Tiger Leaping Gorge is the deepest in the world.
Just when you thought you'd reached tropical paradise, you awaken to find snow blowing in the windows of the mini-bus. When you arrive in Lijiang and the sun comes out, it warms a bit.
Lijiang lies as the end of the "Burma Road," a strategic transport corridor during WWII. During the war, the corridor was protected by the American "Flying Tigers," who were stationed in Lijiang. Some of the older doctors in the area show you magazine clippings to prove that they treated some of the airforce fighters.
Parts of Lijiang are in ruins, but not from the war. On Feb 3, 1996, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the town, destroying 410,000 houses, injuring 16,000 people, and killing 304. The destruction is still evident. When you ask residents about the event, they describe being thrown from their feet by the shock waves.
While walking the streets, you notice that the merchants are women. In fact, the Naxi people who reside in this area are matriarchal. The men spend most of their time smoking cigarettes and playing music (which might explain why Lijiang is the last enclave of ancient Chinese court music). You ponder this as your gaze wanders out the window of your hotel room and into the peaks of the Himalayas.
Lake Erhai provides food and transport for the Dali area, south of Lijiang.
You've been lucky enough to arrive during Chinese New Year. Firecrackers dominate the rowdier celebrations, and injuries are common. Organized dancing is a welcomed respite from the explosions.
Later, you witness a celebration of Guanyin's (the boddhisattva of compassion) birthday, performed by memebers of the Bai minority.
At last, you can't stand just staring into the distant peaks. You want to go there. At the moment, the political climate is uneasy, so the government has closed Tibet to foreigners. Undaunted, you ask a local how to get there, and he points to a truck.
As you approach the truck, the Bai and Naxi passengers begin to laugh and smile. The driver encourages you to come along for a small fare. You pause, because it could be death on wheels.
Will you continue to Tibet , or will you back-track to Kunming and hop on a cramped and smokey sleeper bus for a 24 hour ride to tropical Xishuangbanna ?
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