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Lijiang: the Gem of Yunnan Province

Be among the first Western travelers to discover this ancient Chinese city

Two important Naxi sites lie just outside Lijiang: Shuhe Old Town and Baisha Village.
No secret with Chinese travelers, 1,000-year-old Lijiang lies in Himalayan foothills in northwestern Yunnan province. The relatively small city has clear (smog-free!) skies, a beautiful setting in view of the snow-capped Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and a relaxed feel, making it a popular getaway from China’s big cities.

Lijiang means City of Bridges, and the city is so called for the 354 bridges that span its many canals, part of an ancient and still-functioning water-supply system that has earned Lijiang another nickname: the Venice of the East.

The historic Old Town is characterized by these waterways and by its well-preserved, two-story adobe-and-wood houses with tile roofs. These are the traditional dwellings of the Naxi people, an ethnic minority in China and one of the world’s few matriarchal societies. About 4,000 Naxi families still reside in the Old Town (many more live outside the city) alongside the guesthouses, restaurants, and shops selling silk embroidery, tea, and dried yak meat (the perfect souvenir?). The Museum of Naxi Dongba Culture is a good place to learn about the Naxi and their history. You can also attend a traditional spectacle, “”mpression Lijiang,” performed by Naxi dancers, actors, and musicians.

Efforts to preserve Lijiang’s architecture and culture are impressive. Traditional Naxi techniques are used for all new construction and modern concrete buildings have even been demolished to retain the city’s heritage.

Food is another way to experience the local culture. In the Old Town, try Tibetan- and Han-influenced specialties like jidou liangfen (blocks of chickpea jelly), fried yak cheese, and butter tea—a thick mixture of tea, yak butter, peanuts, and salt.

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