Monday, January 19, 2009

Back to the Nujiang (怒江)

On Saturday 20th of December I left Dali to take the bus to the Nujiang. Being in Dali doesn't feel like China. It's anyplace. They have nice cafes that serve good coffee (Cafe de Jack) and bars where you can watch movies, surf the internet or bakeries where you can indulge in cheesecake. There weren't many tourists about when I was there, but the weather was sunny and mild.

I think I had the same suicidal driver to Liuku as I had last year. I caught the bus from Xiaguan bus station, which entailed an early start from Dali old town and a morning bus ride with a a team of cleaners down to the big ton as we watched the bus advertorial TV. As usual I had stocked up on the usual snacks to get me through the bus journey - peanuts, chocolate, biscuits, drinks ... and I munched my way through these all too quickly as we freewheeled down the motorway towards Baoshan, watching Terminator 3.

This time we did a slightly different route, turning off early for Liuku and skirting the Mekong on a rather dusty road that was under construction, and passing through a town called Qujing that had a huge, newly built mosque.

We arrived in Liuku just after lunch, and instantly the people seemed friendlier than elsewhere. Even the stern soldier who checked my passport turned friendly when he realised I spoke Chinese. There was some kind of minority dress festival going on in the Nujiang and there were buses and Jeeps lined up in preparation for the VIPs they were expecting.

I decamped off the bus and managed to grab some friend rice before taking a minibus up to Fugong. It was arranged by a women tout who grabbed me as soon as I got off the bus. She led me to believe there was a direct bus from that bus station, but as I soon discovered as her son led me across the footbridge over the Nujiang, it was the same old bus service from the western bank bus station.

Nujiang scenery north of Fugong

The scenery on the way north was the usual spectacular array of peaks, crags and river scenes. A few locals fished using bamboo rods and makeshift reels cobbled together from thick metal wire. I saw a few dug out type canoes, and as usual marvelled at the huddles of Lisu houses in villages perched high up on the hillside. Many of them had their own whitewashed churches.

Nujiang scenery north of Fugong

Closer up, the settlements along the river looked dirty and ramshackle. It often surprised me to see a cheerful and well dressed, modern looking Lisu women get off at one of these scungy looking collections of wooden shacks and breeze block slums.

Fugong was much as I remembered it - the same scrappy collection of shops and noodle places tucked in the valley. This time I arrived before dark, and had time to find myself a place at the Dianli Binguan (Power Station Hotel) (80 kuai a night) before having a little wander. Not much to see. In a dusty ramshackle schoolyard they were preparing for a craptacular concert - perhaps to celebrate the Lisu kousi jie - whatever festival that is.

Nujiang scenery north of Fugong

I settled for a bath and a quiet night watching Nujiang TV - which featured a tourist style presentation of the Nujiang, making out they were all one big happy family - "Nujiang Huanying Nin!" (Nu River Welcomes You) and it even featured Ding Dama (the grumpy old caretaker woman of the Chongding/Bingzhongluo church and what looked like her very flash guesthouse, complete with internet) .. it didn't feel like I was going to a remote area at all.

Nujiang scenery north of Fugong

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