I beat feet out of crowded Lijiang and into the quiet and sprawling Black Dragon Pool park.
They wanted a whopping 60 yuan to enter — Chinese entrance prices for foreigners are astounding — but I used a trick a Dutch couple here shared with me. I threw my PADI scuba diving certification card down, which has my picture on it, and told them that I was a “student.” The staff obviously could not read English, and it was an official-looking ID card, so they let me in for the student rate of 30 yuan — nice! You did not hear it from me, but try it sometime.
The park is enormous and beautiful, a great place to kill a bonus day in a town that you have already exhausted. I strolled around for hours, and was lucky enough to catch the Lijiang orchestra doing a practice around 3 p.m. in full costume, playing their traditional Naxi music. A show normally costs 160 yuan, so this was turning out to be quite a great day!
I was about to leave the park when I saw a set of old stone stairs going up the hill into nowhere. I tried to walk past, because climbing to the top looked like work, but the vagabonding impulse in my blood got the best of me. I decided to climb the stairs to have a look, maybe there was a temple at the top or something. I counted each uneven and knee-blowing step….
There were 1,338 of them. Ouch.
I reached the top of what I found out is called “Elephant Hill,” sweating and panting. I was willing to pay 100 yuan for a bottle of water, but there were strangely no vendors to be found. I managed to get nice and sunburned as well. After Alaska, North England, and China this year, my skin has forgotten how to handle ultraviolet rays and I now have all the skin tolerance of the average vampire.
There was nothing on top but a run-down Pagoda with the paint peeling and nothing enjoying it more than some bees, which had built a hive on the inside. On the bright side, I never passed another person, which is a rare treat in China, and there were some incredible views of Lijiang and the surrounding mountains on a clear day. I could see both the Old Town and the New Town; I sat for over an hour and watched daily life unfold hundreds of meters below me. It was a pleasant end to my Yunan, China, experience.
As a bonus, on my way down, I sat and talked to a friendly Polish tour guide who had left his group to ramble around the square with a “free day.” He told me that he had been a backpacker 15 years ago, and that now he was just doing this for money and so that he could continue traveling. We had a very enlightening conversation and it planted a seed into my brain that might be useful in about 15 years!
I’ll leave you with a picture from the top. The photo cost me 1,338 steps, my left knee, and about six litres of sweat…so enjoy!
Life is good.