Okay so the Chinese New Year holiday finally got the better of us and in the absence of a sleeper bus to Shangri-la we turned down the 8 hour daytime coach and instead headed to Lijiang early.
Two accidents, two hours of standing traffic and two hundred thousand beeps of the horn later and all the associated stress fizzled away as we were led by the energetic bell boy through the twisting winding cobbled back alleyways of Lijiang’s old town. Red lantern’s everywhere, around every corner a new smell and a curious courtyard.
Of course the tourists made it here too (as if we aren’t) and during the day the lanes are rammed full of people trying out the local delicacies: fried round rice pancakes (oil), autonomous machine made walnut balls (delicious), instruments made from gourd, lumps of slightly preserved pork (avoided) and anything you can possibly make with yak milk.
We cycled up to Baisan, a less developed (but heading that way) village full of cows and dogs and the traditionally dressed Naxi people all who got about their day whilst we tried to understand a really badly drawn map. In fact, we may not have even been in Baisan at all but the “backpacker joe’s” style coffee bars in amongst the hay and piles of trash kind of indicated we had made it.
Up and over the hills to the east we hit cowboy country... or at least a collection of ramshackle hamlets around a huge lake, full to the hilt with tourists on horses. We managed to find an empty, peaceful spot (where a particular ramshackle hut had seen it’s end) and sat surrounded by some rare birds whilst an old man in a canoe punted over to offer us some pretty dodgy looking dried fish. We politely refused.