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A hidden gem off the beaten track for hiking, visiting ancient sites, and seeing ethnic people live traditionally is Precious Stone Mountain. Precious Stone Mountain (Shibaoshan in Chinese) is a tall mountain with three peaks named Mount Baoding, Mount Shisan, and Mount Shizhong. The highlights of the historical sites include Haiyun Villa, Baoxiang Temple, and the Rock Caves on Stone Bell Mountain. The Sideng Market of Shaxi Township was added to the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in 2001. The combination of the pristine natural scenery on the high mountain area with great places to hike in such as Shibaoshan Nature Reserve, the historical sites of Shaxi Village and the nearby temples and caves with ancient art, a market for the buying of goods produced in the valley by the local ethnic people, and an opportunity to see Bai and Yi people living more traditionally than in more touristy places all make Precious Stone Mountain an interesting place to go.
Natural Scenery and Hiking
The three thousand meter or 10,100 feet high Shibaoshan Mountain has three peaks, more than ten Yi villages in the high elevations, and Shibaoshan Nature Reserve that is 2667 hectares (10 square miles) that protects pristine areas and the diverse species of plants and animals that live there. Since the area is not a major tourist destination in China, the area is good for hiking and finding quiet places to enjoy nature. Shibaoshan Nature Reserve is a scenic highlight where you can walk through old forests.
Shibaoshan Nature Reserve is in the southern edge of an area that has been listed as one of the key biodiversity hotspot regions in the world because the area has a range of ecological zones ranging up to alpine that harbor rare plant and animal species and unusually diverse flora and fauna. Many plants and animals are found only in this region. This biologically diverse region is mirrored by cultural diversity. On hikes in the old forests on the mountain, you may see uncommon plants and animals, and you’ll walk along trails and paths used by the Yi people and visit their villages. You may find food and lodging in the villages.
The people in this valley were in a backwater in Yunnan. There were no factories or industries. The people were living an agrarian lifestyle. The two big ethnic groups are the Yi who live mainly in villages on the mountain and the Bai who mainly live in Shaxi Township in the valley. They are poor by modern standards. But their lifestyles mimic the lifestyles of their ancestors more than Bai and Yi people do in places like Lijiang and Dali. So during a visit here, you’ll experience something of life 100 years ago in these mountains.
For millennia, this area was on trade routes between Chinese Dynasties, Tibet, India and the empires to the west and Southeast Asian Kingdoms and tribes. During the Tang Dynasty (618-906), both the rulers and the common people in the Tubo Empire in the Tibetan mountains developed a great appetite for drinking tea to supplement their diet that was rich in diary and meat. The tea helped them digest their food.
This region has plenty of nearby attractions, including other mountains, ancient sites, temples, caves, forests, hiking areas, historic towns and traditional markets. Precious Stone Mountain is southeast of the Three Parallel River (Jinsha, Lancang, Nujiang) Nature Reserve area that is the center of one of the world's key "biosphere hotspots." The region is very important to protect. UNESCO put the Three Parallel River Nature Reserve area on the list of World Natural and Cultural Heritage Sites in 2002. Shaxi Township is only about 4 hours away from both Dali and Lijiang. Lijiang was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Lijiang is famous for its layout. In nearby Dali, you can visit the ancient district and see the Three Pagodas that date from the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdom eras, hike on Cangshan Mountain and visit Erhai Lake. The historical Bai town of Xizhou is located close to Dali.
The Shaxi Valley is midway between the major tourist destinations of Lijiang and Bali, so travel isn’t difficult. About the easiest and quickest way to travel there is on the road by bus, private car or taxi. A road connects Lijiang and Dali, and the valley is west of the road. A side road that enters the valley intersects with the main road at the little town of Diannan. The distance from Diannan to Shaxi is about 25 kilometers. There is also bus service from the town of Jinchuan on the main road 9 kilometers north of Diannan. Travel from Dali to Shaxi takes about 3 and a half or 4 hours. Travel from Lijiang to Shaxi takes about three hours. Travel from Kunming takes about 9 hours.
You can also take a cruise boat from Jianchuan or even from as far away as Dali to see the countryside. From Jianchuan, buses head for Xiaguan Airport in the modern district of Dali. The flight from Dali to Kunming takes 45 minutes.