China: Along the Tea Horse Road (PHOTOS)

In Yunnan province, visitors can still step back into the Ming dynasty.

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On the dashboard of our van, a solar-powered Tibetan prayer wheel spins continuously as we make our way through the bumpy roads linking Lijiang, Dali and Tengchong.

After our fourth or fifth near-collision, I begin to stare at that miniature golden cylinder. Maybe a little Buddhist intervention will save us from crashing into a truck laden with giant boulders or plunging off the road into the canyons below.

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Baisha Holiday Resort is housed in 800-year-old courtyard homes overlooking Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Located outside Lijiang in the northwest part of China’s Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar and Tibet, it forms part of an ancient but rapidly changing landscape.

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We had come to see the northwest part of Yunnan, bordering Myanmar and Tibet, an ancient landscape that is rapidly changing. With the countless shops in fake-historic Lijiang selling identical Yunnan handicrafts, along with the rowdy backpacker scene in Dali, sections of Yunnan are being lost to the kind of tourism that involves busloads of passengers wearing matching baseball caps.

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Lijiang, “restored” in the ancient style after a 1996 earthquake, was exactly the sort of place we wanted to avoid. Having lived in China for almost two years, we had already seen “Impression West Lake,” Zhang Yimou‘s over-the-top evening extravaganza in Hangzhou, so there was no need to take in “Impression Lijiang,” set against the backdrop of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. And if we wanted to fight crowds like those on the cable car up the mountain, we could stay home in Beijing and wander through the Forbidden City on a hot summer day.

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