Lijiang is heart-stoppingly, jaw-droppingly gorgeous! The old town is a mass of narrow stone streets and alleyways and canals, with little, humpy bridges. It is very commercial but that doesn't matter, as the shops and restaurants are small and discrete. Every way one turns, there is a gorgeous view of grey,tiled roofs, white washed walls, trees and flowers spilling over and red lanterns hanging from the doorways.
I am staying at Mama's Naxi Guesthouse and Mama is an extremely voluble and volatile lady, whose English goes straight out of the window when she gets excited and starts shouting - a very regular occurance! 'Papa' stays well in the background and pours oil on troubled waters! The Naxi are the local minority group living in the area and the guesthouse is a ramshackle series of buildings with rooms going off in all directions. I have a cozy, windowless, but otherwise comfortable room and shower room and the place is full of back-packers of all nationalities. We have a 'family' supper in the evenings, where everyone sits around the large, assorted tables, upon which a succession of very tasty dishes are placed and we all tuck in. It's a bit like the League of Nations and makes for interesting conversations (all in English, I'm glad to say)!
On Friday afternoon I visited yet another Chinese mansion - this one belonging to the Mu family. It had beautiful gardens and was not quite as stiff and formal as Prince Gong's. The layout is always the same - a paved courtyard in front of a highly decorated and imposing rectangular room and behind each room, another courtyard and another rectangular room, forming a procession of courtyards and rooms. The gardens usually consist mainly of beautiful ornamental trees, small shrubs - the stems of which are twisted and woven to creatre fantastic shapes - and bonsais in large pots. One never sees the profusions of flowers we are accustomed to seeing in the UK, but the gardens are very much in keeping with the very formal arrangement of the houses.
In the evening I attended a concert of ancient Chinese music, played on ancient Chinese instruments. It wasn't exactly the Proms but it was quite hypnotic and quite unique. The musicians were all dressed traditionally and not many of them were under 80! The leader of the orchestra - a charming man of 81 - told us that he had trained as a musician of classical Western music and that in 1957 he was sent to prison for 21 years - I guess because of his western classical music background. When he was released in 1978 he renounced music and became a maths teacher, but, obviously had a change of heart and formed the orchestra in 1981. He has also started training a local choir and we were treated, at the end, to a video of a rendition of the Halleluya (sorry, can't spell that) Chorus, sung in Chinese by a Naxi choir in traditional costume! It was actually very moving and really emphasised the difference between the apparent simplicity of Chinese music and the power and complexity of Western music. It is good, however, to see that pride and value are being given to the revival of all old Chinese traditions, so many of which were permanently destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. Many of the instruments the musicians used were only saved because they had been buried during that time.
Yesterday I hoped to go to do a 2 day trek along Tiger Leaping Gorge. It was not possible, however, because the road below the Gorge was closed because it is being widened. The result was that, having done the trek, it was no longer possible to pick up transport back to the starting point. Instead, one would have to turn round and retrace one's steps, which seemed to me like twice as much walking as was strictly necessary. It would also take twice as much time, added to which, due to the excessive amount of recent rain, the paths were very muddy and slippery. So, all in all, it was just not a viable option. Instead, I joined a group of Chinese and a Thai who were going to do the Gorge by car. We took the 2 hour bus ride to the Gorge and were then picked up by a local man with a large car and driven on the closed road to the beginning of the Gorge - this was permitted because he was a local man. So, we skimmed precipices, edged round on-coming lorries and skidded and slipped in the muddy track which was the road and had the Gorge to ourselves. It was stunning, as one would expect - one of the deepest and with the muddy brown waters of the Yangtze rushing through the narrow corridor of rock. So we took some photos then returned to Lijiang. It was a bit disappointing not to do the trek and the photo above does not, in any way, do the gorge justice.
After 2 days of rain and drizzle, we have sunshine and warm weather, so I shall go and enjoy it. Bye for now.