Tolkien said: “Not all who wander are lost…”
One of my favorite quotes, but he should have added some fine print:
“…unless you are wandering in Lijiang!”
This place is completely different than Dali in terms of a city. Dali was almost a perfect square, with ordered and straight perpendicular streets. Lijiang would be its completely opposite counterpart with small alleyways, shortcuts, wooden bridges, and a labyrinth of narrow streets. Lijiang reminds me a little of Venice, Italy, — another place where you can get lost for days! There are little maps around town, but most of the street names — if they are posted at all — are in Chinese, anyway. I strolled around in the rain with a borrowed umbrella for five hours wondering where I was!
The streets are lined with lots of unique Tibetan art shops, mixed in with all of the usual junk market stalls. This place is extremely charming, however, and learning to navigate the rat maze is definitely worth the effort. There are lots of cafes and pubs, once again full only with rich Chinese tourists. I think all the smart backpackers either went to Tibet or to the south to find some sunshine in Laos.
Lijiang is also the launching town for treks through the Tiget Leaping Gorge, an awesome three-day hike through the mountains that I plan to tackle, with or without good weather. I passed a Canadian in Kunming who had just finished the hike, and his pictures took my breath away. Of course, he also had blue skies, so mine won’t add up, but it is still worth a try for the adventure factor alone. In two days, he passed only a handful of people on the trail! Another reason to hit the gorge now, regardless of weather, is that the Chinese plan to construct a dam in 2008 to flood the entire area. A gorge very comparable to a smaller version of the U.S. Grand Canyon is going to be buried under water! This is to provide power for the industrial areas that make fake shoes and such.
During my wandering today, I accidentally found my way out of the Old Town maze and back into the New Town — the modern part of Lijiang. The first thing that you see when you leave the ancient brick streets and charming waterways behind is a huge, red, grinning Colonel Sanders and KFC. I would like to personally apologize on behalf of my state (Kentucky) for this atrocity.
Gotta go. I am God-knows-where in this maze and I don’t want to make Mama mad by being late for dinner!