How to Live Well in Yunnan

Some of the farmhouses in Yunnan would shame even the finer ones in our own little area. We were able to visit the farmhouse of a family in Shangri-La province and were bowled over by its grace and magnificence.

A Tibetan-Yunnan province farmhouse consists of an ample two or three storied building with the animals generally kept on the ground floor, a large courtyard which is high-walled in with an entrance portal  and some smaller buildings built on each side of the courtyard.

The dimensions of the main house are truly vast and the decoration is simply miraculous. Just the wood used to frame the house comes from mammoth-girthed pines. The beams and windows are particularly intricately carved.

In summer the main house is used to accomodate up to four generations sleeping around a fire whose smoke leaps up through a hole in the ceiling in a mediaeval style reminding me of the arrangement at Penshurst place in southern England. In winter the smaller rooms on the sides of the inner courtyard are used to house the occupants because it’s easier to keep them warm.


The furniture, cupboards and chests of the large mansion, a sort of piano nobile, are elaborately carved and beautifully painted. I have never seen such wonderful rural carvings before except perhaps in Nepal.

The floor planking is something to die for…


It seems that, like the Tyrol, wood-carving is an activity that happily passes away the long winter nights and is also used to represent the prestige and standing of a family. At the very least, it shows just how much people in this area delight in objects of beauty and elegance.

The latest trend is to enclose the inner courtyard with a huge conservatory-like structure. This means that the area can keep warm even in the minus 15 centigrade temperatures of winter and, with the use of solar panels (which are truly expanding investment now in an ever more-eco conscious China); life becomes ever more comfortable in an area which has always been noted for its extreme climatic conditions. I’m not too sure whether these super-conservatories enhance the nobility of these houses but they certainly help conserve heat.

In every case we were treated with true courtesy during our visit.


2 thoughts on “How to Live Well in Yunnan

  1. The vastness and beauty of the embellishments of the houses in this area were truly amazing it makes our humble little houses seem like their animal housing. Oh for samsara to be reborn in Tibet in a nice Buddhist household. The whole experience was so varied colourful wholesome esoteric literally unexpected and most memorable. Although a word of warning as the altitude factor is not to be overlooked it scared the pants off me as to what to expect or what indeed could happen happily the minor problems far outweighed the multitude of benefits and the best way forward for us not wishing to use the chemical diamox with unknown possibility of strange reactions to the drug we opted for the unknown to us Chinese herbal remedy as suggested by a tube traveller in London heading for Sri Lanka with his dear family who had tried and tested this remedy on their visit as we did with not a single side effect. We even ventured to 4000 metres with a dizzy making further 5000 well we can now in retrospect say that we have somehow conquered our altitude fears but it is a reality sadly. How lucky are the Tibetan people that have a special inbuilt system to combat this problem genetically. I love Tibet and long to return it is a wonderful experience so colourful holy beautiful friendly generous people with good values a God fearing people which we are grossly lacking in the West.

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