Tucked away between Dali and the Old Town of Lijiang
, southeast area of Three Parallel Rivers
, Shaxi Ancient Town
is the only intact commercial town surviving till nowadays along the legendary Tea Horse Road. Emerged over 2400 years ago, it thrived into a political and trade hub during Tang and Song dynasties, a place where imperial Tang meets newly fledged Turpan.
| In Shaxi Ancient Town, the hawks will squeeze some time to appreciate the explosive blossoms, adept Bai artisans usually take a break by chatting with companions or listening to the clattering birds, farmers will drop down the plows to marvel at the ever-changing snowdusted peaks in the distance and the senior aged will kill time by fishing along the Huishui River. With an ancient shell, Shaxi has a romantic and loving soul. |
As a stop along this transcontinental artery, tea, salt, silk and porcelain from Middle Kingdom flew out, while horses, yak butter from Tibet
, rugs from Xinjiang, extravagance and exotic goods from Middle East flew in. The discovery of salt resulted in its meteoric rise and unprecedented boom. In no time, Shaxi Ancient Town gained a new identity: the distribution center of salt. Salt churned out nearby features such good quality that Tibet, western and northern Yunnan
all craved for this essential good. With the glamour of Tea Horse Road fades away gradually, Shaxi Ancient Town recedes into obscurity silently, yet with dignity.
In 2001, a Sweden scholar chanced upon this town. Scratching the surface, he was amazed by its well-preserved complexes and historical significance. In 2002, it was included in List of 100 Most Endangered Sites evaluated by World Monuments Fund.
Today, this untouched kingdom harboring a wealth of millennia-old establishments, opera stages, cobbled laneways and vestiges betraying its ancient history, cultural significance and glory. With world-renowned fame, it is free from world-renowned tourists. For those who want to embrace history, half a day’s exploration will be both refreshing and rewarding.
What to see
Sideng Sifangjie ( Sifang Boulevard)
Nestling at the foot of Aofeng Hill and facing Heihui River, Sifangjie forms the quintessential part of this town. It took shape during the 18th century and received a large-scale restoration ten years ago. In the compact space, old opera stages echo monasteries; intertwining boulevards spread out poetically and are interspersed with weathered entry gates. Shops selling everything you can imagine rub should with each other intimately. During its zenith, its markets and hotels were packed with international merchants with their unending caravans.
During the past, the market fair occuring each three days drew a considerate number of regular merchants. During night, they indulge in the simple pleasures of Dongjing Ancient Music ( a genre of Naxi Ancient Music), Bai folk performances as well as appetizing local cuisine such as aromatic mushrooms and snacks. Xingjiao Monastery
Guarded by two titanic Buddha statues, Xingjiao Monastery is a sanctuary frozen in time. Giant trees cast shadows in the courtyards, bells and chanting escape from the enclosed doors and over 20 giant murals grace its fabulously decorated halls. Time to contemplate and pray.
Festivals and Events
(Sakyamuni Worship Festival, “Taizi” refers to Sakyamuni before he entered Nirvana.)
Falling on the eighth day of the second lunar month, Taizi Meeting will see Shaxi locals get up early in the morning, dress in colorful attires, clean up the houses, burn joss sticks and wait piously for the coming of Sakyamuni. Bai
villagers from near and far will congregate in Xingjiao Monastery before holding an eye-catching parade. Those carrying the Buddha statues on horsebacks are followed by Lion Dance Team, Dragon Dance Team and assorted orchestras. If lucky, you can hear Buddhism, Daoism and Dongjing music respectively. In night, ancient folk opera will be staged. Sifangjie (Sifang Street) will be lantern-lit and thronged with excited faces.
Shibaoshan Singing Festival
Occurring from the 27th day of the seventh lunar month to the first day of the eighth lunar month, Shibaoshan Singing Festival is one of the Top Five Festivals in Yunnan. (The other four are Water Splashing Festival of Dai people, Torch Festival and Fire Worship Ceremony of Yi people, March Street of Bai people and Luoping Canola Flower Tourism Festival). During this period, tens of thousands of ethnic villagers hailing from eight counties’ far-flung villages will gather in BaoXian
g Monastery, Shibaoshan Mountain, singing, dancing and flirting. The fabulously-dressed crowds, captivating songs as well as romantic and passionate atmosphere are just breathtaking. Besides, you can also delight in various snacks. During night, a bonfire will be set up. Do not stand by, roll you sleeves and join in the collective dance, it is the shortcut to mingle with locals. Benshu Worship Gathering
Benzhu means “King of native territory”. Bai people believe every village or town is under the protection of a Benzhu God. To pay homage to their Benzhu, each village is accompanied with a Benzhu Temple, within which different statues are enshrined. On the third day of the third lunar month, Bai people will throng into the Chenghuang Temple of Shaxi, trading, praying and carrying out colorful celebrations: opera, lion dance and dragon dance.
What to eat
Shaxi Ancient Town is a feast for both spiritual-seekers and hungry “hustlers”. To rest your legs and pacify your singing stomach, find a local restaurant. In this town, you will have the privilege to enjoy matsutake and ginseng in their native place, with reasonable and affordable prices. If you have a sweet tooth, a dessert made of goat milk will surprise you with its unbeatable chewy texture and fantastic flavor. Wine here fall into three species roughly: Red Plum Wine featuring sweet taste and strong alcohol content, Cellar Wine tastes like Sherry (with amber color, it is brewed by wheat, sugar and honey) and the strong white alcohol (the counterpart of Gin).
Where to stay
Stepping into Lamadian Guesthouse, you will see the antique beds used by merchants and wayfarers on horsebacks. To store treasures and goods, these beds contain secret chambers. Only the leaders can sleep in these rooms while their followers have to seek refuge in a storehouse. The ensure the ultimate safety, windows tower over courtyards where their horses are kept. You can also see a drum hung on a wall. To remind passers to stay away from the caravans pulled by horses and mules respectively, a drum means the difference of life and death. Pride and jealousy, mules will fight each other desperately when encountering horses, which will bring catastrophe to both passers and goods.
Author: Sophia Posted on June 7, 2013