A bustling world heritage-listed town, Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage site in China surrounded by lakes and fruit orchards, drawing over eight million visitors every year. A gateway to ancient local life in China, its Old Town dates back over 800 years and is famed for its charming canals, some 300 bridges and weeping willow trees. Featuring amazing natural scenery that will leave travellers slack-jawed, the city offers must-see heavyweights like Tiger Leaping Gorge and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Visitors can also roam the cobbled streets alongside flower-lined canals and explore heritage wooden buildings that represent everything you’d expect from China’s grand imperial days. Quaint and eccentric, it’s a place that’s full of surprises around every corner.
Listed in the Collections of Famous Pools of China, the Black Dragon Pool is the landmark of Lijiang built in 1737. You may also know it as the famous postcard-perfect stop that many summon the image of when they think of Lijiang. Featuring several smaller temples and pavilions, the surrounding park is home to the Dongba Culture Research Institute and the Dongba Culture Museum. In its clear waters, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is reflected. Visitors can also admire a mix of variegated flowers and swaying willow trees throughout the compound.
Translated to “highland village” in the Naxi ethnic language, the area is nestled in a sub-alpine valley at an elevation of over 3,000m and inaccessible until recently, except by foot or horse. With Wenhai Lake in the foreground and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the background, it’s the perfect place for you to get acquainted with the traditional cultures and natural attractions of northwest Yunnan.
Known as the first foreign scholar to introduce Lijiang’s ethnic diversity to the western world and the first foreign discoverer of the unique Naxi culture, Joseph F. Rock is sometimes referred to as “the Father of Naxiology”. An Austrian-born American botanist, his Yu Hu Village residence now exhibits historic photos and relics from his personal collection from that era.
A trip to Lijiang is not complete without watching this dazzling show. Set against the backdrop of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the extravaganza is directed by film director Zhang Yimou and features 500 actors handpicked from 16 villages, 100 horses, and a 360° outdoor theatre stage at an altitude over 3,100m; making it the highest altitude production in the world. The performance demonstrates the ancient traditions, cultures and rituals practiced by the Naxi, Yi and Bai minorities residing in Lijiang.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a 1,000-year history and was once a confluence for trade on the “Old Tea Horse Caravan Trail”. Famous for its systematic system of bridges and waterways, stroll along the maze of cobbled streets and dwellings made of mud and stone at your own pace. Watch skilful silver and leather craftsmen, wood carvers and traditional sweet makers at work as they carry on century-old trades and traditions.
A Naxi village by Jade Lake, Yu Hu Village — or Nguloko in the Naxi language — was the chosen home of Joseph Rock, an Austrian-American botanist credited with introducing the western world to northwest Yunnan’s unique ecological and ethnic landscape. Today, visitors can still visit the former residence of Rock, as well as rows of century-old traditional Naxi houses. One can then walk to Jade Lake to enjoy views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain reflected in the water.
The Yi village of Bodolo is a serene haven for those who are looking to rest, relax and retreat. Reminiscent of a simpler time, the village is made up of picturesque landscapes of misty green meadows, willow and maple trees, and calm river crossings. Dwarfed by silvery cliffs, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain looms in the distance of this sleepy town.
Deep in the mountains of northwest Yunnan, one can escape the hustle and bustle of city life and spend the day wandering around the small Tacheng Village. Hike over the hills and see if you’re lucky enough to spot the endangered Yunnan snub-nosed golden monkeys in their natural habitat, or amble down steep back-country roads to visit charming black-roofed farmhouses and watch rice harvesting.
One of the deepest — 3,790m from river to mountain peak — and most spectacular river canyons in the world, Tiger Leaping Gorge is located where the river passes between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain. Legend has it that to escape a hunter, a tiger jumped across the river at the narrowest point (25m wide), hence the name. Though the area is marked by rugged cliffs diving sharply into rushing waters, travellers can quite easily trek through the landscape.
Blue Moon Valley got its name from the way it looks like a crescent-shaped valley inlaid at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Legend has it that the water gets its colour from the raft that the gods took to the valley. In actual fact, the turquoise tint comes from copper ions in the melting snow and ice from the Himalayas above. When it rains, the white mud and limestone rubble from the riverbed mix, turning the water white.
At the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, at an elevation of 3,240m, lies Spruce Meadow (also known as Spruce Plateau), a secluded and undisturbed natural paradise covered by lofty tall spruce trees. Further up at 3,650m, there’s Yak Meadow. It is the furthest cableway from Lijiang and where we prefer to take our travellers because it’s less frequented by tourists. It’s worth making the trip here though because the grassland feels endless and it’ll just be you, some grazing yaks and incredible scenic views.
The name “Jade Dragon Snow Mountain” was derived from the way the range looks like a green dragon lying in the clouds. Standing at 5,596m with 13 peaks that are covered with snow all year round, it’s considered a sacred mountain to the Naxi people and a sanctuary for rare animals like the snub-nosed monkey, lesser panda and clouded leopard. It’s also known for being a botanist’s paradise, where of the 13,000 kinds of plants in Yunnan, more than half can be found on the mountain.