The arrival of Dali the afternoon before and the first steps on the cobbled streets of Lijiang make it clear to us what we had to do.
It wasn't even the hottest and busiest months in town. We entered on Saturday. A mob of outsiders, mostly from the predominant Han ethnic group, invades it little by little, without resistance, quite the contrary.
As we walk along the canals and cross countless bridges, we rarely pass Western foreigners. The new residents of Lijiang are getting ready to welcome their compatriots and make a profit from them.
More and more shutters of dark and carved wood open to the rhythm that the whitish sunlight hits them or, at least, their refraction from the basaltic pavement.
The ones that unveil homes instead of shops are exceptional: establishments full of teas and spices, silks and different fabrics and the like, or a myriad of colorful trinkets, some handcrafted, others not so much.
Among these businesses, there are inns and stalls of eat and drink that are ready to grill or fry spicy kebabs, freshwater fish, prawns but also larvae, crickets and grasshoppers.
Fluted or perforated pans and boxes give off steam that keeps complementary specialties hot: bean, tapioca and soy dumplings, sweet and savory, some wrapped in delicate vegetable wrappings.
It's past noon. Hunger tightens and the crowd interrupts their walks. Driven by the Han's voracious appetite for both the nation's best cuisine and mere sitting together, the crowd takes over the restaurants and stalls.
At around one in the afternoon, with his energy restored, he returns to wandering through the alleys, reinforced by the passengers of afternoon tour buses that have arrived in the meantime.
We realized how much the village's tranquility and morning genuineness had degenerated. We react to match. We move away from the arteries connected to your heart determined to enjoy it in its entirety.
We study the map carefully. We point to Shizi Shan (Lion Hill), a forested hill that juts out on the western edge of the Old Town.
Its famous Wangu pavilion is projected from it, built on sixteen columns each measuring twenty-two meters.
Reportedly decorated with 2.300 whimsical patterns representing the twenty-three ethnic groups that inhabit the Lijiang region today.
Lijiang and its Endless Gray Roofs
There are five floors in the pavilion. We climb the interior staircase to the last one and go out onto its balcony. That height reveals the vastness of the Li Valley and, in the distance, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, with its almost 5.600 meters of altitude.
To the east, in the immediate vicinity below, we are impressed by the endless roofs of Lijiang that form a vast brown patch, here and there flecked with white or by the warm tones of other unroofed areas of homes.
Even if recovered after the 7.0 magnitude 1996 earthquake that killed three hundred and fifty people and left many more homeless, the city's current scene respects its eight hundred years as an outpost on the tea equestrian route, during the Ming and Qing dynasties and, for about half a millennium, controlled by a powerful family, the Mu.
Located at 2500m in the extreme southwest of China, far from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, as from all the main ancient cities of the Han civilization, until a few decades ago, Lijiang preserved itself in a world apart.
The Great City of the Nashi Ethnic
It was built and inhabited for centuries by the Nashi (or Naxi) people who are believed to have migrated from northwestern China to regions adjacent to Tibet and formerly dominated by Tibetans.
Like these and the Bai, the Nashi proliferated in the tea trade carried out on the treacherous Himalayan Flame trails, between Lhasa and India, at the confluence with the Silk Road that ran further south.
Even if vulnerable to influences brought by Han merchants, Lijiang emerged as a unique and convenient expression of that same enhanced prosperity. Already in tourist times, the city gave in to the overwhelming pressure of its compatriots' curiosity.
It continues to mold itself to serve it.
We descend from Lion Hill with night taking over the Li Valley and the entire Yunnan province. Distracted by the changing tones of the atmosphere, we were almost trapped in the wooden tower. A monk avoids this and warns the building gatekeeper even before the building closes.
From the pavilion, we return to the picturesque inn we had chosen, with its rooms arranged around a walled courtyard and accessed through a heavy gaudy gate.
At 8:30am, we woke up to the frigid Sunday morning, still barely recovered. As might be expected, the early effort proves short.
By this time, Lijiang was already full of the same enthusiastic passersby as the day before. We walk it along with the crowd, resigned to its impregnable power.
The Crowd Roaming Lijiang's Bridges and Secular Canals
We were finally in China. The population range of the country was millions of millions, not a mere millions.
The name Lijiang means City of Bridges. And, held back by its own capricious dynamics, the crowd crisscrossed and progressed slower than the water flowing in the canals and under the countless walkways and bridges of the historic center.
Over time, Lijiang became a habitat that combined the benefits of the surrounding mountains, rivers and forests.
A branched irrigation system originated in the snowy peaks of the jade dragon snowy mountain and ran through villages and farmland.
The Heilong Lagoon – which we would soon be looking at – and countless fountains and wells completed it and ensured the daily needs of water and cereals, fruits and vegetables, fire prevention and the local production of other goods.
One of the other elements of the system, the watermills, has a final representative on the Yulong Bridge, next to what remains of the massive old city wall. It brings to a double ecstasy the many hydrophiles who visit it year after year.
At the Black Dragon Pool, visitors to Lijiang are able to reconcile both the geological origin of the water and its final reservoir in the same view.
Lijiang Life That Changed. not all
Until recently, it was possible to see the residents washing vegetables in the streams of the canals, on the way between the market and their homes. That habit is now a thing of the past. But, against any and all modernity, other customs and traditions persist.
Some of them are very controversial in the West.
We arrived on Monday. Although less urgent than the weekend that had just ended, we gathered our courage and rose to a new icy dawn.
We peeked at the market in the vicinity of the inn and were surprised to see several skinless dogs hanging from the metal bar of a butcher's stall.
We contemplate the corpses of animals with the strangeness of someone who usually finds them as pets or, whatever, as stray specimens. Oblivious to such a deep cultural divide, the service butcher approaches us and asks us if we want to take them. We reject.
Instead, we buy tangerines.
Lijiang Bailong Square. The Stage of a Festive Day-to-Day
When we return to the semi-labyrinthine heart of Lijiang, Bailong Square goes into party mode.
a group of elderly women nashi they coexist dressed in the traditional clothes of their ethnic group: dark blue beaded skirt, shirt and caps in light blue tones and red knitted vests.
The ladies hold hands and start to sing. Shortly after, they inaugurate a circular dance that accompanies the singing and attracts a small auditorium.
Next door, two men on horseback dressed in red panda fur caps and even more fuzzy vests carry out their own display, just posing, in anticipation that visitors He from the city pay them for photos in your company.
It's something that we see repeated over and over again.
With the new setting, the soft afternoon light spreads again. We had dinner on the top floor of a cafe named "Enjoy" from where we photographed the Wangu pavilion illuminated and highlighted, in the distance, on Lion Hill.
And, down the slope, Lijiang's centuries-old townhouses are gilded by lush night lighting that combines yellow lights on old roofs with red Chinese paper lamps.
Lijiang Naxi Orchestra. A Symphony of Eccentricity
Then, we go to the no less ancient building of the Dayan Naxi Ancient Music Association and settle in to enjoy one of the concerts by the local Naxi Orchestra. The twenty-odd musician deans enter without haste. Several of them sport white hair and beards.
Veterans of such exhibitions rehearse little or nothing. Inaugurate, at a glance, the themes Dongjing traditional Taoists they had chosen for the alignment.
And they enchant us with the magic of their flutes and different Asian string instruments: charamelas, Chinese lutes, plectrums and zithers, among others.
The traditional music of Dongying it was refined over five centuries until reaching a harmony and an artistic conception considered transcendental.
It was once reserved for the Chinese nobility. Over the years, exclusivity gave way to the people's passion nashi for the music.
On that day, the orchestra offered it to us and the rest of the spectators.
And as if it were nothing special, it lent a little more life and color to Lijiang.