Traveling the Ancient Horse Tea Caravan Trail, Yunnan
Sacred Cangshen (mountains) and The Jade Belt Wandering Cloud path
These are the mountains sacred to the Bai minority people of northwest Yunnan. They are on the west side of ErHai Lake ( ear-shaped sea). The path, reached by a moderately paced (most everything here is moderately paced), 2 person chairlift (or climbing, if so equipped), runs approximately 11 miles across these mountains on a fairly level paved, blue-stone path.
The lift passed over many shrines/tombs built amongst the trees on this sacred mountain with sod roofs so that the forest can grow around them. Like a scene from a mystical fairy tale.
At the top of the lift and level with the path is Zhonghe Temple, Taoist, built 738-902.
The path is at the altitude where the Jade Cloud usually occurs, like a belt along the range, so walkers on the path would pass through the clouds. We had a sunny day with views across the lake and up to the peaks, (Zhonge Peak is 4092 meters) Over the seven miles or so we walked, we found deep valleys and gorges and small rivulets and waterfalls... places where travelers wedged sticks under rocky overhangs as if to hold up the mountain. Many side paths were closed, but we enjoyed the mossy, lichen covered rocks and rising mist from the valleys and a sighting of a most theatrical bird - a Lady Amherst’s pheasant ( photo courtesy of an alpine bird site with no reference to local name) and the feeling that so many people have walked this path in peaceful contemplation over centuries. And... this traveling, for me, certainly focuses on sacred mountains and tea and sharing these experiences with my daughter.
There is Dali City, which wraps around the southern lobe of ErHai Lake and is modern and bustling and then there is Ancient City of Dali and its surrounds, where we stayed on the west bank. Some consider this the Chiang-Mai of Yunnan because western spiritual travelers (ie, hippies) landed here years ago and it is a village vibe with children playing in front of shops, small dogs wearing human clothes, and very friendly folks . During our time here, we saw only 5 other foreigners and Emma’s excellent Mandarin was quite necessary.
Dali, in fact most of this northwest Yunnan area, is known for its flowers and mix of mushroom infused foods, particularly roses. And, apparently, love. (Side note: on our hotel room side table was displayed a packaged condom with an image of a sunglassed, happy “condom man”)
We ate twice at the Xinghui Fairy Dali Love Theme Restaurant, where people came to declare their love via “love certificates” which were then added to the restaurant walls. The ErHai Lake fish stew, cooked by adding hot rocks to the broth, was sublime with its delicate celeriac? slices. Shipping Tofu - pan fried with an egg yolk? broth of chilies and peas and fresh herbs - mmmm! And chicken in clay pot with buckwheat noodles. Our waitress treated us to a warm mug of, what we think was, honey broth, fragrant Dali snow pear bits, a form of cabbage and a bit of rose water. We think this is supposed to be good for digestion. And, at the end, a small, beautiful blue dish of extremely aromatic rose liquor.
We went back to Xinghui ( by now the same waitress and Emma were laughing together) for the fish stew and, this time, a most comforting mix of shredded chicken and mushrooms and Bamboo rice, which is smoked in bamboo with a few sweet beans.
In the walled ancient city of Dali, we saw the Bai architecture and bravely tasted the pepper prevalent Bai chicken dish and mushroom mix. And, a large, intricately designed smoker device, the windows of which changed colors as if from some scI-fi movie.
The occasional English translation on signs, such as our fave Fairy Love restaurant and a shop subtitled “Formerly Slow” add to Dali’s endearing nature.
Doing research to learn more about these experiences is challenging as my VPN is blocked for days and google, including my gmail, is banned from my Chinese data plan. The upside, is that this trip is that much more experiential!
A place to decant my brain, to capture inspiration and share fresh insights. [Posts from 2015 onward]