Tag Archives: UNESCO World Heritage

Lijiang & Shuhe

My time here in Yunnan is nearly finished so I decided to come to Lijiang to say good bye to some friends before going back to the mountains for the last few weeks.

Lijiang is a must-see for all the tourists in Yunnan (among Dali and now increasingly Shaxi). Especially Chinese tourist companies do cheap package tours here which has resulted in the place turning into a Naxi culture Disneyland. Lijiang got famous after the old town survived a massive earth quake in 1997. It was also accepted to the UNESCO World Heritage list. I visited Lijiang first time in 1999 during the winter. It was so quiet and beautiful! Now the old town is at least 3 times the size it was then and most of the Naxi minority people have sold their properties in old town to entrepreneurs from other parts of China.

Another reason for Lijiang’s popularity is it’s reputation as a matriarchal society. To quote Lonely planet ”The Naxi are descendants of Tibetan nomads and they lived until recent times in matriarchal families although the local rulers were always men. Still, it seems that women are running the show. Naxi matriarchs held their power over men through flexible love affairs. This azhu (friendship) system permitted the couple to be lovers without a marriage. Boyfriend could spend his nights at a girlfriends house but would return to his mother’s house to live and work at day time. The possible children of the couple would belong to the mother who was responsible for raising them. The father would offer support but if the relationship came to an end so did the support. The children would live with their mother and recognizing fatherhood wasn’t very important.Women would inherit all the property.”(Lonely Planet 1998: 845.)

In reality the Naxi are strictly patriarchal and patrilineal. The reason why women seem to run the show is that Naxi men leave all the work to women, be it farming or running a business. The azhu relationships are practiced by Mosuo people who live at the Lugu Lake and are counted as a part of Naxi nationality. But not even the Mosuo are matriarchal, but matrilineal. Girls inherit their mothers but both political and religious power belongs to men. And now this matriliny might work against the girls as the families prefer them to stay home instead of getting an education outside.

The third reason for Lijiang’s popularity is that most people use it as a stop over on the way to Tiger Leaping Gorge which is probably one of the most popular treks in China. Actually the gorge is located in Shangri-la but Lijiang seems to have hijacked most of the tourism. This also applies to tourists heading north to Meili Snow Mountains. Most of the tourists get their drivers and guides or the whole tours from Lijiang. And this is the reason why most of the young men of Xidang village are in Lijiang. They all want to make money from tourism by guiding or driving customers.

Yunnan’s old towns all resemble one another with their cobbled streets, canals and shops all selling the same crap. And nearly all of the buildings have been turned into guesthouses, shops or bars/restaurants. Shopping is the most popular form of entertainment.


As Lijiang is really busy especially during the high season, another old town opened up nearby, Shuhe. I visited Shuhe in 2005 and at the time it was a sleepy little village. Now it’s a copy of Lijiang, although a bit smaller and somewhat more quiet. But the difference is not big.


Both of the photos in this post are from Shuhe a few years ago. Lijiang can be beautiful also if you wake up 6 am to avoid the crowds but I can’t be bothered to do that. And the old pics from 1999 are on paper back home.


Nature preserve

The Meili Snow Mountains nature preserve is located at the Hengduan Mountains. The area belongs to ‘Tree parallel rivers’ nature preserve which belongs to UNESCO world heritage sites. The whole area is 1, 7 billion hectares and consists of 15 nature preserves. Three of China’s big rivers run here close to each other, Yangtze (Jinsha), Mekong and Nu (Salween). The rivers have carved deep gorges; gorges that are sometimes even 3 000 m deep, so the biodiversity in the area is very rich. Here are some of the reasons for including this area on the world heritage list:

Kawa Gebo ang Mingyong glacier

Superlative natural phenomena or natural beauty and aesthetic importance The deep, parallel gorges of the Jinsha, Lancang and Nu Jiang are the outstanding natural feature of the site; while large sections of the three rivers lie just outside the site boundaries, the river gorges are nevertheless the dominant scenic element in the area. High mountains are everywhere, with the glaciated peaks of the Meili, Baima and Haba Snow Mountains providing a spectacular scenic skyline. The Mingyongqia Glacier is a notable natural phemonenon, descending to 2700 m altitude from Mt Kawagebo, and is claimed to be the glacier descending to the lowest altitude for such a low latitude (28° N) in the northern hemisphere. Other outstanding scenic landforms are the alpine karst (especially the ‘stone moon’ in the Moon Mountain Scenic Area above the Nu Jiang Gorge) and the ‘tortoise shell’ weathering of the alpine Danxia.

Mekong River in Xidang

The property is of outstanding value for displaying the geological history of the last 50 million years associated with the collision of the Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate, the closure of the ancient Tethys Sea, and the uplifting of the Himalaya Range and the Tibetan Plateau. These were major geological events in the evolution of the land surface of Asia and they are on-going. The diverse rock types within the site record this history and, in addition, the range of karst, granite monolith, and Danxia sandstone landforms in the alpine zone include some of the best of their type in the mountains of the world.

Thousand Turtle Mountain in Liming

Biodiversity and threatened species Northwest Yunnan is the area of richest biodiversity in China and may be the most biologically diverse temperate region on earth. The site encompasses most of the natural habitats in the Hengduan Mountains, one of the world’s most important remaining areas for the conservation of the earth’s biodiversity. The outstanding topographic and climatic diversity of the site, coupled with its location at the juncture of the East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Tibetan Plateau biogeographical realms and its function as a N-S corridor for the movement of plants and animals (especially during the ice ages), marks it as a truly unique landscape, which still retains a high degree of natural character despite thousands of years of human habitation. As the last remaining stronghold for an extensive suite of rare and endangered plants and animals, the site is of outstanding universal value.


The land area encompassed by Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas is one of the world’s least-disturbed temperate ecological areas, an epicentre of Chinese endemic species and a natural gene pool of great richness. It supports the richest diversity of higher plants of China…. The park has 22 vegetation subtypes and 6,000 plant species. The area is believed to support over 25% of the world’s animal species, many being relict and endangered. There is a concentration of the country’s rare and endangered animals within the nominated area.

The Meili Snow Mountains consists of seven snow mountains. The mountains are holy for the Tibetans so climbing them is forbidden. The most holy are Kawa Gebo (Kawa Kharpo) and his wife Miancimu. Kawa Gebo is also the highest peak (6 745 m). The main tourist destinations in the area are Mingyong glacier and Yubeng village. Yubeng is a Tibetan village located in a valley between three of the snow mountains (Miancimu, Buddha’s fist and Knight). There is no road to Yubeng: to get there you have to either trek or ride a mule. The glaciers here are the lowest lying glacier at this latitude in the world so they are quickly disappearing. My Tibetan grandmother is originally from Mingyong village. In her youth the glacier went all the way down to Mekong river. Now maybe half of it is gone. There are many animal species here, including bears, wolfs and the endangered Yunnan snub-nosed golden monkey. There are also many kinds of birds, like lammergeyers and other big vultures. In the spring the mountains are decorated with blooming wild flowers, like azaleas and rhododendrons. Many of our garden flowers originate from here. You can also find many wild vegetables, like rhubarb and celery. The richness of plant species was the reason why first westerners here were the so called plant hunters like Joseph Rock.