Lugu Lake

After a bit in Lijiang I was all ready to move onto to Tiger Leaping Gorge. Ever since reading about the gorge 4 or so years ago I have been waiting to go. But Olivia had other plans. She informed me that Lugu Lake was a must visit in Yunnan and if you leave Yunnan without going here you are missing out.

“Hmmf but I’ve never heard of this , aren’t you ready to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge yet??”

“No we are going to Lugu Lake and by the way, it’s about a 7 or 8 hour bus ride via unpaved bumpy mountain roads”

“行” (or OK , was pretty much all I could muster)

And with that we were purchasing our tickets and getting ready to go. Lugu lake is only 200km (120mi) from Lijiang giving the hint that the roads indeed are foul.

Lugu Lake is a gorgeous alpine freshwater lake located snug in between mountains. It is situated at around 2600m (8900ft) above sea-level. The lake is surrounded by pine forests and is one of the deepest freshwater lakes in China (#2 actually). This lake is uncontaminated and retains all of its natural splendor. Small villages dot the shore along with beaches , coves, a marshland, along with several islands inhabiting the interior. Half of the lake lies in Yunnan province and the other is in Sichuan. Geologists say the lake was created from a fault way back in history and water was trapped therefor forming the lake . Legend says that the lake was created from the tears of a rather promiscuous goddess who accidentally caused one of her many male god suitors to stay through the night hence losing his immortality. Pearls were thrown into the water which today are the water azaleas which bloom in the lake. You can believe whichever one you want. The lake is primarily inhabitied by minority groups , the main one being the Mosuo people.

The Musuo people are an interesting study as they remain one of the few matriarchal societies in the world. They are sometimes known as the Amazons of the Orient.

From Wikipedia

“Azu marriage is the way of living of the Mosuo people, and Azu in the local Mosuo language means “intimate sweet heart”. It is a convenient arrangement in which the partners come and go as they like. Three types of Azu marriages have been mentioned namely, the “travelling marriage,” which is marriage without cohabitation; and the second type is the marriage with cohabitation that have developed into deep feelings after living under “travelling marriage” practice; they then live together and raise children as a family. The third type of marriage, which is linked to the history of Mongolian people occupying Lugu Lake who inculcated the practice of monogamous marriage among the Mosuo people, is called as “One on one marriage.” However, in all the three types of marriages, women have the rightful ownership of land, houses and full rights to the children born to them. The children carry their mother’s family name and pay greatest respect to their mothers who in turn enjoy high social status.”

To actually make it to Lugu Lake first one must take a 3-4 hour bus ride to Ninglang county and then switch over to shuttle van/cars run by enterprising locals. Apparently a new road was constructed saving a ton of time but was contracted out to bad companies using crappy materials and after a year or two of use has been pretty severely weathered and has huge cracks and potholes(craters) so now the bus drivers still use the unpaved dirt road. This made trying to read the book “Shangrila” quite difficult.

Upon arrival at the bus station we found a shuttle van which held 9 passengers and the driver. Great not only do we have  another 4 hour bumpy ride ahead of us but now we are super cramped in a dingy van too. Oh yea and one more thing , for a small part of the ride I have to lay in the far back trunk space and hide underneath clothes and various assorted packages. Wait , what?? That’s right! Admission into the pack area costs 80rmb for non-locals and while Olivia looks local with her suntan and brightly colored clothes I will never be able to pass myself of as a local. The blond hair , green-blue eyes, big nose , and white skin make sure of that.

Three bumpy hours later we stopped in the middle of the (road?) and it was time for me to hide in back. We rode for about 20 minutes and then a stop again. Mission accomplished! This little game of human smuggling brought much amusement to all the other passengers in the van and once we were through the ticket gate/checkpoint I thought it was kinda funny also. Never participated in human smuggling before , cool.

Now that I could see again I gazed out upon the pine forests and mountains , after a bit more driving we caught our first glimpse of the lake. Beautiful , absolutely beautiful. At some points along the “road” we could also see rustic log cabins set amongst crop fields. My first sighting of log cabins in China! Looked just like a picture of the classic log cabins the settlers and frontiersmen built-in the U.S.  As we got closer and started to descend towards the lake we drove on some very treacherous slopes. Mud mud mud, steep slopes, and no railings make for a scared me. There were some construction projects, some bridges were being built to eliminate some of the crazy sloping turns and farther on the road was being paved. At long last we hopped out of our shuttle van and walked down the down to the village of Lige where we would be staying at and the shuttle van continued on its journey on a different junction towards the other lakeside villages. This village was the largest and most developed for tourism but there weren’t that many people during this time. Most of the buildings (but not that many buildings in total) here were geared towards the tourist industry , all were inns , hostels, restaurants , or bars. We checked into the hostel and then took a night stroll. The lights from the restaurants and lights on the path played on the surface of the water as went around. The rustic setting , fresh clean mountain air , lack of crowds such as in Dali and Lijiang, all combined to leave me content (even after that bus ride!) As we wandered around we also noticed an abundance of outdoor grills where you order food and then cook it yourself on a grill laid above burning wood. Wow this is gonna be awesome! Also there are very few foreign visitors( I was one of two) , at least when we were there. I ,myself, was somewhat of a tourist attration.

The next day we decided to rent bicycles and go for a ride by the lake. This ended up turning into a day long 56km (36mi) loop around the lake. The arduous trip around Erhai lake hadn’t beaten us down enough , bring it on lakes! It was a pleasant ride on open road (a few other bicylists) that wound along the shore and passed through small villages , a slightly bigger town ( you can tell by the cobblestone road) and alongside “The Walking Marriage Bridge”. After passing the bridge we made a stop for some street food. Grilled duck eggs , fried praying mantises, and some amazing clams or oysters grilled in their own shells with spices and cilantro. One of the most amazing street food meals I have ever eaten. We were surrounded by the village children while eating this meal and they were so cute running around being all shy when I would look at them or try to snap a photo. It took around 5 hours total to ride around the lake and we returned pleasantly tired and in need of a huge meal. We went to a really cool place called Zhaxi house or something like that. The Zhaxi house is a restaurant (self grill) and inn that also serve a pretty decent homebrew called Musuo beer , a strong alcohol made from corn, and we ended up moving from the hostel to this place. Cooler environment and more amenities than the local hostel. So I recommend the Zhaxi house , if it’s not called that just look for an older guy and his handsome son in a cowboy hat and people outside self-grilling.

After a relaxing day we talked to the owner about making it back to Lijiang. He made a call and we were booked on one of the buses headed back to Lijiang the next morning. It was a pretty uneventful bus ride back to Lijiang but Olivs started to feel a little sick. Upon making it back to Lijiang she informed me a next day bus ride to Tiger Leaping Gorge was not possible. I set out to find myself some food and returned to Panba hostel to watch some DVD’s. I started watching Dexter with an older American guy and immediately fell in love (with the DVD not the guy!!!!). But then not too long afterwards I got a rumbling in my tummy that slowly built as the night went on. I set out to the bathroom later and immediately unleashed my entire stomach contents into the toilet. It was seriously bad , like the Niagara falls but then as soon as that part was taken care of , I felt a rumbling of another kind. Immediately following I had liquid gold out the other end. As soon as I felt that was over I stood up and immediately had to throw up again and then more liquid gold. This repeated in a hellish nightmare cycle for pretty the whole night and the hostel bathroom become my new 12 hour home. Hmm let’s think back to the culprit, oh yes those wonderfully delicious clams (or oysters) from the day before. Wow that was first time I’d gotten food poisoning from street food in my 1.5 year stay here. Ouch! The next day was spent resting (watching more Dexter) and then finally the day after it was time to set out for Qiaotou and Tiger Leaping Gorge!

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