Autumn in Yunnan - A Threefold Neverland on Earth

Under an endless sky of blue where flowers are many and trees sparkle in yellow, red and orange, old bridges stand over spring watered creeks. Here, with the snow-caped Yulong Mountain as its fond, Lijiang is resting.


Lijiang, a tranquil town in Yunnan highlands, provides many dwelling choices for travelers. Traditional hostels in Naxi minority style are recommended for budget tourists. To sit on a wooden veranda, while sipping a cup of pu-er tea in a warm autumn sunshine, will make you gain in perspective and lose in tension.


Lingering along the streets of Lijiang you can get a drink in one of the town's many bars, listening to the sound of local antiphonal singings; and shop traditional arts and crafts to bargain prices.


The shops have long opening hours and on Sifang Street you can find bronzes and wax printings from local Naxi ethnic group. Here you can also buy souvenirs such as the small local bells: Bu Nong Ling or Zhi Yu Ling. However, bargaining skills are needed when shopping. A bronze oil lamp for 65 yuan might easily be sold for 15 yuan.


Another place worth visiting is Lijiang ancient town. The entrance is free, but when you register in a hostel, an additional fee of 20 yuan will be charged for town maintenance.


It is an established fact that the way to get around in China is by bike. Bicycle-renting services are easily found downtown, for 10-15 yuan per day. Guided by a hand-drawing map on brown paper, you may get a different experience than a usual bike ride can offer.


After a day of shopping and sightseeing, you may try the typical local dish Baba, a cake made of mashed cooked rice. Baba was used as solid food for caravan traders in the old days and has got a sweet or salt taste. Eating it with local ghee will add a special flavor to your meal.


Lijiang is a real delight in autumn, you will however find that the temperature changes greatly. It is wise to bring warm clothes as well as sun protection and an umbrella.


Airway from Beijing to Lijiang will take about 5 hours, via a stop at Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province in the southwest of China. Lijiang airport is 28 km away from its downtown and commuter buses are available. And if you book your air ticket several days in advance, you might get a preferential discount.


However, Lijiang is not a place suitable to reach by plane. The mountains around it make the ride bumpy like a roller coaster ride. That must not prevent you from going. Lijiang provides unique streets, fancy bars, rare villages, and as the sound of the night lingers in the air, the hazy Yulong Mountain stretches silently up to the sky. Autumn in Lijiang will not be to your disappointment.


Lijiang is also a convenient stopover for further journeys. Have your luggage consigned in the town and make a trip to Lugu Lake or Shangri-la, both within a close distance.


Lugu Lake is located about 280 km from Lijiang and direct long-haul buses from Lijiang to Lugu Lake departs at 9 AM every day. It's an 8-to-10-hour trip. Travelers can also join a two-day package tour group to Lugu Lake at Lijiang.


The road to Lugu Lake is bad and dangerous and five mountains lie across the trip, in which 60 percent is gravel road. The bus bumps slowly along the unsolid terrain and a driver once counted the twists and turns in the road to 4,792.


Here is the residence of the Mosuo minority, a unique "Girls' Kingdom." The Mosuo society has in fact a long tradition of matriarchy. The people living here still keep their matriarchal society system and the so called "Axia visiting marriage'' system, love without marriage.


The Mosuo houses on the bank of Lugu Lake, are another aspect for travelers to enjoy here. The roasted fish is delicious along with the local wine. You have to be careful though, since the wine is deceitful. Many feel nothing of discomfort when drinking it, but suddenly found themselves sheer drunk.


A lake cruise in a local boat is a must do. For 50 yuan you get boating by handsome Mosuo boys through the quiet lake, outlaid like a mirror for the bright blue sky and the vain thin clouds. And while you are slowly drifting through the beauty of the landscape, the gracefulness of the lake and the hills, it makes you wonder if it is not the women-oriented tradition that has imposed its effect.


Shangri-la, capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, is located on the midway of the ancient Yunnan-Tibet trade route. Autumn is the best season for Shangri-la, showcasing typical Tibet Plateau scenery – the pastoral light blue skies and pure white clouds over the contemplating cattle and goats, snow-mountains that steep into vast grasslands and among it all, the brave, strong, simple-hearted people of Tibet.


Nowadays, Shangri-la is reachable by flights from Kunming, Chengdu and Lhasa. Although Shangri-la airport is very small with only one boarding gate, two daily flights are in service from Kunming. From the airport it takes a 10-minute drive to downtown.


Buses are also available from Lijiang to Shangri-la. The bus departs every hour from Lijiang bus station and arrives at Shangri-la after 4 hours on comfortable roads and beautiful scenery, moving up from a sea level of 2,200 meters to 3,600 meters in a distance of 178 km.


As Shangri-la is situated on the highland, tourists from low regions should avoid fierce activities. Temperature here changes greatly within a day.


The county of Shangri-la is small and consists of two main streets. Various local style souvenirs are showcased at many Tibetan-styled shops on the streets. Many restaurants provide Tibetan piquancies such as glutinous rice cake or ciba, ghee tea and wine made of highland barley.


Songzanlin Lamasery, a minor replica of Potala Palace, is the largest temple of Tibetan Buddhism in Yunnan, while the Nagpag Wetland Nature Reserve has the largest pasture in Shangri-la. In autumn the scenery is colored golden and rare birds pass by. If you missed Shangri-la in spring, don't miss it in autumn. Shangri-la is a place where dreams begin.


( by Gao Dingbo, translated by Wang Zhiyong, November 23, 2006)