Friday, June 1, 2007

Splendid Yunnan Part V - Lijiang Old Town (丽江古城)

You can't claim you have been to China if you have not visited the Great Wall, you can't claim you have been to Yunnan if you have not visited Lijing Old Town, a world heritage site.

Lijiang was once an important town along the trade route of horse & tea between China and the South Asia sub-continent. The horse and tea merchants stopped at this town to refill their supplies before embarking on a rough journey further ahead. This once prosperous old town withered after a new trade route was established in the 2nd half of the last century. Surrounded by mountains and without proper roads, this town was hard to access from the outside world. This inaccessability somehow helped preserve this charming old town its century-old beauty. Then an serious earthquake a few years ago brought this town to international fame and attention.

Why did I choose a water-mill photo to begin this blog entry? To answer that question, I must give you some background information. Lijiang old town, oddly doesn't have any city walls! The walls were not torn down to make way for the modern development. They simply were not there at all when the town was first built! In a place like Yunnan, where bandits frequently come to loot the merchants and law-abidding people, how can the residents of the Lijiang old town protect themselves in the old days? Obviously there is a reason. The family ruling the Lijiang old town in the old days was the Mu family, Mu (木) means Wood in Chinese. If the Mu family living within a wall, that is the Chinese character for imprisonment (困)! How can the Mu family let that happen?! Therefore, they decided not to have any city walls at all. How to defend the town from bandits? They built the whole town according to the BaGua formation (八卦阵). Only people who know the tricks can come into and go out of the town without losing his/her way. This BaGua formation still remains intact till this day. As a tourist, the locals would advise you to walk along the stream that powers the water mill. Walk in the same direction as the water flow when you go into the town, and walk against the water flow when you come out of the town. Now you understand the significance of the water mill? :D

There is a famous street in Lijiang old town, thanks to modernisation and its fame to the western world. It is called the bar street (酒吧街), or the YangRen street (洋人街), which means a westerners' street. As the name implies, there are bars after bars at this small little but long street hidden at one back alley of the old town. Water flowing past the front, willows swinging in the wind, red lanterns lighting up the night sky, everything looks so much like a Chinese painting. No wonder the westerners fall in love with this place.

When you are in Lijiang, you have to try the delicious Lijiang GuoQiaoMiXian (过桥米线), translated into English literally, it means "crossing the bridge rice noodle". It is rice noodle, served in a clay pot of thick chicken soup, with fresh vegies, ham, chicken drum stick, and many other fresh ingredients. For RMB30.00, you can get a big portion enough for two! It is value for money.

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