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Himalaya

Day 83: Lijiang

Lijiang, China 
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Old and new Lijiang, watched over by the cluster of pyramids rising to the 18,350 foot (5590m) summit of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, most easterly outpost of the Himalaya.
Michael Palin - HimalayaFrom my hotel window two things compete for space in an otherwise clear blue sky. One is Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the other is the great glass and steel tower of the China Construction Bank.

Lijiang is a tale of two cities: one a modern concoction of business district office blocks and shopping malls, the other an immaculately kept old town, with clay-tiled roofs, cobbled streets and a canal system that evokes Venice, Amsterdam or Bruges. Lijiang became rich and famous because of its key position the Tea-Horse Route from Tibet into China, but its idyllic situation, set comfortably in a shallow bowl of hills, is deceptive. A fault line at the edge of the Tibetan plateau runs below and the ripple effect of the tectonic collision that created the Himalaya has been responsible for over 50 strong earthquakes here in the last 130 years. The most recent, which registered over seven on the Richter scale, hit Lijiang in 1996, killing 300 and injuring 16,000. Many buildings were damaged or destroyed. The majority of them were in the new city.

The wood and stone houses of old Lijiang were built by people who knew about earthquakes and how to withstand them. They remain, thanks to UNESCO money, as an example of how to create harmony, line and proportion on a human scale. The result is a labyrinth of cobbled streets and squares, car free, perfect for walking, but also a victim of their own success. Large-scale preservation of the past is so rare in China that Lijiang has become a big draw, pulling upwards of 3 million tourists a year into an old town of 25,000 people.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 83: Lijiang
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Lijiang
  • Book page no: 195

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