Saturday, January 16, 2016

Shaxi: back to the past


Remember the movie "Back to the Future"?
Just as Marty McFly, our trip to Shaxi was like stepping back in time about 70 years ago, only without the DeLorean. Without a doubt, the most authentic place we visited throughout China.

Shaxi is a small village but with a great past, located right between Dali and Lijiang, two major touristic destinations in the Yunnan Province. It is known as the last best preserved old town and the starting point on the ancient Tea Horse road, leading the herb from Yunnan to Tibet in exchange for horses. Thanks to the trading network established there over 1000 years ago, the tea culture spread throughout China and Asia. 

Today, Shaxi is a sleepy little village nestled in the middle of a beautiful valley and sheltered by the Shibao Mountains, home of hundreds of Buddhists temples, images and sculptures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Arriving in Shaxi was a bit tricky and perhaps for this reason, the town remains reasonably protected from mass tourism, which we experienced literally everywhere we’ve been in China. Still, many of the old buildings are being "renovated" to make way for Boutique hotels and local businesses, leading us to believe that the traditional lifestyle of this region is with its days numbered.

The bus leaves from the Northern bus terminal (客运 北 站) in Xiaguan, new Dali. To arrive in Shaxi we must go first to Jianchuan (剑川), making the 75 miles jorney last for about five hours on average. Arriving in Jianchuan, just ask for the minivan to Shaxi, which usually departs when the vehicle is full of passengers. The Dali-Jianchuan bus ticket costs 39CNY and the minivan Shaxi-Jianchuan 13CNY per person, totaling US $ 8.50 for the entire stretch.

There are basically two main streets in Shaxi, and the most charming inns and guesthouses are close to the central square (Sideng Square). Among ancient trees, cobblestone streets, the temple Xingjiao and an ancient open-air theater where, with luck, you can enjoy live music performances and local dance, 'Sideng Square' is Shaxi’s main postcard.

Friday is market day and, on that day, Shaxi transforms completely. Following the same tradition that began still in the time of the tea & horse caravans, every Friday without fail, hundreds of people from neighboring villages and mountains all over the Shaxi valley, gather to buy or exchange all kinds of products, from fruits, vegetables and fresh meat, to pans, brooms, cows and horses.

What distinguish this market from others in Asia are the people. We have never seen so many people from ethnic minorities 'Bai' and 'Yi', dressed in their traditional costumes, colorful skirts, head adornments and embroidered clothes. 

It was amazing to see them stuffing their woven baskets with the weekly groceries, while catch up on the latest gossip. And those who didn’t carry a basket on their backs, held a child comfortably tied in some sort of “baby kangaroo", made with a beautiful embroidered velvet blanket.

Time stood still at this place and it seems that no one noticed. We will never forget the faces we saw in the Shaxi Friday Market.

For the more dynamic, there are a variety of activities and plenty of places to explore in the vicinity of Shaxi. 

We rented a mountain bike and rode to Bai Long Tan (白 龙潭; White Dragon Lake), located 5 miles from the old city. The spot looked like a movie set. No wonder the locals believe that the lake is sacred. An underground spring is responsible for this small pond of crystal clear emerald water, which supplies drinking water to the entire valley. 

I’ve never felt such an overwhelming sense of peace before in China. I took advantage of the occasion to meditate and, in almost one hour we’ve been there, we saw only two people. Be aware that the ride uphill can be pretty demanding, especially in the last mile, but it's so very worth it.

And to celebrate my birthday we decided to do a day trek at the nearby Shibao Shan (石宝山; Stone Treasure Mountain), a nature reserve and a religious Buddhist site, that lies about 6 miles north of Shaxi. 

I know many people who would say that climbing endless peaks for nearly three hours does not classify as 'celebrate', but it was very gratifying to complete this hike at 34 years old, and on top, seeing beautiful landscapes, temples, grottos and Buddhist relics carved in stone.

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1 comment:

  1. I must appreciate your positivity and your love I am passion for travelling the world. I have the same passion to travel the world and wetness nature in all forms.