Sunday, 29 August 2010

China, Part 2 - Yunnan, Hainan, Shanghai

On leaving Tibet we flew to Shangri-La. Unfortunately Shangri-La is not 'paradise on earth', just the Chinese town of Zhongdian which has been renamed for tourism purposes. (Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. Hilton describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise, and particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia — a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world).

in Shangri-La town

Our first visit in the area was just north of Shangri-La, to the 300-year-old Ganden Sumtseling Gompa Tibetan monastery, which is home to around 600 monks.

Ganden Sumtseling Gompa monastery, near Shangri-La

at Ganden Sumtseling Gompa monastery

ethnic Tibetan woman working in the fields near the monastery 

village roofs

The town itself is home to the world's largest prayer wheel (superseded in April 2012 by another even bigger prayer wheel in Heyin Town, Guide County, Qinghai Province, measuring 26.285 metres in height and 10.22 metres in diameter, and weighing 200 tons - see here).

large prayer wheel, Zhongdian

Next we headed to Tiger Leaping Gorge, 16 km long, which is one of the deepest gorges in the world (3900m).

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Nearby is the first bend of the Yangtze river - the place where the river curves and thus stays in China instead of flowing out of the country like the Mekong.

First bend of the Yangtze river

Continuing our journey south we then stayed in Lijiang - an old town which is a maze of cobbled streets and wooden buildings. The whole county of Lijiang was placed on UNESCO's world heritage list in 1999.

our hotel, Lijiang

Lijiang has been the base of the Naxi minority for about 1400 years. They form one of the 56 recognized ethnic groups officially recognised by the Republic of China. The Naxi script is an independently derived hieroglyphic writing system - probably the only hieroglyphic writing system still in use today.

Naxi script

The old town of Lijiang is criss-crossed by a web of canals that once brought the city's drinking water from a spring in Black Dragon Pool Park (see below). 

in Lijiang

pool, Lijiang

If there are three pools, one was used for drinking, one for washing clothes, and one for washing vegetables.

waterwheel, Lijiang

unidentified squirrel-like animal, Lijiang

Black Dragon Pool Park, north Lijiang; the pool was built in 1737

We also visited the old village of Baisha 8km north of Lijiang, an early Naxi stronghold. “Baisha” means “white sand” and not surprisingly it got its name from the natural white sand in the area.

Baisha village

Lijiang also has a new town.

statue of Mao, Lijiang new town

taichi, Lijiang new town

On leaving Lijiang we travelled south to Dali, which lies on the western edge of Erhai lake (erhai means 'ear-shaped'), at an altitude of 1900m. 

Erhai lake, near Dali

The main inhabitants of the region are the Bai ethnicity, who settled in the area about 3000 years ago; today they number about 1.5 million.

my husband with our guide, who was wearing traditional Bai costume

Dali's most famous sight are the Three Pagodas, three independent towers arranged on the corners of an equilateral triangle. The tallest of the three, the Qianxun Pagoda, has  16 tiers that reach a height of 70 metres and is one of the tallest pagodas in China’s history. It was originally built in the 9th century by engineers from Xian. The two smaller pagodas are both 10 tiers and 42 metres high. Behind the pagodas is Chongsheng temple.

the three pagodas, Dali

Dali Catholic Church has to be one of the most unusual churches to ever be built. Constructed in 1938 by the French in the style of traditional Chinese architecture, it has three sections of double-tiered eaves. During the Cultural Revolution in China the church was badly destroyed and it was closed. In 1984 the church was renovated by the Religious Department and has been listed under Historical Protection since 1985.

Catholic church, Dali

On leaving Dali we flew to Kunming, Yunnan province's capital and largest city. It's known as 'Spring City' for its equable climate. Like Dali it also has pagodas, known as the Eastern and Western pagodas, which were constructed in the late eighth or early ninth century, under the rule of the Kingdom of Nanzhao. The two are about 200 metres apart.

one of the two pagodas, Kunming

Yuantong temple is the largest Buddhist complex in Kunming. Over 1000 years old, it has seen many renovations.

Yuantong temple, Kunming, complete with incense smoke

The temple was built at the same time as the pagodas.

Yuantong temple, Kunming

South of Kunming is Lake Dian, which is about 40 km long and China's eighth largest lake. It was originally the model for the Kunming Lake in the Summer Palace in Beijing. Unfortunately the lake's current green colour is because the water is now highly polluted - so much so that the water is even unfit for agricultural or industrial use.

Lake Dian

On the western side of the lake are Xi Shan - the Western hills.

Xi shan (Western Hills) near Kunming

Seven kilometres east of Kunming is Golden Temple, a Taoist temple actually made of bronze that was once the summer residence of a 17th century warlord.

Golden temple, near Kunming

In the park surrounding the temple are replicas of Dian culture bronzes; the Dian people lived around Lake Dian from the 4th centiury BC until 109 BC.

replica of the ox and tiger table that became a symbol of Yunnan

We then flew to Hainan, an island off China's south coast a week of rest and relaxation. At 19° north of the equator it enjoys a tropical climate.

We were staying in a hotel not far from Sanya, Hainan's main resort town.

West island, off the coast of Sanya, Hainan

East island, off the coast of Sanya, Hainan

coast, near Sanya, Hainan

Next it was time to fly to Shanghai, China's economic hotspot.

Shanghai's iconic skyline, seen from the Bund

In 1842 Shanghai was a small town based on fishing and weaving. The British opened their first concession there that year, and the French followed suite in 1847. By 1853 Shanghai had already overtaken all other Chinese ports.

the same skyline at night

An International Settlement was established in 1863, the Japanese arrived in 1895, and the city was parcelled up into autonomous concessions, immune from Chinese law.

Broadway mansions Art Deco hotel, Shanghai

By the 1930s the city had 60 000 foreign residents and was the busiest international port in Asia.

Shanghai is also a busy commercial port

The city is divided into two areas: Pudong, east of the Huangpu river, and Puxi, west of the Huangpu river. The Huangpu is a tributary of the Yangtze river, which we saw in Yunnan.

the Bund seen from the Pudong side

Puxi is the more historical part of the city.

the Bund seen from the Pudong side

the Bund seen from the Pudong side
skyscrapers, Pudong, Shanghai

We admired the Park Hyatt hotel, the world's highest hotel above ground, situated between the 79th and 93rd floors of the Shanghai World Finance Center (SWFC). Little did we suspect that 8 months later we'd be back in Shanghai, staying in the hotel itself, having won a two-night stay there! (see here).

JinMao building (left); SWFC/park Hyatt (right)

We did however manage to sneak up in the lift and take some photos from the 79th floor! At the time the SWFC was the world's third tallest building.

view of Shanghai from the SWFC

view of Shanghai from the SWFC

Our visit to Shanghai coincided with the 2010 World Expo so we paid it a visit one day.

Chinese pavilion, World Expo

As the weather was extremely hot and the queues were long we limited our visits to the British and French pavilions - as passport holders we didn't need to queue up for either of those pavilions.

South Korean pavilion, World Expo

Nepalese pavilion, World Expo

Singapore pavilion, World Expo

Estonian pavilion, World Expo

The French Pavilion featured six paintings and one sculpture on loan from the Musée d'Orsay. The paintings included works by Paul Cézanne,Jean-François Millet, Édouard Manet, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin, while the sculpture was Auguste Rodin's The Age of Bronze'. 

exterior of French pavilion

The French pavilion won 3rd prize for best development of theme in the pavilion A category during the expo.

interior, French pavilion

The UK pavilion was built with 60,000 translucent acrylic rods that produced effects when the wind blew and was called the "Seed Cathedral" and nicknamed the "Dandelion".

exterior, British pavilion

The pavilion won Best Pavilion at the Expo.

interior, British pavilion

On leaving Shanghai we headed back up to Beijing by train, from where my husband left to go back to South Korea, while I flew to North Korea.

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