Insectarians would find Lijiang a treat. How about some fried cockroaches and maggots for a snack?
Unfortunately we never acquired a taste for these members of the animal kingdom and stuck to a mixture of European and Chinese breakfast which includes delicious dumplings and a lot of soup. One thing is certain we were never spoilt for choice in our cuisine and discovered how truly limited many so-called Chinese restaurants in the west are.
Here were our first views on stepping outside our hotel in Lijiang. First, however, we joined a trip to explore the surrounding country around a town first made famous last century by those mythical travellers, British Bruce Chatwin. Russian Peter Goullart and American Joseph Rock.
Some roadside sights were very familiar to anyone who has lived in our part of the Lucchesia for some time.
We headed for a remote temple which has the oldest Camelia tree in the world.
As you’ll know tea is a species of camellia. We love the camellia festival in the Compitese area of the Pisan hills and regularly attend it. (For more on that see my posts at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/the-ravishing-camellias-of-compitese/ and https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/la-traviatas-favourite-flower/ and https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/one-hundred-roman-farms-and-one-thousand-camellias/ and https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/thankyou-camellia/ .
We’ve even inherited our own camellia tree when we bought our little house in 2005. We were thus very keen to visit the ancient lamasery of Yufeng. We were now in a border country where Confucianism, animism, and both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism coexist. Indeed, the ethnic minorities of this area count well over twenty different groups. The Yufeng lamasery belongs to the Scarlet sect (as distinct from the yellow hat – more of that when we enter Tibet) and dates back to 1756 (the year of Mozart’s birth…) during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (Qing dynasty).
We were welcomed by a chorus of Nakhi grandmothers:
It’s a miracle that this temple, like so many others we visited in the orient, has survived one of the three great misdirected vicissitudes (yes, today the Chinese government recognizes the fact that they were indeed misdirected…) namely the great famine, the great leap forwards and the Cultural Revolution.
It was thanks to a wonderful Nakhi man, Nadu Lama that the ancient camellia tree was saved from the destructive forces of the country’s equivalent of what’s still happening to the cultural heritage of Syria and Iraq. Sadly, we were too late to meet Nadu as he died last year but we regard him as one of the great unsung heroes of modern-day China.
My knowledge of architectural styles in this part of the world is sorely lacking but I gather Yufeng temple is an amalgam of Han (majority Chinese), Tibetan, Taoist and the local Nakhi (or Naxi) Dingba animist religion.
Unfortunately, we arrived at the wrong time of year to enjoy the wonderful blossoms of the camellia which are best appreciated in the spring and early summer.
The intimate atmosphere, the incredible convolutions of the camellia and the wonderful views, however, more than compensated for that and we did see a photograph of a blossoming shrub which has changed not only Chinese drinking habits but that of so many other countries including, of course, our own UK and has extended well into politics as well.
The camellia itself was planted by Emperor Chenghua of the Ming dynasty over five hundred years ago. It’s thus rather older than the temple itself. The flowers bloom for around a hundred days and the tree has over twenty thousand (!) blossoms). Incredibly, it’s two camellias in one: the pink camellia and the white. They seem to have bonded together like passionate lovers.
No wonder Nadu Lama devoted his entire life to protecting this one plant. Would you risk your life to protect one of earth’s natural glories in such a devoted fashion?
The whole area is indescribably beautiful but be warned, after recent rains, the temple steps (each temple must have its, usually steep, steps as it’s built on a hill, and you have to pay a little penance to get to its holy of holies) can get a little slippery!
PS In case your knowledge of Chinese dynasties is slim (as is mine) here is a chart to help you along when I describe later episodes in our eastern odyssey:
PPS Don’t worry if you can’t place them as easily as such terms as ‘mediaeval,’, ‘renaissance’, ‘rococo, or even ‘baroque’. The most important dynasties to remember are clearly the last two: the Ming and Qing.