Why going to Shaxi? Because it is one of the most preserved towns in China, still commercialising the Yunnan tea and trading in Tibetan horses. You add the cobble stones still in use in most of the lanes and you get a picture of this awesome area not to be missed. Do you need to find more reasons? Shaxi was part of the formal Silk Road, a network of trade and cultural exchange that connected the east to the west for almost 2000 years till the 15th century. When you walk in the little street and you close your eyes you can almost be transported back to Silk era.
The beautiful village of Shaxi is located in the Jiangchuan county, 100 km north west of the Autonomous Prefecture of Dali, half way to Lijiang. The history of this town goes back to the 6th century AC, at the time an important tea and horse commercial reference during the Tang Dynasty. It was a village that never slept and kept growing becoming an important trading point during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1400-1900)
UNESCO has recently added Shaxi to the list of the 100 most endangered sites around the world. It is not as easy to find historical towns in China which are well preserved. UNESCO has stepped in and that took the world eyes to this beautiful village together with new funds to maintain and improve the local architecture. One of the most important collaboration is the Shaxi Rehabilitation Project, an initiative in cultural heritage conservation and endogenous sustainable development.
China is a country that is experiencing an unprecedented economic boom. New infrastructure is needed however it should live together with the history of the country, not an easy task for any government.
Shaxi is an example of how the Chinese life used to be, with the Bai and the Yi minorities of the region living in the surrounding mountains and descending every Friday to trade the own goods and products through the old lanes of the village.
Shaxi still maintains a traditional atmosphere however it has now softly opened to the new incoming economy, tourism. Restaurants are not any more a rare place to find, in fact they adapted to the visitors hours, opening late in the night
Don’t go to Shaxi without visiting Shibaoshan, or Mountain of Stone Bell. You can reach the area either by foot or by car. The easiest way is to go by car/taxi, it is a comfortable 40 minutes drive. However if you are an active person try the 1h30 hike from the village of Shaxi, you may be joined by few monkeys along the route 🙂
This site is known for its wide range of troglodyte caves, considered to be the Pearl of Yunnan. It is an extensive cave complex, with remarkable representations of Buddhist images carved into the rocks, of which the Guanyin is the most popular one. This rock art is a testimony of the popularity of the Mahayana Buddhism in the Yunnan province.
Don’t miss a visit to the Baoxiang temple, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (AD502-581), which can be reached through a long 1,000 steps stone staircase. It became suddenly world famous over 10 years ago when 141 pieces of Buddhist artefacts, including one of the only two teeth left by Sakyamuni Buddha, were discovered in the foundations. This temple consists of hanging pavilions; have a walk and a chat with the local monkey population, now living permanently here.
Travel Photography Tips
- From Dali there are no direct bus to Shaxi. You must stop at the crossroad and take a community taxi. Be ready to negotiate!
- From Shaxi there are only community taxi to go to Shibaoshan. Get together with some Chinese tourists to share the ride and let them negotiate the car for you. Always negotiate the return trip otherwise coming back can be very expensive.
- visit the Friday street market, plenty of opportunity for some portraits of the local minorities
- walk through the cobble stones lane and meet the locals transporting any sort of goods, make some photos of the local life style
- visit the village after sunset for some night photography. The light in the street will give a fairy-tail turn to your photos
- make few night photos of the life outside the restaurants, with the lovely old style lanterns and a never ending flow of customers