Special Six: Tastes of Lijiang

When I revisited the UNESCO Heritage site, the old town of Lijiang in Yunnan province of China in 2013 with Yuan, we tried out a lot of the local Naxi cuisine. Someone once told me that for every person, one of their senses tend to dominate more than the others when it comes to memories. So much so that for some, smells or tastes can unlock an entire treasure trove of memories. While I do feel that a particular sense tends to dominate in a particular context, I don’t feel that that same sense is dominant across all travel memories. I feel that it could vary. Some of my travel memories are connected to sounds or music that I was listening to during that travel and listening to that particular song(s) back at home can bring back the entire details of that particular travel memory – the place, the weather, the people, the conversations etc. This trip to Lijiang was connected with the tastes and flavours of Lijiang cuisine and perhaps the sense of taste was heightened because I could not participate in the conversations in Mandarin around me.

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So, I am sharing the six special tastes that made up this visit.

  1. Street food night market

The evening Yuan and I arrived in the old town of Lijiang, we checked into our guesthouse and made our way to the night street food market to try out local delicacies. The street was packed with people and the range of local snacks on display was something to behold. I was happy that my friend was not only Chinese but knew the region well enough to recommend local specialty food. This is where I had my first taste of Er Kuai, which is a compressed rice cake, and loved it.

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2. Breakfasting on Lijiang baba

When Yuan returned to the guesthouse from her 10 Km morning run on our first day, she brought these  local pancakes for breakfast. They are called Lijiang baba and are a pan fried pancake. There are varieties of these pancakes but the one I tried was with eggs and spring onions. I loved them so much that I went to Naxi Snacks, the shop where they made these, each day for breakfast.

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3. A bowl of fresh rice noodles in chicken broth

Yuan insisted we try out the fresh Yunnanese rice noodles in chicken broth which is a local specialty and which she said could not be found elsewhere in the country. I think Yuan would have been happy to have had this for all her meals during our time there. I had to put a lot of the coriander, spring onions and chopped chilli in my bowl to make it more flavourful for my palate.

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4. A Naxi feast

A friend of Yuan’s, Anna, whose family we would be staying with during the next leg of our travel, invited us over to a dinner party with some of her friends. They treated us to a Naxi feast.

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5. Steam pot Chicken

When we returned to Lijiang from our stay with Anna’s family, we went out for a farewell dinner with Anna. We decided to order the steam pot chicken, another specialty of the region.

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6. Yunnanese veggies

For our last meal in the city, Yuan and I decided to try out more of the vegetarian dishes at Alily, a cafe that we had walked past often and wanted to try out. The spiced lotus root was a great balance to the spice-less tofu and greens soup.

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Have you tried out Yunnanese cuisine? What has been some of your favourites or what would you like to try out?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #3]
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Oregon Girl Around the World

Special Six: Kunming Highlights

The first time I visited Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southwest China, it hardly made an impression on me because I was only there overnight with the APLP team and we were busy with our presentations on our mini-field studies. We also had stayed at a hotel in the modern part of the city, which was not so interesting to walk around. I revisited Kunming in 2013 and met up with a couple of my APLP friends from China, who had not joined the 2012 visit as they had naturally chosen the NYC/ DC field study option. This time though it was a lovely experience as the accommodation and places to visit were suggested by my friends. These are my special six experiences and recommendations for the traveler to this city.

1.Stay at the Lost Garden Guesthouse

We stayed at the Lost Garden guesthouse near Green Lake. It was a lovely guesthouse, which had a restaurant serving delicious food.

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Breakfast on the rooftop , Lost Garden Guesthouse

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Duan, Yuan and I

2. Walk around Green Lake

With our proximity to a lovely lake and park, Duan and I spent a lot of time exploring different parts of the park in the early morning hours, while Yuan ran her daily 10km morning run around the lake. The park established in the 17th century has lots of lovely places to discover.

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3. Day trip to Xishan Forest Park (Kunming West Hill)

This was a special trip recommended by Duan so the two of us took the cab to the base of the hill and then took the cable and then the chair up the hill.

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We walked around the trail leading to the Dragon’s gate, where every visitor stopped to touch the gate. The adjacent Datiange (Mansion of Heaven) is one of the most visited of the Longmen grottoes along the hillside. This grotto has relief carvings on its wall of Kui Xing. According to mythology, Kui Xing was a highly intelligent human being whose services the Emperor refused as he was repulsed by his appearance. When Kui Xing threw himself off the cliff, a dragon saved him and because of that, he became the God of imperial examinations and official documents.

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Longmen/ Dragon gate

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Kui Xing, the God of examinations

4. Visit Guandu old town

Guandu old town is a short drive from Kunming so we decided to explore the old town. What I remember most from exploring the town is the rose flower cake bakery that we came across. Rather the smell of the pastries being baked drew us and we indulged ourselves in this Yunnan specialty snack. Of course, we got some boxes for home.

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Edible roses

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Rose cakes fresh out of the oven

5. Drive to Fuxian lake for lunch

A colleague of Yuan invited the three of us for a drive to Fuxian lake, the deepest fresh water lake in Yunnan province, for lunch. She explained that this area was famous for its fish and fish based meals, among the locals. So, we had the local specialty fish soup for lunch.

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6.Try out one of the group exercises in parks

Whichever park I visited in China, I always saw groups of people going through various exercise routines. Green Lake was no exception. While I was hesitant to join a group without having talked to the people beforehand, my friend didn’t hesitate and joined in the activity.

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Have you visited Kunming? Which of these experiences have you tried or would like to try out?

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #48 and The Weekly Postcard]

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Travel Notes & Beyond

Special Six: Shangri-La Experiences

Shangri-La city, in northwestern Yunnan province, is considered to be the inspiration for James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon’ so much so that the official Chinese name of Zhongdian was changed in 2001 to Shangri-La. The city’s traditional Tibetan name is Gyalthang or Royal Plains. I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful city at the foot of the Himalayas, for a few days, with half my APLP cohort in 2012. It was tragic to hear that a devastating fire destroyed most of the historic old town of Dukezong in 2014. The place has been rebuilt and while I haven’t visited the city since the fire, I did check whether some of my favourite places survived the fire.

My experience of Shangri-La was special and the following are six experiences I recommend to the traveler to this city.

  1. Early morning walk to temple

This was my favourite part of my stay in Shangri-La.

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Taku turning the wheel of the golden temple, photo credit: Mami Sato

2. Visit to Shangri-La Thangka Academy

The Thangka academy is a place where aspiring artists are trained in the traditional Thangka art. It is a wonderful experience to visit the center, and learn of the years of training that the artist goes through as well as see how the colours are mixed etc. There is a shop attached to the center, where you can buy local handicrafts including Thangka artwork.

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3. A Hike to the 100 chicken temple

This temple apparently received its name from the chickens roaming around, though I didn’t seen any chickens on the afternoon I visited. It is a short hike but has steep inclines, which can be a bit difficult for those with mobility issues especially when combined with the change in altitude from Beijing to Shangri-La. I did make it to the temple at the top but when the group decided to go on a further hike through some woods, I decided to turn back with my room-mate and we went back into the old town for some tea.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Taking a break and enjoying the blue trumpet gentian flowers, photo credit: Mami Sato

4. A visit to the Songzanlin Monastery

I was too tired to go on the third hike, which was a longer one. The photos, taken by those who went to the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, also known as Songzanlin Monastery, were amazing. I would highly recommend visiting the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, founded by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1679, which is the largest in Yunnan province.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

Songzanlin Monastery 2

Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

5. Stay at Karma Cafe and Lodge.

Our group was split up to stay at three guesthouses. I was delighted that I had the opportunity of staying at this traditional Tibetan house, which had lovely gathering places on the first floor. The verandah space, where breakfast was served, had great views of the temple and the indoor gathering space around the fire place was really cosy. The restaurant also served great local food.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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6. Eating at Tara Gallery cafe and bar

We had a couple of meals here and enjoyed the fusion of Indian, Yunnan and Tibetan food.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

The old town is a lovely area, with its narrow streets, and where vehicles are not allowed. Though the shops are targeted at tourists, they are fun to explore. The Yunnan Mountain Heritage Foundation‘s Handicraft center, at the edge of the square and away from the tourist centre, is a non-profit organization that supports local cultural heritage, handicrafts and eco-tourism in Diqing prefecture and is worth visiting.

Shangri-La is also a great base for mountain hikes and treks, especially for those interested in going on the old tea horse trails. Do read Jeff Fuch’s The Ancient Tea Horse Road before going on one of the old tea horse road treks.

Hope you enjoyed the photo series of my recommended special six experiences in Shangri-La! Which of these experiences would you enjoy?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Lauren on Location, Snow in TromsoThe Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World; and

the newly started Faraway Files, hosted by Untold Morsels, Oregon Girl around the world and Suitcases and Sandcastles]

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Book Review: The Ancient Tea Horse Road

A cold evening in Shangrila, huddled in a room on the upper floor of a wooden cottage, a group of us were treated by Jeff Fuchs to a visual of his trek along the ancient tea horse road that had culminated in the writing and publishing of a book. The images were powerful and the story-teller interesting.

That evening made me want to read the book and after several months, I settled down to reading the book over days and over cups of pu’er tea.The ancient tea horse road is a narrative that takes us along the ancient route and offers us glimpses into the vista, the conditions that the traders and employees would have faced travelling along this route, little insights into the people and their ancestors that would have been engaged in the trade and most importantly, the types of tea that is so revered by the people along this route. Jeff brings an element of the personal self into the narrative by his accounts of the people he trekked with and the friendships formed along this route, which makes it all the more of an interesting read.

While I enjoyed the book and have much of a deeper respect and appreciation of pu’er tea now, I do wish that the personal stories of the elderly muleteers, the last of their kind, could have been dwelt with more in the book.
Book details:
  • Title: The Ancient Tea Horse Road
  • Author: Jeff Fuchs
  • Hardcover: 231 pages
  • Publisher: Renouf Pub Co Ltd (June 30, 2008)
  • Published: June 30, 2008
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670066117