Friday, 29 June 2007

Crouching Tigers, Hidden Doom

I can't quite believe I've been in China a week. Whilst not blogging, I've been swallowing up everything there is to offer in fantastic Yunnan provice, in the very south west of the country.

Yunnan borders Myanmar and Tibet so it's full of ethnic minorities, many of whom still wear traditional dress when in the feilds or catering to the tourists. So as we've toured around, it's not uncommon to see the women wearing pink head gear, like fuscia hats for Russian Cossacks, or full length yellow silk dresses with little plats in their hair (OK, the last is mainly in the tourist centres).

My first stop was Kunming, the capital of the province and what a change it was from Myanmar. I flew over the last green mountain into lego land - a bustling city of brand new highrises, which have replaced much of the old Chinese buildings that Kunming was renowned for. It's not an unpleasant city though; Olympics preparation has brought about wide boulevards and being a university town, there are funky shop front areas that would fit in well in Melbourne or Newtown.

Although Kumning doesn't have many old areas left, our next stop Lijang has a large and beautifully preserved Old Town. With polished cobble-stoned streets, low lying wooden buildings decorated with red lanterns, canals and even an ancient water wheel, stepping into Lijang was like stepping back in time to a lost China. Our guesthouse was a wooden building of two stories with a balcony on the second floor that looked down into an internal square courtyard. I felt like a concubine staying there.

And from Lijang we headed to Tiger Leaping Gorge, the reason I came to China. Drawfed bythe Ha Ba mountain range, which includes the spectacular 5,500 m Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Tiger Leaping Gorge is said to be the deepest gorge in the world. Despite what a sacred place - and a tourist attraction - you would think this would make it to the Chinese, the gorge is seriously threatened. Developers are planning to dam it - as they've done 1000 kms downstream at the Three Gorges Dam - with building potentially commencing next year. The gorge would lose approximately half its depth and more than 100,000 people will be displaced. And because the Chinese government are advocating this doom, the area is hardly promoted. There are no postacards and hardly any infrastructure at the start and finish of the walk.

So if you love mountaints, this death sentence is even another reason for me to say come here, and sooner rather than later. Snow-capped mountains, rapids rushing through the deep gorge, curious mountain goats, peace - need I say more. Even Michael Palin's loo lived up to the view.

Read all about it at the link above if you fancy. Again, pics will come soon.


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