Horse-trekking on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain 

Written by Apr 7, 2007 17:04
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Getting there

It was early in the morning on my first on my first full day in Lijiang that I ran across a good-looking Naxi native woman, named He Xiao Wan. She couldn't speak any english, but my rudimentary Chinese sparked an interest in her eyes. She handed me a business card with a picture of a late-model car, telephone numbers and Chinese characters. She told me she was in the tour business and has access to a car to take me wherever. Honestly, I wasn't planning to go anywhere that day, but I asked her where I could buy a cup of coffee in old town Lijiang. She escourted me a a food vending booth and asked if I was hungry. Snce i was, I bought some coffee and a bowl of soup noodles. As I ate I practiced talking with her in chinese and her how nice looking that I thought she was. I also mentioned that I wanted to visit YuFeng Si (Jade Peak temple) to see the Wanduo Shancha (Camellia Tree of 10,000 Blossoms). No sooner had I done this Miss He was on her mobile phone calling to arrange a ride for me.

We walked through old town Lijiang, stock-filled with vending booths selling unique Chinese art, as the sun was just clearing the nearby mountain peaks for, what promised to be, a sunny, warm day. At the bottom of the hill there sat a old white van with a smiling Naxi man sitting in the driver's seat. Miss He introduced me to her brother as I climbed into van and tossed my daypack into the rear seat.

YuFeng Monastery

The van was an older rig, for the upscaled Lijiang viewscape. But it seemed sturdy enough to sit back and enjoy the ride out of Lijiang. Along the way, there were demolished buildings, parks with colorfully-dressed naxi women dancing and, of course, the serrated peaks of Yulong Xueshan looming n the distance. The Naxi siblings kept on talking to me in PuTongHua, like I was a local.

Unfortunately, I could only understand about one-tenth of what they were saying. But, they did keep pointing out horses and asking if I liked the QiMa (ride horses). Being a country folk from Idaho, of course I've spent many days out on the range in the saddle, I told them (wo cong xiangxia lai, dang ran keyi qimu!) of course, I liked riding horses!

The van pulled into a crowded parking lot below the gates to the monastery. I was surprised since it was early in the morning that there were so many tourists. But, hey, this is Lijiang and the vendors had their tables set up for another bustling day of business. The entrance fee to this monastery was 20 RMB and as I walked in the first thing that I noticed is that I was the only westerner in sight. Fragrant smells from potted shrubs (a type of gardenia) filled the air between the wafts of incense people burned as they entered. The incense sticks that they tried to sell me were HUGE! These things would burn for hours and were thicker than wedding cigars! I passed on buying the incense.

The monastery had many large, older trees throughout the grounds. One sign claimed that a large magnolia tree was more than 300 years old. There were many flowering plum, cherry and apple trees also planted there.

Yufeng monastery was built during the last years of the Qing dynasty regime of Kangxi. The main courtyardconsists of a hallway, a main hall as well as two other smaller courtyards. This kind of layout epitomised the typical architectural layout of a traditional Chinese courtyard. The main hallway faces the direction of the east and the entire roof is decorated. This is a classic example of the Qing dynasty's style of architecture layout of a traditional Chinese courtyard. On the rooftop of the monastery, there are wall paintings of the Buddha of "MiZong" Lama religion. In addition, pictures of the Buddha can be found in the main hall and on every pillar of the building. But the main attraction of this monastery is the Camellia tree of 10,000 Blossoms. while the number of blossoms may be a bit exaggerated, I was visiting this monastery during blooming season and eagerly anticipated viewing this sight.

After walking up a series of stairwells, Miss He and I entered into a sunny, opened courtyard where there stood the famous bush. Countless peoplewere there taking pictures of their family in front of this Camellia. So many people, that I decided that perhaps just a single bloom might make a better picture. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of flower blooms on this trellised, old plant, I walked behind the bush and took my photo of a single bloom with the blue sky and bright sunlight behind.

Unexpected surprise

The courtyards of WuFeng Monastery were very attractive and fragrant. Afterhaving viewed the camellia of 10,000 blooms, Miss He and i went back to the van. The driver spoke some unintelligeble Chinese and the next thing I knew we were headed up YuLong Xueshan, instead of back into town. I was enjoying the ride and we passed many panamoric sights along the way. When the van stopped, I could tell that we were at a truly Chinese tourist destination. When we walked into the main building, there were pictures of horses, the mountain and horses on the mountain. This could mean only one thing.....this place offered guided horse-treeking trips up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain! I listened intently as the tour planner pointed at various routes available on a map drawing on the wall. I could understand here when she mentioned fees for the different lengths of treks, but didn't understand much else. Since I was on a paid vacation, I decided that I wanted to spend the whole day horseback riding, so I purchased the 300 RMB package.

Miss He, however, wasn't going to go with me on the ride. Since I had checked out of a guesthouse in old town, I had a 30-pound daypack that I didn't want to carry up the mountain with me. So, I had to make a fast decision. Should I trust 2 Naxi people to keep my daypack (with passport, money and other valuables) in their van,or should I take it with me on the trek? I told them that I trusted them as I would my friends and opted to leave my valuables in the van.
Then I walked back tothe stables and the Naxi already had a horse and a guide picked out for me to ride. The horse looked somewhat frail and small, but it was equipped with a comfortable saddle, bridle and stirrups. The guide, a 56-year old Naxi man also named He, looked at me enthusiastically with encouragement. At this point, I didn't know what to expect,was he going to ride along with me, or was he going to walk all the way up the mountain with the horse harness in hand?

Up the mountain

Traveling independently in a foreign-speaking country has risks, as well as rewards waiting for every traveler. I didn't plan go on a horse-trek when i arrived in Lijiang. But as Lao Tzu would say, " A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving", I decided to "throw caution to the wind" this day and just do it. I wound up having 2 other Chinese riders, with their guides, join us for the trek.
Aswe wound up the mountain, the valley of Lijiang became more and more distant.

Flowering shrubs, piles of rocks and the dirt trail were all around. As we climbed, more and more pine trees were visible, then further on, fir and spruce trees. My horse seemed to clamour along lazily at the outset, but when we got to s teeper, rougher terrain, this horse showed tremendous agility and endurance. It would even gallop if the guide gave it the right signal. My guide, it turned out was partially deaf. He would communicate with the horse in grunting and wailing sounds, and the horse semmed to understand this.

After about 2 hours of climbing, we came upon an old wooden building sitting in a clearing. Inside of this building, there were cooks sitting around a barbeque and a pantry. Although unlit, the smells from the barbeque started to make me hungry as a woman offered me a cup of green tea. It turned out there were about 6 riders and 8 or 9 guides for the lunch this day. We were served BBQ beef, corn-on-the-cob, potatoes and tea. A simple banquet, but I was pleasantly surprised with their rustic hosting. Also, thank goodness, plenty of hot, clean water.

Mid-day was upon us, as we mounted the horses and continued to ascend. Remnants of snow and ice became visible as the trail became much steeper. There were parts of the trail so steep that we had to dismount and walk up the mountain with our guides. Although I couldn't identify many plants in this terrain, I did not several sprouting rhododendrons and wild peach bushes, blooming in brilliant pink. After a steep climb, we entered into a rocky meadow. Here my guide handed me the reigns to the hoses, shouted something in Naxi. or mountain guide talk, and this frail, little horse was off to the races! It galloped furiously through the meadow and I had to hold onto the reigns tightly. When I pulled back on the reigns, it just continued to run. I was a little frightened. Finally, after tugging hard on the ropes, the horse came to a halt. I was impressed that this horse could run so swiftly after such a climb!

After another ascent, we entered into a smaller meadow that had a smaller wooden building on the flanks. Although the trail continue beyond the building, I knew that this was as high up as we were going. The trail beyond the meadow was simply too steep to ride any further. If a person wanted to climb to the summit, I am sure that this was the direction to go. All around us were jagged precipes of rocks. The air temperature was much cooler and the wind much stiffer. The horse were allowed to rest while the riders took pictures and scampered up the mountain. I rested beside a rock and talked with some Naxi guides the best that I could. It seemed that they wanted to trade me some clothing for my black pearl bracelet. I told them that the bracelet was a special gift and I wouldn't part with it. They looked at it with amazement. Maybe they had never seen authentic black pearls, shimmering with blue and green colors, ever before. After resting, the temperatures seemed to drop and I was ready for the descent.

Arriving back at the van

The descent back down Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was very eventful. My horse, it appeared, was eager to get back to his personal stable. He descended much faster than the other horses. Along the way, another guide in front of us twisted his ankle and had to sit down for awhile. Further down the mountain, he reappeared, limping briskly, to again handle the reigns. I felt sorry for him because he was obviously in a lot of pain. I told him that he could ride my horse back and that I would walk. But he refused. This reinforced my feelings that these Naxi mountain guides are tough people. My guide, Mr. He, smoked cigarettes and was 56 years old. I wondered how long that he has been leading trips up the mountain....

I tried calling Miss He, to let her know that we would be back down the mountain sooner than I expected. But, her mobile phone was turned off. I started to wonder if maybe I wouldn't see them again. I had left my passport, several thousand RMB and other personal valuables in the van with her and her brother. This was a true test on the honesty and integrity of the Naxi people. Should I have done this? No! Would I have done this back in my home country, the U.S.A.? No.

So, I was a little concerned by my own lack of planning at this stage. My guide and I broke off from the other riders near the bottom. Mr. He wanted to show me his home. When we arrive there, it was an older Naxi brick and mud stucture. Mr. He lived in a one-room sleeping house. He unsaddled the horse, gave it fresh straw and water and showed me around his dwelling. It had good, clean running water, but very few appliances. It was modest, at best, and I could easily tell that my guide was a simple peasant. But I also know that he is an excellent horseman andguide. Next, we walked back to the parking lot and the white van, with Miss He was parked there. I said hello and then glanced in the rear seat for my pack. Hallelujah!! It was there! So, I thought, a fitting end to another day of adventure and unexpected surprises in China! That's when I had the driver take the final photograph.

Lijiang is a very commercial city, hosting thousands of visitors a day. While money seems to be the standard of value everywhere these days, it was good to have met and gotten to know some of the Naxi folks of Lijiang. I believe that they are good, upright people and they proved it to me on this day. Miss He and i never got back together during my remaining 4 days in Lijiang.

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Comments (1)


Apr 9, 2007 22:58 Reply


This remind me of my days in Lijiang. Oh yes of course I won't forget the horse riding trek of Yun shan Pin. Believe it or nor,I was dragged by the horse. But I still think I can ride.:)

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