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Himalaya

Day 85: Lijiang

Lijiang, China 
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Sweet, beautifully played flute solo brings the concert to an end. Painted on the wall behind are black-necked cranes, a rare and scared Himalayan bird.
Michael Palin - HimalayaBefore going to see his show in the evening, Basil and I eat a bowl of delicious pork crackling washed down with Mekong River Beer beneath the bending, canal-side willows at our new favourite eatery, Old Stone Bridge Snacks (Basil admits it loses a bit in translation). Tour groups are still out, plodding submissively over the bridge, eyes glazed and heads lolling. After we've eaten, I buy a collection of old photographs of Lijiang from a stall opposite and notice four of Namu's books on a lower shelf.

From the heroine of the Mosuo, to the hero of the Naxi. Xuan Ke and the orchestra are performing at eight and the queues are already forming. The narrow entrance of the Concert Hall leads to a courtyard converted into a galleried auditorium. Cherry-red lacquer dominates and Chinese lanterns are hung about. Baskets of carnations, dahlias and roses are set out along the front of the stage, and on the back wall there is a colourful mural of black-necked cranes in flight. Above the stage, and in sharp contrast to the swirls of red and gold decoration, is a sombre display of black and white photographs of faces, some blurred, some blank and expressionless like prison photos or police IDs.

Which is probably what they are, for these are all members of the original Naxi orchestra, who have either died or disappeared.

The present orchestra take their places, with the most elderly members, venerable and white-bearded like a troupe of former emperors, being led on by young women in Naxi costume. Xuan Ke makes an inconspicuous entrance, slipping quietly on from the wings to stand at a microphone at stage right. He's wearing a long blue robe, like a priest's soutane, whose simplicity makes him stand out from the dazzling brocades and silks of the older musicians behind him.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 85: Lijiang
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Lijiang
  • Book page no: 199

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