Spiritual Places

Yangshuo Travel Blog

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It's a good thing I wasn't still queasy from those eggs a few days earlier because the hairpin curves around mountains and valleys wouldn't have been nearly the pleasure it was.  We drove about 100 km. each way from Zhongdian to Baishuitai, or White Water Terraces.  If we could have gone across valleys in a straight line it might have been just 15 km, or at least that's what it seemed like. Passing chortens laced with flapping prayer flags and creeping slowly over a couple of rockslides that were cleared away just enough for a vehicle to pass, in about 2 1/2 hrs. we arrived at Baishuitai, in the middle of Yi minority villages.

This natural formation where water heavily concentrated with limestone has accumulated from a mountain spring just can't be described without a photo, so here's a link to one I found on Google: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/3fdea/  Something else, isn't it?

Besides being a breathtaking natural wonder, Baishuitai has spiritual meaning for the Naxi as well, as it's said the first Dongba, or spirit-intercessor, came from here and for centuries all new Dongbas had and have to make a pilgrimage here for consecration.  They think the gods made these fields of stone for the Naxi people. You can walk, ride a pony or, as I wimped out and did, hire a sedan chair to haul me up after I'd turned into a puddle of perspiration getting to the half-way mark.  On the top of the wedding-cake terraces are many pools, placed there by the faeries according to Lily, that are of the most fantastic shapes and have unique aquatic plants in them.  Since practically nobody knows about this place, it's as tranquil as can be.  Interestingly, the water comes from the back side of Haba Mountain, which we saw holding up one side of Tiger Leaping Gorge.

We had lunch in a hole in the wall across from the site and as they all have been, it was simple but good.

I can see how this area may be considered "Shangri-La," but only the countryside and not the city so christened by the Chinese government.  The mountain views are spectacular and the hazy valleys could certainly hide the golden monastery imagined by Hilton 80 years ago.  We stopped to take pictures of an old Tibetan woman who was herding her yaks home.  She didn't want her photo snapped, so I respected her wishes but it's too bad, she had a face full of hard experience.  She obviously wanted something for my having taken pictures of her brood, so Lily gave her a bottle of water and then a pastry wrapped in cellophane.  Both times the lady stuck her tongue out at us, a sign of friendliness that I'd read about being practiced by Tibetans but until now hadn't actually seen.

We've been tremendously lucky with weather.  It hasn't rained once since I've been here in China and up in the mountains of SW Yunnan the air is crisp, warm in the middle of the day but pleasantly cool and a bit downright chilly at night, very dependent on actual sunlight.  This evening I wandered about the old town section of Zhongdian which is rapidly turning into a tourist trap, but for now it's not too bad.  In the square, happy minorities in native dress dance a line dance in a circle clockwise and everyone is encouraged to join in.  The steps are different depending on the rhythm of the song from the loudspeakers.  I asked Lily if they do it because they're happy minorities or because they're paid or pressured, and Lily diplomatically responded that she had asked that question previously and was told that they did it because they wanted to.  Her expression said the opposite was likely true.

I explored back up some of the side streets and it's quite lovely but if you're planning to go there, go NOW or else it will turn into another Lijiang, unrecognizable from my previous trip just eight years earlier.  Zhongdian is the starting point for overland 4-wheel drive treks into Tibet, and wonderful-sounding trips to the Three Parallel Rivers area near the Tibet border which I wish I had time for, but maybe next time....

The next morning we continue our spirituality and serenity at the largest Tibetan monastery in Yunnan Province and, I think, more worthwhile to visit even than the Potala.  We also chat with some monks in their quarters.. I'll tell you all about it next time.

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photo by: sylviandavid