Old Town of Lijiang

“Look here! 1, 2, 3 Qie zi (it means eggplant but is really the Chinese equivalent of saying cheese)!”

And then, click, the camera went off.

The lady thanked us and then a few men came forward and asked if they could also have their pictures taken with us.

All around us, a crowd of curious onlookers had gathered.

Togged out in Tibetan outfits

No, my friend and I are not celebrities, though we were certainly experiencing what it feels like to be one in the mountains near Lijiang in China’s Yunnan Province.

However, the reason why we had drawn such attention is not because of who we were, but what we were wearing.

Just for a lark, my friend and I had forked out 20 yuan each to wear traditional Tibetan clothes, complete with a fur hat.

A taste of stardom

After we had had our pictures taken with at least twenty people, I decided that enough was enough and I made a quick exit as my friend was surrounded by more people wanting to take pictures with him.

Blue Moon Lake

As I stood far away from the madding crowd, I took a breather and admired the view.

And what a stupendous view it was, with the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain reflected upon the amazing turquoise blue colour of the Blue Moon Lake.

To complete the picture, there were also yaks that tourists can ride on or have their pictures taken with.

Yaks

The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (also known as Mt Satseto), is only located some 35km away from the Old Town of Lijiang, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We had arrived late at night the previous day in Lijiang after a three-hour bus ride from Dali, another ancient town that’s on the popular backpacker trail through Yunnan.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Lijiang

Our first glimpse of Lijiang was by the light cast by an almost full moon, and the soft yellow glow from shops that were still open at almost 11pm.

As we walked along the cobbled streets, passing by rustic wooden buildings and gushing canals, my friend declared that Lijiang could be his favourite destination ever.

And this was within ten minutes of his arrival.

But will the town bear up to scrutiny in harsh daylight?

We were about to find out.

Naxi women in Lijiang

As we emerged onto the streets of the Old Town the next morning, the enchantment of the previous night had been diminished somewhat as the place is extremely touristy.

Every shop in the Old Town seems to cater to tourists, and to tourists only (a local told me that he visits the Old Town only once a year as he had nothing to buy in there), but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

Lijiang

While Lijiang is full of tourists, these tourists tend to gather in the same places such as the Old Market Square and the few paths leading away from it.

However, Lijiang’s  maze of cobbled streets will reward those who explore its less well-trodden paths.

As we made our way through its dizzying labyrinth of cobblestone alleys, we lost the crowds and came across scenes of how life used to be in Lijiang – with kids playing catch along the cobbled streets and locals washing their vegetables in the many streams that dissect the Old Town.

Naxi Orchestra

On our last night, we decided to attend a concert of ancient music performed by members of the Naxi ethnic group.

The Naxis are an ethnic minority inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas in the northwestern part of Yunnan Province.

Wearing colourful robes and sporting Confucius-like beards, members of the Naxi Orchestra, some of whom were above the age of 80, play a type of Taoist temple music known as Dongjing that has been lost elsewhere in China.

Bar Street

When we re-emerged onto the streets, it was a different kind of music that was competing for our attention – club music that was streaming from the nearby Bar Street.

As we headed to the source of the music, we saw how the area around the Old Market Square had been transformed into a hive of activity, with youngsters swaying their bodies to the thumping rhythms in the clubs.

Pub in Lijiang

We decided to retire to a pub with a live band.

An hour or two later, as we walked back to our guesthouse, it was the same Lijiang that we saw three days earlier – with the quiet cobbled streets lit up by the soft yellow glow from shops and the full moon overhead.

Lijiang looks its best at this hour, when the crowds and daytrippers have long left.

The town looked calm, contemplative and utterly mesmerising.

It was going to be hard to leave Lijiang.

Sunset in Lijiang