Nu River to Baoshan
The Nu river valley winds through wild territory with steeply forested sides. The people and houses seem more Burmese than Chinese. Farms perch on impossibly steep slopes, or up inaccessible side valleys. In the backcountry the only way to get around is on foot. We stopped at the major towns along the way down the valley, taking our time. In three different places the road was washed out. At one landslide we had to get off the bus and scramble up over the muddy, bamboo-covered slope to the waiting busses on the other side. We met Burmese traders from over the hills. For an entire week we saw no other tourists.
From the Nu, we continued south to Baoshan, where the landscape changed to dry, scrubby hills. Racks of noodles dried in the sun in the dusty villages around town. We visited a Buddhist temple in a cave, recently restored after suffering damage during the Cultural Revolution. Hundreds of crazy porcelain figures were lined up on shelves inside. One statue of an old man had long, bushy eyebrows that rose up to the ceiling.
To get back to Kunming, we took another sleeper bus. This time, fortunately, we rode in a non-smoking, “hygiene bus”. We had to take off our shoes before boarding and there were small trash cans along the aisles for trash and spitting. In Kunming the weather had improved, so we spent the day visiting a nearby temple by bike. We also spent an afternoon tasting tea.
On our last day we wanted to visit the “Stone Forest”, about two hours to the south of Kunming. After missing the train, we boarded a bus reserved for with Chinese tourists. After waiting for the bus to fill up, we started off on the highway. It wasn’t long before the bus stopped at a roadside jade emporium, where all of the passengers filed out to shop. After about an hour of shopping, we managed to get everyone back on the bus. We set off again, only to stop at another temple! Fed up with the delays, we left the bus and headed off on our own, taking whatever transport we could to get to the stone forest. In fact there are two “stone forests”. A very well known one, called Shilin (stone forest), is popular with tourists. Nearby is Naigo, another, less famous stone forest. Unlike the popular one, we did not have to run the gauntlet of kitschy tourist stores before arriving at the entrance. We had the place almost all to ourselves. We could wander at will among the cool stone pillars. At one place we entered a cave, with colored lights to highlight the strange formations. At the end of the cave, we were treated to a multicolored blinking light display accompanied by patriotic marching music.