Ruili to Dali – 8/6/16
We drove about 435 kms in about 7 hours on an absolutely fantastic road network. We crossed various tunnels & bridges – one tunnel was 4.32 kms and a bridge of 4.042 kms. The speed limit on these highways was 120 kms. It was raining all throughout with very little visibility on most of the places.
We reached around 3.30pm and headed straight to the Ancient City. After finding a parking spot, we walked through the city. Picture below is the South Gate – City of Dali.
This old town located about an hour away from the main city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Yunnan, known for its natural scenery, historical and cultural heritage, and vibrant nightlife.
Dali – 9/6/16
Dali City, formerly known as Tali, is northwest of the provincial capital, Kunming. Dali is located on a fertile plateau between the Cang Mountain Range to the west and Erhai lake to the east.
The old town was razed and its records burnt during its conquest by China’s Mongolian Yuan Dynasty. The present old town was organized in the late 14th century under the Hongwu Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. The area became significantly Muslim (Hui) under the Yuan and Ming and was the center of the Panthay Rebellion against the Qing from 1856–1863. It was severely damaged during a massive earthquake in 1925.
We had a tour of the old town, visited a temple and after lunch in a local restaurant went to see the Pagodas.
The Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple are an ensemble of three independent pagoda towers arranged on the corners of an equilateral triangle, near the town of Dali, dating from the time of the Kingdom of Nanzhao and Kingdom of Dali in the 9th and 10th centuries.
The Three Pagodas are located about 1.5 km (0.93 mi) north of scenic Dali, Yunnan province. They are at the east foot of the tenth peak of the massive Cangshan Mountains and face the west shore of the Erhai Lake of ancient Dali.
Exhausted we returned to the hotel after dinner.
Dali to Lijiang – 10/6/16
We arrived after about 4 hours drive into the Old Town of Lijiang located in Lijiang City, Yunnan, China.
It has small shops along the cobbled streets, rickety open buildings, with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the background. The Dayan Old town is famous for its orderly system of waterways and bridges, a system fast becoming but a memory as the underground water table drops, probably due to over-building in the suburban areas.
Lijiang’s culture combines traditional Nakhi culture and incongruous elements learned from Ming Dynasty’s Han Chinese traders who settled in the region centuries ago. Nakhi people have kept alive a timber and mud brick housing style which they learned from Nanjing traders. Local carpenters still build elaborately constructed timber house frames from memory without blueprints or other diagrams.
Greater Lijiang (including Dayan, and two villages to the north, called Baisha and Shuhe respectively) was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List on December 4, 1997.
We had lunch in one of the local restaurant before heading to our hotel “Back Bay” a boutique hotel in one of the small narrow streets of this old town.
After a small nap in the afternoon we went to explore the ancient town and the local food.
Lijiang to Shangri-la – 11/6/16
We drove down from Lijiang to Shangri-la after a great struggle to remove the cars from the parking spots in the narrow lanes of the ancient town of Lijiang. The only breakfast we were offered was the Chinese Rice Conji with some salted vegetables and momos. When we requested for eggs, we managed to get some fried eggs and bread which was quickly arranged by one of the hotel employee from the store near by along with some coffee. She was able to understand us a little and hence, we were able to have our breakfast before we left.
We took the wrong exit on the highway hence had to return back after about 30 minutes drive when we realized it. After a wonderful drive through the scenic roads with beautiful landscaped mountains, we arrived into Shangri-la, a county-level city in northwestern Yunnan province, which is the location of the seat of the Dêqên Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
From there we drove to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a scenic canyon on the Jinsha River, a primary tributary of the upper Yangtze River. It is located 60 kilometres north of Lijiang City, and a part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas World Heritage Site.
At a maximum depth of approximately 3,790 meters (12,434 feet) from river to mountain peak, Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest and most spectacular river canyons in the world. The inhabitants of the gorge are primarily the indigenous Naxi people, who live in a handful of
Around 15 kilometres in length, the gorge is located where the river passes between the 5,596 metres (18,360 ft) Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the 5,396 metres Haba Snow Mountain in a series of rapids under steep 2,000 metres cliffs. The Legend says that in order to escape from a hunter, a tiger jumped across the river at the narrowest point (still 25 metres (82 ft) wide), hence the name.
The gorge is not considered navigable. In the early 1980s, four rafters attempted to go down the gorge and were never seen again. In 1986, the first known successful attempt to sail through the gorge was made by the first expedition to float down the entire length of the Yangtze, starting at the river’s high source at the Gelandandong glacier lake.
Natural crystals are mined from areas in and surrounding the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
I climbed down about 400 steps mid way as I could not climb down any further with my knees getting locked up, while Louis, Susanne & Sofie went down another 400-500 steps before climbing those to return to the car park.
It was a wonderful experience. On the way back we met a group of Chinese friends who spoke to us in English and then we realized that though some of them hailed from Beijing, they were now Canadians living in Downtown Toronto. They were very happy to meet us and Nelson even was keen to host us at their place in Beijing. They got very interested with Michael and Suzanne as they had a common interest – Golfing.
We had only Pizza today for lunch and we came to our hotel around 5.30 pm where we checked in. Our hotel for today is Sheenava Hotel. Probably the Chinese name Xianglaihua Hotel.
Shangri-la to Lijiang – 12/6/16
After a good breakfast at Hotel Sheenava, Shangri-la, we left the place to visit the Songzanlin Monastery.
As always our guides GPS guided her through a narrow, pot-holed, dirty, unpaved muddy roads not suitable for vehicle. Driving through this dirty, mucky road required great attention to even off-road vehicles. We were so tensed as we did not want to get stuck somewhere. Finally after the car drenched in muck, we returned back the same road after almost driving for 2kms to and forth. We then came back on the highway and looked for alternate roads.
Finally someone gave us the correct directions. After parking our vehicles we had to buy entry passes each costing CNY 110, but senior citizen ticket cost CNY 75, hence Louis got his ticket for only 75% of the price. There was a bus which drove us to the Monastery. We had to climb several steps to get to the Sumtseling Monastery.
The Ganden Sumtseling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery built in 1679 is situated 5 kilometres from the city of Zhongdian at elevation 11,090 ft in Yunnan province, China. It belongs to the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelukpa order of the Dalai Lama, established by the Fifth Dalai Lama. Its architecture is a fusion of the Tibetan and Han Chinese. It was extensively damaged in the Cultural Revolution and subsequently rebuilt in 1983; at its peak, the monastery contained accommodation for 2,000 monks; it currently accommodates in its rebuilt structures 700 monks in 200 associated houses.
The ambience of the town is distinctly Tibetan with prayer flags fluttering, mountains known by holy names, lamaseries and rocks inscribed in Tibetan language with Buddhist sutras. The monastery is full of treasures. There are a lot of golden figures of Buddha, golden lamps, Tibetan lections, silver censers and so on. All of these are wonderful collections accumulated from each dynasty.
While we waited for the bus to take us back to the parking lot, we met an 83 year old Chinese woman. She did not know English but was very enthusiastic to communicate with us. Fortunately she had her daughter who could speak a little English and her grand daughter who was on her summer vacation from the US.
We then had some lunch on the way and then were on our way back to Lijiang as we were staying at Lijiang for the night before we head to the next destination tomorrow Lugu Lake.
Lijiang to Lugu Lake – 13/6/16
This morning when we left our hotel, after exchanging some dollars for Chinese Yuan, we left the city only to drive about 2kms of a muddy road under construction. Then our journey on the mountainous terrain began with steep winding roads from one mountain to another.
We drove 232 kms with about 25 kms of pot holed road. Surprised to come across such road, but then our guide told us that the place belonged to no one hence no one was responsible for the roads, hence they were in this condition.
The drive through the mountains and valleys was very beautiful and scenic. We were tempted to stop over at several places to enjoy the beauty. We stopped at a village house which also doubles up as an eatery for passers by. After visiting the restrooms, we requested for tea. We were handed over a pot of green tea with a plate full of sunflower seeds. We observed that they had a lot of ripe peaches on their tree in their courtyard. They plucked about 3 kms of sweet peaches and sold them for CNY 30.-
After driving for another hour or so, we stopped at a village eatery place for lunch run by an elderly couple.
After eating the food prepared by them we left for Lugu Lake. To enter this scenic place, they charged CNY 100.- per person. The lake was too beautiful.
Lugu Lake is a natural lake in the Hengduan Mountain System, and has a horseshoe shape. It is located in a high plateau amidst the Xiaoliangshan hills of Western Yunnan. The Lion Mountain surrounds the lake and its waters display a turquoise blue colour. The lake has a length of 9.4 kilometres with a width of 8 kilometres and a water spread area of 50 square kilometres with an average depth of 45metres.
The shoreline of the lake is occupied by several ethnic minorities belonging to the Mosuo, Norzu, Yi, Pumi and Tibetan tribes. The lake is snowbound for three months a year, and the autumn and spring seasons bring a cool and dry climate, when the day temperatures are warm. When we reached this place the temperature was around 14 deg C.
Overnight, we stayed at Luguha Princess Hotel.
Lugu Lake to Xichang – 14/6/16
We left the hotel Luguha Princess around 9.00 am this morning for Xichang a 260 kms drive through mountainous zigzag roads. Overcast, we have a gloomy morning, without white clouds and azure sky, but not too bad.
We stopped on the way to relieve ourselves and it was the most horrible place that we ever used. Never again we decided to stop at such places. Afternoon we stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch and had the cleanest toilets ever found in China.
We had a good meal today after which we again started our journey. The drive was tough and challenging, past narrow mountainous roads sided by risky and steep cliffs with the possible falling stones and rocks. It looked like both a gift and ordeal from God to test us. After driving through beautiful mountains, rivers, waterfalls, we reached Xichang around 4.30 pm and checked in at The Ray of Sunshine Hotel Xichang.
Xichang a city which lies near the border of southern Sichuan is in a mountainous region of the province. The Anning River, which runs into Yalong River, a tributary of the Jinsha River, is the main river in the area. Xichang lies on the Motorway Kunming – Chengdu. The section to the south is open for traffic, but the mountainous section to Chengdu in the north is still under construction. But the road was the bad at all. Xichang is a beautiful city well developed with high rise buildings, good wide roads, etc., considered to be a small city by the Chinese.
Xichang is also considered to be a beautiful tourism spot in southern Sichuan. It is warm in the winter, cool in the summer and sunny almost every day. Its weather is so good, in fact, that it is a satellite launch base for the Chinese space program. Qionghai lake is situated near the city center and is magnificent. There are beautiful mountains in Xichang and the nearby regions. And, despite its small size, Xichang is supposed to be home to a community of westerners, who have moved to city and settled there, presumably for the fanstastic quality of life and weather.
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We then took our car for a nice wash which was required badly. Our cars are now shining until we hit the road tomorrow. We then thought of exploring some place for dinner without our guide. Not bad, we all four managed to have a good dinner with 3 bottles of beer for CNY 90.- Michael with Susanne was responsible to order a decent meal for all four of us.
The afternoon lunch for 5, we spent only CNY 59.- Green Tea was served free at every restaurant. How much we struggled to have a cup of coffee or regular masala tea. The last we remember having some Masala /ready madeTea was Imphal.
Tomorrow we have to leave for Chengdu, a comparatively bigger city where we stay for 2 nights.
Xichang to Chengdu – 15/6/16
In spite of having a good hotel at Xichang, we had a bad experience. There was power cut and the electricity was cut off, with no lights, no air-conditioning. We kept the window open and slept. Michael & Susanne however did not sleep. We were informed that the generator was not on as it would make noise and disturb everyone. Managed to get CNY 50 as refund for the inconvenience caused to us.
As we were supposed to leave early in order to get to Chengdu on time, we rushed for breakfast but we’re not served breakfast. Did not understand the reasons given to us in Chinese. Waited for our guide to arrive, who had gone off last night to see her Grandpa as she hailed from this city. Sofie, came and then explained to us that the breakfast was not ready as there was no electricity and we will, have to wait for some more time. Finally the breakfast was ready, but as usual the Chinese style of soup, noodles, rice, etc. Managed to find some boiled/fried eggs and some greens, no coffee, no tea. Anyway, we left for Chengdu as we did not want to waste much time, as we had a long drive of more than 500 kms.
We spent about an hour getting out of the City through the traffic. On the way we came across Xichang Satellite Launch Center, also known as the Xichang Space Center. It is a People’s Republic of China space vehicle launch facility approximately 64 kilometres northwest of Xichang. Once we were on the highway, it was a fantastic drive. We were so happy with the roads and enjoying the drive.
Still intoxicated by the beauty of the bridge and the layers of buildings cascading down the hillsides on both sides of the river valley, and the most beautiful “Sky Road” in China!
Today we had to drive 555 km including diversion to Leshan for seeing the Giant Buddha on part of the Yaxi Expressway which runs from Kunming to Beijing the G5 highway of 2865 kms. However of the 441 kms stretch that we drove from Xichang to Chengdu 55 percent was covered with bridges and tunnels. The 240 km expressway is made of 270 viaducts/bridges, an elevated roadway that stretches 240 kilometers, designed to minimize impact on the environment and driving on the numerous viaducts makes people feel like driving in the air. For driving each kilometer, we ascended by 7.5 meters along the expressway. There are also 25 spiral tunnels used to reduce the effect on mountains. The “Sky Road” is really a boon on a seemingly monotonous drive. Driving along the elevated highways high above the valleys and through the tunnels, we were excited and thrilled at the pristine beauty of the scenes flying past. The famous Dadu River accompanies us snaking parallel to the highway for most of the drive trip.
The 25 tunnels on Expressway have greatly shortened the drive distance in the mountainous areas. The tunnels are deep and long. Nibashan tunnel that we crossed has a depth of 1,650 meters and a length of 9,962 meters on the left line and 10,007 on the right line, lit brightly and driving safe. We drove through the 9962 meters tunnel.
We got out of the highway to Leshan to see the Giant Buddha, a 233 ft tall stone statue, built during the Tang Dynasty, depicting Maitreya.
We decided to take the boat on the river to see the Buddha. We paid CNY 65 per person for it.
The Buddha Figure is carved out of a cliff face that lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in the southern part of Sichuan province in China, near the city of Leshan. The stone sculpture faces Mount Emei, with the rivers flowing below his feet. It is the largest stone Buddha in the world and it is by far the tallest pre-modern statue in the world. His shoulders are 28 metres wide and his smallest toenail is large enough to easily accommodate a seated person. There is a local saying: “The mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain”. This is partially because the mountain range in which the Leshan Giant Buddha is located is thought to be shaped like a slumbering Buddha when seen from the river, with the Leshan Giant Buddha as its heart.
We understand, that construction had started in 713, led by a Chinese monk named Hai Tong who hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels traveling down the river. When funding for the project was threatened, he is said to have gorged out his own eyes to show his piety and sincerity. After his death, however, the construction was stuck due to insufficient funding. About 70 years later, a jiedushi decided to sponsor the project and the construction was completed by Hai Tong’s disciples in 803. Apparently the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the water safe for passing ships. A sophisticated drainage system was incorporated into the Leshan Giant Buddha when it was built. It is still in working order. It includes drainage pipes carved into various places on the body, to carry away the water after the rains so as to reduce weathering.
When the Giant Buddha was carved, a huge thirteen-storey wood structure was built to shelter it from rain and sunshine. This structure was destroyed and sacked by the Mongols during the wars at the end of the Yuan Dynasty. From then on, the stone statue was exposed to the hotel elements.
The Leshan Buddha has now been affected by the pollution emanating from the unbridled development in the region.
After the boat ride, we desperately were looking for coffee and we walked almost a mile looking for some coffee but we were disappointed when we did not find. We returned back to our cars to complete our journey to Chengdu. After a nice drive through Leshan City, we got back to the highway and were on our way to our hotel ATour Hotel.
The relaxing and leisure 2-hour drive ended and we get off the Expressway into Chengdu city after paying the toll charges.
Chengdu is the provincial capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China as well as a major city in Western China. As per 2014 census it has 14,427,500 inhabitants with an urban population of 10,152,632. Chengdu is the fifth-most populous agglomeration in China. It is one of the most important economic, financial, commercial, cultural, transportation, and communication centers in Western China. It is said that Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport is one of the 30 busiest airports in the world, and Chengdu Railway Station is one of the six biggest railway stations in China. Unfortunately we did not have a chance to see either of it.
The fertile Chengdu Plain, on which Chengdu is located, is also known as the “Country of Heaven” a phrase also often translated as “The Land of Abundance”.
After trying out Chinese hot pots, pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, green veggies, Michael had been desperately longing to have burgers so we all went searching for McDonald’s which everyone enjoyed.
We then walked to our Hotel ATOUR after buying some fruits online. The hotel had the facility for getting your laundry done. So I straight away went to the 6th floor to check the facility as I had a weeks laundry to be done.
Chengdu – 16/6/16
First thing in the morning we had to meet Harley, a Rotary and from Chengdu to exchange the Flags. We had breakfast together and then exchanged the Flags. It was very nice to meet him. He is an American married to a Chinese and works for ANZ in Chengdu. It was great to hear him.
After which we had to get the first service of our Car done for which we had taken appointment with the BMW Service Centre at Chengdu. Jeffrey Lee, the Warranty Specialist at Sichuan Summit Chengbao Motors Co., Ltd at Chengdu Sichuan Province was waiting for us. No sooner did we enter their service centre there were at least 10 agents who came to see the car. Not one person could speak English. If not for our guide, do not know what we would have done. Jeffrey was corresponding to me in English, but when we actually started speaking to him, he could hardly respond. Anyway managed to get the service done at a much lower cost as compared to Mumbai.
While Louis waited to get the service done, me along with Michael & Susanne went to see the Pandas.
We paid CNY 58 for the entry tickets for the Park plus CNY 10 for the shuttle ride to get to various sections of the Park.
There was only one statistic that really interested me about Chengdu: 80% of the world’s pandas live in Sichuan province. The Chengdu Panda Base, one of the best-known and respected panda conservation centres in the world, comes with some pleasing statistics of its own: it currently houses more than 80 pandas and is a mere six miles from downtown Chengdu. I just wanted to see some cuddly pandas. Chengdu Panda Base turned out to be, much to my relief, nothing like a zoo. The pandas have 600 acres of parkland in which to scamper. And while the centre is very much a tourist destination , it seemed to us it was a wrong time to visit the park as we had to literally fight for space to see the Pandas in their enclosures. The pandas we saw, mostly black and white ones all looked well cared-for, plump and relaxed. All of them were indoors and resting in their air-conditioned enclosures as it was very hot and they cannot live in the heat. We also saw quite a few just born baby Pandas kept in a separate room.
We had to join the crowd to peer into the nursery to see the litter of three-week-old cubs. Lying in their cot, they were so small and sweet.
The Giant pandas, red Pandas, are fed and bred there throughout the year. We observed Verdant bamboo, bright flowers, fresh air, a natural hill scene and a beautiful artificial view was merged ingeniously at the base.
We also got to see a few Red Pandas in the open in their natural surroundings. A few Peacocks and variety of birds were seen too.
It was hot and humid and almost time to pick up Louis from BMW Service Centre so we left the park.
After picking him up we went for lunch at a Food Court. And what did we eat – Pizzas at Pizza Hut. Two junk meals in two days!
After lunch, we came back to the hotel to complete the laundry half done, and get ready for dinner with Bing of Navo Tours. He had arranged dinner at an Indian Restaurant and Whiskey which was for the first time in China. No other restaurant served Whiskey. 750 ml bottle was empty at the end of our dinner. Luckily we were not driving.
The next day morning we had to leave for Ruoergai, a 470-km drive.
PART 2 follows in a week’s time