Tang Dynasty corresponding to the 8th 1 century, still fascinates people of today.
The people of Naxi, while developing their land of snow-clad mountains and turbulent rivers since ancient times, have to their credit the "Dong Ba Culture" seen as one of the world wonders, a culture all-embracing while unique.
In the past, people had to trudge for up to18 days from Kunming to Lijiang, scaling mountains and fording streams on this journey of 317 kilometers.
The trip became a bumpy business of three days after a highway was built in the l950s. Then came modern planes that began flying the Kunming-Lijiang route on June 9, 1995, shortening the trip again, to some 40 minutes. I have just taken such a trip.
As I drive along the 27 kilometer-road that winds from the airport to Lijiang Town, I am able to catch glimpses of snow-clad mountains, so pure and so sacred, standing there ready to receive in-coming guests from afar and see off those out-going. At sunset, I climb to the top of the aerial tower of the county TV station for a bird's-eye view of the town. Silhouetted against the crimson glory of the evening sky, the snow-clad mountains are there, looking straight at me. As I am fixing my camera with a long focus lens, pure white clouds descend softly and the mountains are shrouded in mist.
The mountains are called "Yulong" or the "Jade Dragon." I decide to see them again the next morning.
TheYulong Mountains are located where the Qinghai-Tibet and Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus interlock, and together they form the peak of the Yunling Mountains - the southern-most section of the Himalaya Mountain range. Harboring a string of marine glaciers, the Yunlong mountain range, with snow accumulated over ages, extends unbroken for 35 kilometers, forming the "Jade Dragon" dancing in clouds. Its silvery "scales" shining bright, the "dragon" has a proudly erect "head" in the far north, while its other parts, rolling south, look like the back of the "dragon." The southernmost peak, rising 5,596 meters above sea level, is also known as the "jade pillar that props up the sky."
I am eager to take the cable car to Yunsongping - the Cloud Pine Cliff - for a full view of the Jade Dragon. The wind is blowing, wet and chilling. I feel a bit nervous.
Not because I am afraid of the altitude reaction. I am worrying that clouds would prevent me from enjoying the magnificence of the "Tade Dragon" to my heart's content.
I am justified to worry - just as the cable car begins moving, 3 drops of rain begin striking. "Well, I am afraid that we now have to depend on luck," says the guide.
During the 15 minute cable car ride, I enjoy a gallery of art with forests as the theme. This is a world of lush green, with trees of the Yunnan pine, Huashan pine, Chinese hemlock, dragon spruce, Chinese larch and fir growing at different heights from the foot of the mountain and up, which are intermingled with chestnut trees. We are told that this is home to more than 100 arbor species in more than 20 forest for three seasons of the year - Spring, Summer and Autumn - when azalea of more than 5,000 varieties are in full bloom, their beauty magnified by winter jasmine and rough gntien blossoms.
The guide leads me to a slope, saying that this is the best place to see the "Jade Dragon," and that by being here, many have taken beautiful photos of its panorama... But what about now? The "Jade Dragon" is hidden in a sea of clouds - am I so unlucky that I have to go back with my dream shattered? Knowing that I cannot tear myself away, the guide tries to comfort me by citing what happened to Vice- Premier Zhu Rongji not long ago.
Zhu was in the same situation as I am in. But the moment he pointed his figures at the "Jade Dragon," the clouds dispersed. The "Jade Dragon" showed itself for three minutes - enough time for picture-taking. "Why not have a try?" he urges me.
I point my finger with all my might, and nothing happens. Again and again I point it but the "Jade Dragon" refuses to come out. I am about to leave when the guide shouts at me: "Look, there, there."
The miracle presents itself at last: the "Jade Dragon" is there, standing before me as if welcoming my arrival.
At 19:14 on February 3,1996, an earthquake of seven magnitude hit Lijiang Town, but after it struck, 300,000 local people immediately mobilized themselves to rebuild their homes. On June 21, when I arrived at the ancient town, I found virtually no trace of the recent disaster and so had to depend on my own imagination based on the guide's description.
The Lijiang people are indeed heroic, and the town, seasoned through hardships. I saw a Lijiang Town undaunted by anything adverse, as beautiful and unique as ever. To be precise, Lijiang Town is officially called "Dayan Town" - "Dayan" literally means a "great inkstab", a graphic description of the town's location on a piece of rich flatland fed by a river and surrounded by green mountatins. In my mind's eye, the town is a slab of the finest jade placed in mountains.
I have seen the ancient streets in Tunxi at the foot of Mt. Huangshan, the ancient city walls of Xi'an, the winding lanes in Beijing, and the villages in the Turpan Basin of Xinjiang where every courtyard is a grape orchard. But before I actually came, never had I seen a town like Dayan which incorporates the folkways of so many peoples and the architectural styles of both north and south China. Some say that Lijiang is not unique just because it is unique in too many ways - how true this is.
The air of antiquity assumed by the town testifies to the wisdom of the Naxi people in building it here, not elsewhere. The town is on flatland about 2,400 meters above sea level. To its north are Mt. Xiangshan and Mt. linhong and to its west, Mt. Shizi, which effectively shield the town from winter winds. For miles upon miles, cropland expands to the southeast, where the sunshine is abundant and the climate, mild, charaderized by breezes blown from the south that cools the summer heat in June and July. lt is this area that the local people have turned into a "granary."
What is especially interesting is the way people use water from the Jade Springs. The flow is diverged into the city through three channels.
Taking a stroll in the town, you find water your constant companion, flowing merrily either in a stream at your side or in tunnels beneath your foot. To the human race, water means life. To Dayan Town, however, it brings not only life, but also beauty. Unlike those asphalted roads in big cities which are straight, streets here wind naturally along streams and around hills.
On the West River in the town, there is a sluice-gate which, when lifted, allows water to pour into the city for street washing.
Earthen and wooden housing structures are most popular. A typical courtyard here resembles what is found in Beijing - walled and in neat squares, with the principle rooms facing south. Unlike the Beijing courtyard which has rooms facing east and west, spacious corridors line both sides of the Naxi courtyard which also has an imposing arch over the gateway.
The children of the land of flowers, the Naxis are fond of flowers and almost every courtyard is a garden. Moreover,every Naxi courtyard is built at the side of a ditch with willow trees growing on both sides. Unwritten but rigorous rules,called " sanyanjing"or "three-hole wells,"are followed with regard to use of water. Water in the uppermost"hole" or upper-most section of the ditch is meant exclusively for drinking;the next lower section ofis where people wash rice and vegetables for cooking;and washing of clothes is allowed only in the lower-most section of the ditch.
Bridges are seen everywhere,linking streets and lanes. Many were built during the Ming and Qing period from the 14th to the early 20th centuries which have survived the wars and earthquakes. There are also stone steps on ditches that separate families. For all this, the town is known as the "Venice of China" or the "Suzhou on the plateau."
The history of the town dates back to the South Song period (1127- 1279). In 1253, Kublai, in his expedition to conquer the State of Dali, came to what is now Lijiang after his troops crossed the Jinsha River by using inflated bags of animal hide. That explains why many names of places in the Naxi languages are transliterations of "army camps," "drilling grounds," etc. for the Mongolian language.
In the early years of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), there were about 1,000 families in Lijiang, which constantly grew in size during the Ming-Qing period. The heart of the Dayan Town is called "Square Street" - a six "mu" (15 "mu" in one hectare) business center which serves as a hub of com- munication to Sichuan, Tibet and other parts of Yunnan.
Since the Qing period, the town, itself a major producer of handicraft articles, has been the distribution center for goods produced in northwest Yunnan,hence the word "gong ben" in the Naxi language which means "a place with many warehouses." Tibetans send their here for shipment to other parts of China, and tea and articles for daily use from Xishuang Banna, Fengqing and Xiaguan of Yunnan are sold to Tibetan areas via the town. During the Second World War, the Flying voluntarily helping China in fighting the Japanese Aggression - built the Basha Airport in the Lijiang area to implement what is known to historians as the "Hump Operation."
And along with the airport came banks and companies, and consequently, the area became,prosperous.
By taking advantage of its geographic location, the town has served as a center of economic and cultural exchanges between people of the Tibetan, Han, Bai and Naxi ethnic groups and, moreover, as a shining example of their solidarity.
While in Lijiang, I did not get a chance to see her true face and waist - that is, the beautiful, magnificent Jinsha River essential to the area's popularity. The Jinsha rushes in from the south, takes a sharp turn to the north at Shigu, and lhen an equally sharp turn to the north, thus forming the first bend in the Yangtze River. Then the Hutiao Rapids, the deepest and most dangerous in the world. Then the rock city of Baocheng. And finally, the picturesque Lake Lugu some 400 kilometers away,where matriarchy is still practised in many ways. I am fortunate, because I still have so much to see in Lijiang.
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