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South of the Clouds: Shaxi, Yunnan, China
Gadling was lucky enough to visit Shaxi in November on a trip with WildChina, during which we traced parts of China's tea-horse caravan route.
A tour of Shaxi
The first thing to do is visit the village's market square. Largely unchanged for centuries, the square is a quiet remnant of the bustling tea-horse days. It livens at night, when locals gather to dance and play music, and on Fridays, when Yi villagers dress up and descend from the hills to join Bai locals for trading and fun.
One one side of the square sits Xingjiao Temple, parts of which dates back to the early 1400s. Part of Shaxi's restoration project, the temple was once a headquarters during the Cultural Revolution and was also used for grain storage. Today it is a quiet courtyard off of a quiet square, interrupted only by the occaisonal Chinese official with a cigarette, screaming into his mobile phone.
Also in the square sits the Sideng Theater, the most prominent building in the area. A small museum has been established in the refurbished building, and plans are underway to re-open shops along the ground floor.
Courtyard homes and guesthouses make up much of the rest of Shaxi. We were invited into the home of Ouyang Shengxian, a 70-year-old Bai man whose father and grandfather were muleteers on the tea-horse road. Ouyang's ancient courtyard home once housed traders traveling the route. His kitchen has changed very little in the past couple of centuries (see photo gallery), and Ouyang himself seems from another time. Wearing a thin, cracked leather jacket held closed by two pieces of bright red yarn, Ouyeng recalled for us not only his stories, but those of his grandfather and father (who was killed at 33 by bandits). Though he never worked the tea-horse road, Ouyang traded salt from the nearby Misha salt mines, as well as worked in coal mines.
The Laomadian Lodge, off of Market Square, is another venue that was used as accommodation for tea-horse road travelers. Comprised of several coutyards, the 151-year-old venue still has the original cabinets that horsemen slept on top of to guard their personal belongings. White reflecting walls in the courtyards display restored Bai paintings, and, as with all of Shaxi, stepping across the threshold of the inn feels as though you have stepped back through centuries in time.
Stay tuned for more on things to do around Shaxi.
For more about Gadling's tour of Yunnan, click here.
Though my trip through Yunnan was partially funded by WildChina, the opinions expressed here are 100% my own.