China 2012 - Part 3

The 2012 Meeting of the International Clematis Society in Yunnan Province, China

This is the third of my informal reports about the visit by the Society to Yunnan province, China during the first two weeks of June 2012. A comprehensive set of reports by attendees will be published in Clematis International 2013.

If you missed the first or second installments, covering our arrival in Kunming city, visit to the Stone Forest, the Bird and Flower Market first day in Dali, tea ceremony, Chinese village market, Tie Dye Workshop, Dali Town, Journey to Lijiang, Plant Hunting in Gang Ho Ba pass and Bai Shui, you can find them at China 2012 - 01 and China 2012 - 02 and you can read my final report at China 2012 - 04.

Sunday 10th June - Gang Ho Ba Lower Pass

Restaurant staff pep-talk©Ken WoolfendenWith an eye on the weather forecast it was decided to return to the Gang Ho Ba region for more botanizing, but this time to visit the Lower Pass. As we drove out of Lijiang I was fascinated to see that staff at a number of restaurants were gathered outside for what appeared to be a pep-talk from, I assume, their manager.

Botanising in Gang Ho Ba National Park©Ken Woolfenden We arrived at Gang Ho Ba National Park and drove some miles inside, to a place where the track to the Lower Pass started. Almost immediately a Park Ranger came over to see what we were doing. I don't think they get many coaches of foreign plant hunters.

Setting off©Ken Woolfenden Newly made trail©Ken Woolfenden

To get to the Lower Pass one has first has to climb over a ridge. Some years ago this would have meant tackling a steep rough path but a wider track has now been made. It makes the trek relatively easy, though we were a bit concerned at the impact on the nature.

Gang Ho Ba Lower Pass©Ken Woolfenden Over the ridge and the pass spread out in front of us. A flat white plain, with trees and shrubs around the edges, the white due to chemical deposits over many years.
Hunting for treasure©Ken WoolfendenFor the next few hours we investigated the plant life at the edges of the plain. We found quite a few interesting flowers, though if you are interested in identifying them I suggest you visit the website of Harry Jans at
Clematis in Gang Ho Ba Lower Pass©Ken WoolfendenWe also found clematis - not in flower but definitely clematis - growing virtually on the ground, often from underneath stone.

As we waited for the last of the group to return to the coach, three young men came past with a couple of strings of ponies. I suspect they had been at the limestone falls further up the valley (see Report 2), giving rides to tourists and were now going home for the night.

Two of the riders decided to put on a show for us and doubled back so that they could gallop past us.
Ponies in Gang Ho Ba©Ken Woolfenden Two young riders©Ken Woolfenden

Mon 11th June - Sights around Lijiang

Yuhu Village and the Joseph Rock Residence

Flowery Headgear©Ken WoolfendenAfter two days of botanizing, the programme for Monday gave us the opportunity to see some of the sights around Lijiang. We started in the village of Yuhu, famous as the place where Joseph Rock, plant hunter, was based for over 25 years. As we parked and got off the coach we were surrounded by villagers selling floral wreaths. Very colourful, very fresh and very cheap (relatively speaking), they sold quite a few.

Joseph Rock Residence©Ken WoolfendenFirst stop was the Joseph Rock Residence. The house, as most Chinese houses are, is built around a courtyard, along with animal and storage barns. There were some beautiful woodwork panels. Inside the house were various articles and memorabilia that had belonged to Joseph Rock plus many old photographs, though unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside.

Joseph Rock Residence Courtyard©Ken Woolfenden Joseph Rock Residence Courtyard©Ken Woolfenden

After visiting the Residence we had time to stroll around the village.

Yuhu Village©Ken Woolfenden House Entrance in Yuhu Village©Ken Woolfenden
House Entrance in Yuhu Village©Ken Woolfenden Beautiful Fretwork Screen©Ken Woolfenden

We went into the courtyards of a few of the houses. The layout was very similar to the Rock Residence, with barns and storage buildings on the left side and facing the entrance and a new family home on the right. The grandmother (at least I think that's who it was) sat outside preparing vegetables seemed completely unphased by the invasion of her home by interested tourists.

Yuhu House Courtyard©Ken Woolfenden Yuhu House Courtyard©Ken Woolfenden
Yuhu House Courtyard©Ken Woolfenden
Preparing vegetables©Ken Woolfenden Traditional costume©Ken Woolfenden

Although not clear from the photo, "grandma" was wearing traditional Naxi costume, a sort of jacket with a padded back - to protect when carrying things on your back - and straps to hold it on, as you can see in the photo of the other villager.

Wandering around the village was fascinating, from the village shop - which appears to sell almost everything, to the local builder smartly attired in his suit, finishing wooden house beams with handtools and a chainsaw, a local grain store, a rather splendid entrance arch and a group of woman in local costume.

Yuhu Village Shop©Ken Woolfenden Woodwork Yard©Ken Woolfenden
Yuhu Grain Store©Ken Woolfenden Yuhu House Entrance©Ken Woolfenden
Yuhu Transport©Ken Woolfenden Yuhu Villagers©Ken Woolfenden

Clematis by side of street in Yuhu village©Ken WoolfendenWe also found clematis by the side of the road, probably a Chinese species similar to C. vitalba. And as we were leaving, the group of women in traditional dress came down the road. One felt very welcome here.

Yufeng Temple and Ten Thousand Flower Camellia

Welcoming women at Yufeng Temple©Ken WoolfendenWe left Yuhu village and drove to Yufeng Monastery.

We were greeted by a group of local women who sang our welcome, or at least I think that was what they were singing. The photo cost a few yuan, that's worth much more to the singers than to us, so it was well worth it.

Yufeng Temple Inner Courtyard©Ken Woolfenden Yufeng Temple Inner Courtyard©Ken Woolfenden
Yufeng Temple©Ken Woolfenden Prayer Wheels at Yufeng Temple©Ken Woolfenden

Yufeng Monastery was built some 250 years ago but today only three of the original nine courtyards survive. However it is still a beautiful temple, especially standing in front of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Ten Thousand Flower Camelia©Ken WoolfendenIt is also the home of an ancient camellia, the so-called "Ten Thousand Flower Camelia", planted during the Chenghua period of the Ming Dynasty - 1465 to 1487 - and so over 500 years old. The camellia flowers for more than 100 days, producing over 1000 flowers at any time. Unfortunately there were no flowers on it when we visited but we could admire the photos proudly displayed.

Bai Sha village©Ken WoolfendenNext stop was lunch, in the village of Bai Sha. The village also if the home of the Na Xi Culture Centre, housing the Mu Family Embroidery.

Bai Sha Silk Embroidery©Ken WoolfendenThe silk embroidery was absolutely exquisite and given the very many hours taken to make the larger pieces, one could understand the prices charged. But there were also "practice" pieces done by the students and much more affordable levels and a number of us came away with one (or more).

Black Dragon Pool

Black Dragon Pool without water©Ken WoolfendenOne of the most iconic tourist destinations in the Lijiang area, or at least it should have been. Most people will have seen photos of the bridge and temple, taken across the pool, with a perfect reflection in the crystal clear water.

However when we visited things were a little different. Due to the drought the lake was virtually dry, just a few puddles and a lot of mud. Such a shame, one just hoped that the water had been used for a better cause. I have since seen on the internet that the lake has now been refilled, so I guess we were there at just the wrong time.

The park was still a popular place for people to stroll, have their picture taken, and play mah-jong.

Black Dragon Pool - Photo Shoot©Fiona Woolfenden Black Dragon Pool - Mah-Jong©Ken Woolfenden

A Naxi Music Concert

Mr Xuan Ke and the Naxi Orchestra©Ken WoolfendenAfter dinner that evening a number of us took the opportunity to go to the Lijiang Na-Xi Concert Hall for a performance by the Naxi Orchestra assembled and led by Mr Xuan Ke. He has devoted much of his life to the preservation by performance of traditional Naxi music. The members of the orchestra span a wide ranges of ages, including a number of octogenarians, and they play many traditional Naxi musical instruments.

The Lijiang Na-Xi Concert Hall is a beautiful old building in the centre of the city, albeit now with fast food and disco clubs as neighbours. In fact during quieter sections of the pieces played you were conscious of a underlying bass beat from near by - which I certainly found a little annoying.

The music itself is a strange experience to the western ear, there is certainly harmony and rhythm but not that was familiar to me. But whether or not you like the music, one appreciates and admires the efforts to retain the Naxi musical traditions. And most of us stayed to the end of the performance.

Naxi Orchestra of Lijiang©Ken Woolfenden

I have prepared a small sample from our Naxi concert for anyone with a reasonably fast internet link. The file is about 850 Kbytes so only click on the controls if you're sure.

Tue 12th June - Heading for Shangri-La

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Wangfu Hotel, Lijiang©Ken WoolfendenWe left the Wangfu Hotel in Lijiang on a sunny morning to travel to Shangri-La, previously known as Zhongdian, via Tiger Leaping Gorge which carries the Jinsha River as it flows to enter the Yangtze River.

Start of walk along Tiger Leaping Gorge©Ken WoolfendenIt is one of the deepest river gorges in the world, possibly the deepest. Like many places in China, this name derives from a legend. It is said that a tiger, trying to escape from a hunter, leapt the gorge at the narrowest point, although this would still be a leap of 25 metres (over 80 feet).

The brief introduction of the Tiger-Leaping Gorge (transcribed from information plaque)

Information PLaque at Tiger Leaping Gorge©Ken WoolfendenThe Tiger-leaping gorge locates in the upper reaches of Jinsha River, it is divided upper gorge, middle and lower gorge, which the length is 17 km and totally there are 18 dangerous shoals. The gorge's height above levelwater is 3900 meters, which far more surpasses the well known Grand Canyon in Colorado of America and the Three Gorges of Yangtze River, it is regarded as the most precipitous and narrowest valley in the world.

The scenery is located in the upper gorge, which is a most wonderful and grand part. The east of gorge is Jade Dragon Snow Mountain which height above level sea is 5596 meters ; the west of gorge is Haba Snow Mountain which height is 5396 meters. With gold and sand. The Jinsha River runs through the mountains beside and rushes down to the central plain area. The narrowest sect of river is just 30 meters wide, with a huge stone lying in the middle there are rushes of water dashing along this stone that produces much spray and loud resonance can be heard between the mountains. It is said that when a fierce tiger come down from the mountain it could jump across the river by the light support of the central-lying stone, so it is just named after this legend.

On both sides of the canyon, huge stones raise sharply, marvellous falls run down from the infinite sky, sand blow and stones flow, culture is forever lasting. There are dangerous shoals scattering around the river and innumerous shallow reefs hiding beneath. The river sometimes looks like still water or sometimes twist swirl or violent like tigers, shaking the whole valley. When you wandering around the bottom of the canyon, you may appreciate the river like a flying dragon, catch the sight of slot when you look up, hear the roaring of the running falls from time to time, sigh with feeling greatly and deeply.

The Tiger-Leaping Gorge has great mountains and torrents, which is famous for unparalleled geology, various lands in biology, changeable cubical weather and long history of ancient cultures, which also makes Chinese and foreign visitors be obsessed because of its beauty, many scientists and explorers of all countries do their research here. This great valley makes his name for the Three River Scenic Area and World Natural Heritage.

With warm river wind, wandering among the beautiful snow mountains, watching the flowing water under the feet - you will get an experience of "connection of nature and man" in the body and mind and a happy tour.

To get to the leaping place, one has to walk along the gorge footpath, between 30 and 40 minutes for the average person, although there is an alternate means of transport - rickshaws. Locals will ferry one of two people to and from the leaping point for a relatively modest price. But whether you walk or ride, the views are spectacular.

The easy way down the gorge©Ken Woolfenden Tiger Leaping Gorge©Ken Woolfenden
Overhanging cliff path©Ken Woolfenden Footpath tunnels©Ken Woolfenden

If you do decide to walk, you have to listen out from approaching rickshaws. The path can be quite narrow in places, with overhanging rocks and some tunnels.

Gorge with Leaping Tiger statue on right©Ken Woolfenden
Detail of Leaping Tiger Statue©Ken Woolfenden The narrow gorge and the rock©Ken Woolfenden

The path ends with a viewpoint overlooking the rock where the tiger is meant to have leapt. And to reinforce the story, there's a tiger statue to show what happened.
Clematis in Tiger Leaping Gorge©Ken Woolfenden Clematis in Tiger Leaping Gorge©Ken Woolfenden

There was one unexpected find along the way - clematis. Not sure what is was, or whether they were one or two species, though most likely they were the Chinese equivalent to C. vitalba.

Village Stop

Village close to Tibetan border©Ken Woolfenden Village cross?©Ken Woolfenden

After the walk up the gorge and back we swapped local guides, had lunch in a local restaurant, and continued on our journey towards Shangri-La. The skies had turned somewhat grey and overcast as we travelled north, getting ever closer to the China - Tibet border. And with this came a change to the peoples and culture. This was very obvious when we made a short botanizing stop. On a large flat plain we came across a small village. The style of houses, horses grazing, the pyramid structure decorated with prayer flags and flanked by two small constructions, these were all signs of a cultural change from what we'd seen in and around Lijiang.

Botanizing by the roadside©Ken Woolfenden One of the flowers we found©Ken Woolfenden

A couple of villagers were spinning and weaving wool, sat outside on the grass. They looked on in bewildered amusement as we "swarmed" off the coach, scanning and searching the grass for new treasurers, stooping down to photograph those that were found. I rather liked this delicate purple flower, whatever it may be.

If you want to see more photos of plants that we found during our visit to China, properly identified and named, Harry Jans has loaded many on his website. Please visit and select the album "June 2012 China Yunnan (ICLS-Tour)".

If you wish to (re-)read either of my previous reports, please visit China 2012 - 01 or China 2012 - 02 and you can read my final report at China 2012 - 04.

I will publish my fourth and last report next month.

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