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Lijiang was a former trading town and a stop for traders carrying goods on the Ancient Tea Horse Road. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
The architecture of the old town is noteworthy for the blending of elements from several cultures. The town also possesses an ancient water supply system of great complexity and ingenuity.
Now, the small city has been commercialized and millions of tourists visit every year, but it is still worth a visit.
Three ancient districts are included in the World Heritage List in 1997: Dayan Old Town, Baisha Quarter and Shuhe Ancient Town. The three old districts retain a special character of old Naxi and Han construction and Naxi customs, arts and culture.
Dayan Old Town is paved with cobbled stone throughout and lined with many shops selling local tea, snacks and souvenirs. The old town is best viewed from above, so try and find a rooftop spot to get a look at the beautiful overview.
The Baisha Quarter and the Shuhe District are less developed than the Dayan Ancient City District. So to see more traditionally decorated buildings and the older construction, Baisha Quarter and Shuhe are the places to go.
The waterworks system is an important engineering feature of the town mentioned in the UNESCO World Heritage List description. The people took advantage of the Jade River to build a complex water system that people liken to the canal system of Venice.
The river flows from the north of the town, divides into 3 tributaries, and then divides into many streams that flow through courtyards and past houses in a southerly direction.
The streams were channeled into ponds or basins for use. However, modern construction and sewage problems have destroyed much of the original waterworks.
Naxi culture is special because the people are less modernized and the people developed a writing system, a music style, and a religion different than the majority of Chinese.
The Naxi writing system uses hieroglyphs instead of Chinese characters. The Naxi are the only people who still use hieroglyphs to write in the world. However, only a handful of Naxi, perhaps ten people, who are almost all elderly people now know how to read the glyphs.
The Naxi traditional music style has a long history. You can hear people playing their instruments in the Dayan Ancient City District. An orchestra of Naxi musicians performs there regularly. Since the little town was influenced by people from other lands who passed though, their music probably incorporated the styles and instruments of ethnic groups in a wide region.
Lijiang didn't become an important town on the Ancient Tea Horse Road until the end of the Southern Song (1127-1279) and the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).
During the early years of the Yuan Dynasty, about 1,000 families inhabited Lijiang Old Town. The town continued to grow, and it reached a peak during the Ming (AD 1368-1644) and Qing (AD 1644-1911) dynasties.
In 1996, there was a big earthquake of magnitude 7.0 on the Richter Scale in Lijiang. Houses, bridges and waterworks were rebuilt, renovated and restored.
After the three Lijiang districts were named in the Heritage List in 1997, the flood of tourists also brought many people from other areas of China. This drove up prices in the area, and many Naxi and other local people moved away.
The best times to visit Lijiang are from late March to May and mid-October to November.
In winter, the low nightly temperatures are a little above freezing. So bring plenty of clothes. Bring rain gear for the rainy season between June and September.
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