If there is one place I’d like to explore some more, it’s the province of Yunnan 云南 in China’s south-west. There was a time I traveled there frequently for work but I never ventured much further than the capital, Kunming. Last weekend wasn’t long enough either but the eternally mild, spring-like climate alone is enough to bring us back.We based ourselves in Xizhou 喜洲 near lake Erhai 洱海 – a fortuitous choice, as the village is peaceful and rural-relaxed. It’s also miles from the crowds of Dali, where a stunning ancient town has morphed into a pedestrian thoroughfare for souvenir sellers of assorted nicknacks. But Xizhou gently clings onto its cultural heritage and life unfolds at a more languid pace.The morning market is a hive of activity, where Bai 白族 women in traditional dress carry their bounty in wicker backpacks.
We spent hours lazily wandering the streets, fascinated by the silversmiths who tinker over intricate jewellery and the elderly women who stitch cotton inner soles for shoes, or delicate tie-dyed indigo cloth. We were intrigued too by the local history, for Xizhou was once an important trading post along the ancient Tea-Horse Road 茶马古道, when caravans of porters and horses hauled Pu-er tea 普洱茶 over precarious terrain. This lucrative network of mountain paths stretched to neighbouring Myanmar, Sichuan and Tibet and onto India and beyond.
More recently, Xizhou played an important role during WW2, when it was home to a radio station and airstrip supporting the famed “Flying Tigers” in their defense against the Japanese.
We would have loved to have stayed another day, but were grateful to have found this lakeside gem.