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Himalaya

Day 86: Lijiang

Lijiang, China 
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Trainee snake charmer? No, local man shopping for walking stick. Lijiang has a reputation for antiques and fine craftsmanship.
Michael Palin - HimalayaOur hotel is impressively located high up on the cusp of the new and old towns, a short, energetic walk from Lion Hill, which is considered the highest point in Lijiang. This is not strictly correct, as on the top of the hill stands a pagoda over 100 feet high, which claims to be the tallest wooden building in China. It's not old and has been put up to pull in the tourists, who, like us, feel duty-bound to walk up every one of the steps that climb steeply through five spacious floors. The view you expect to be rewarded with is quite disappointing, as someone's planted a girdle of conifers near the base of the pagoda that successfully masks much of the ink-black, tiled rooftops of old Lijiang.

The designers have attempted to decorate the interior of the pagoda in local style, which includes several symbols in dongba, the old language of the Naxi.

Despite the best efforts to introduce a pan-Chinese orthodoxy during Mao's years, a rich and diverse cultural life has survived in the mountains of Yunnan. The Dongba, a Naxi word meaning not just 'the scriptures' but those who interpret them, are important guardians of the
old traditions. They have their own cultural centre in Lijiang, where the 30 of them still alive work on translation of the old Naxi texts. Part shaman, part priest, the Dongbas also perform ceremonies and rituals based on the Bon religion, which pre-dated Buddhism in Tibet. In Forgotten Kingdom Peter Goullart describes his horrified fascination as he watched Dongbas dancing themselves into a semi-trance to reawaken the spirits of two young lovers who had killed themselves in a suicide pact.

'Just for an instant...we all felt that the lovers had returned... I thought at first the impression was entirely mine: but with a burst of weeping the two families prostrated themselves as one man before the little altar. The guests looked startled. Nothing was seen and the impression was gone in a flash. But they had been there and everyone knew it.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 86: Lijiang
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Lijiang
  • Book page no: 201

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