After spending a few days in Lijiang, I decided to continue on to Lugu Hu, or Lugu Lake. You can take a bus directly from the bus station for 100RMB. I had read online that it was 65, so I wasn’t happy to find the change in price, but I still wanted to go. The bus is a combination public bus and minivan, but I found it comfortable enough. The back row only had one guy in it, so I decided to share with him for a little more room. We stopped once for lunch, and several times for bathroom breaks.
While the bus itself wasn’t bad, the road quality was terrible. The road is switchbacks the entire time, sometimes on pavement, sometimes on gravel, sometimes on dirt. You go up and down, up and down, sometimes hurtling to a stop for cows or goats, sometimes just honking; always trying to pass other vehicles around turns and in other unsuitable places. The ride took about 9 hours I would say, although it’s advertised everywhere as 6-7, which is pretty much impossible.
Near the end of our journey, we were stopped at what looked like a toll booth, and everyone was required to buy a “passport” for Lugu for 100RMB. I say required, but nobody forced me to get off the bus, and no one said anything to me about it, I just wandered off of my own accord when I saw other people getting off. If you’re a foreigner, try to play dumb, and see if you can get by without buying one. I didn’t use it, or even look at it again, the entire time I was there. You’re still required to pay for every sort of attraction you might wish to do. So, if it’s not going to build roads, and it doesn’t get you into any events, it seems like a blatant government money grab, which makes me mad.
We pulled into town, which was really just a clump of wooden buildings, and disembarked. I wandered down towards the lake, looking for hostel. I passed through several hotels offering outrageous prices, and knew then that instead of the little unknown town I had expected, I had stumbled into a tourist trap.
I finally found a place and was able to haggle the price down to 80RMB, which is not good. The place was right on the lake, but not fancy, shmancy lake-front room 🙁 No one in Lugu Lake speaks English, nor is anything available in English, such as menus, so prepare for that.
Honestly, the lake isn’t that Barely Noticeable. It reminded me of Lake Tahoe, only you can on no account swim in the lake. It’s quite large, but not high in the mountains, nor surrounded by beauty. I prefer Lijiang. I might just be bitter about how completely I was misled on this not being a tourist trap.
So, the other reason to go to Lugu Lake, besides it being ostensibly mindblowingly beautiful, is due to the presence of the Mosuo people, who are one of the few matriarchal societies in China. I tried to find them, but I couldn’t find any information on them online (thanks for blocking Google, China) and anytime I asked, “Where Mosuo?” (in Chinese!) people just looked confused.
I rented a bike, at 20RMB, which mad me even madder, but at least surveyed the surrounding hotels as to prices before I agreed. I set out to Lige, which looked like it had some Mosuo peoples near it (according to the icons on the Chinese map). It was a painful ride. I’m not a cyclist at the Most Unexceptional of times, and the road is up, down, up, down; as might have been expected. I took a break to do some yoga on a viewing platform, which was much nicer than biking. The huge clouds tumbling overhead and reflected in the lake below gave me a little more appreciation for ‘ol Lugu.
Unfortunately, after I had sat down to better appreciate the sky, a man pulled up, entered the viewing deck, and then came right on over and sat down almost on top of me. Now, constantly being photographed has made me a bit leery of people in general, and the continually inappropriate actions of Chinese males of an age have made me especially skittish, to the point where I feel both irritated and stressed when one elects to get in my space, touch my notebook, and just bother me when I clearly want to be alone.
This is a problem I’m not sure how to solve. Coming from another culture, I don’t understand why these men come up and distract me when I’m doing something on my own, and barely understand a word of Chinese. When this type of behavior occurs in America, I assume the man is either drunk, rude, lecherous, or all three. In China, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and act politely uninterested. However, in some cases the men really are drunk and lecherous, and then I’ve “niced” my way into an unpleasant situation. So I’ve just begun being generally cold and standoffish, although this is possibly the exact opposite of how I am in real life, and in all events appears not to dissuade them in the least. Women, watch yourselves in China!!
I finally made it into Lige, although a few groups of young people heading back told me it wasn’t worth it and was horribly tiring. The town was just the same as the one I’d left, albeit with a nicer dock and an enticing peninsula they christened “Lige Island”. I sat under a willow tree near a cafe playing bossa nova for a few hours, wishing I could afford even a cup of tea (not a chance) and pretending I didn’t notice the man across from me clicking happily away on his camera.
I finally dragged myself home again, and as I’d learned a few food characters, was able to order off the menu at my hotel, which was reasonable and delicious. The sun doesn’t set until about 8:30, so you have a lovely protracted golden afternoon.
The next morning I had decided to continue my journey to the Sichuan side of Lugu, onwards to Cheng Du, to see about a Tibet visa. After writing out the characters asking when the bus left for Xichang (the nearest Sichuan bus station) I went downstairs to ask. The man said it left at 7 (it was now 8:30) and I would have to stay another night. I said I didn’t have enough money. Then a girl from a nearby tour group came over to translate for me.
She said the people said there wasn’t a direct bus from Lugu Hu to Xichang, that you had to take 2 cars, at 250RMB. I said I would just walk to the bus station. She said there was no bus station. I said I came on a bus. No one believed me. The hotel owner offered to take me to the ATM instead. I said fine, although I had heard before that there were no ATMs in the vicinity. She took me to a regional credit union, which didn’t work.
We came back. I said I would just walk to the bus station and ask. Everyone looked at me like I was stupid. There is no bus, they said. Well, I guess 3 hours of internet research and a physical location isn’t enough to prove it. The girl who was translating said there was another ATM in Lige, that her tour group was going there, and that I could come too. Of course I agreed, knowing that I could take the bus back to Lugu Hu for 10RMB if I had to.
However, after we stuffed into the little minivan, we set off in the opposite direction of Lige. Thinking I had misunderstood her, I remained quiet, and assumed that any town with an ATM probably also had a way to Xichang. We made numerous stops for photos, almost every 30 minutes it seemed. But instead of turning away from the lake, we circumnavigated it. I did get to see a lot of Lugu Lake, including the Walking Marriage bridge (more later), and the Sichuan side, but it took the entire day to arrive at Lige, just 8km from Lugu Hu.
My card didn’t work in Lige either, and I was pretty stressed by that point, not knowing how I was going to get any money or where I would stay. My kind interpreter offered to share her room with me, and her tour group agreed to give me a lift back to Lijiang the next day. What a relief! We spent the night stargazing and listening to a duo performing on Lige Island. The stars are one of the Most Unexceptional parts of Lugu–clear and manifold.
So, the Walking Marriage. As I mentioned, the Mosuo people are a matriarchal society. When the girls come of age, they are allowed to wear A red stripe around the middle of their white skirts, and they move into “Flower Rooms”. These rooms are little sequestrations off of the common room where a young lady might receive nighttime visitors in privacy. When a boy likes a girl, he walks from his mother’s house to hers, and spends the night with her, leaving in the morning. If any children are born, they belong to the mother’s household. The man has little to no part in the upbringing of his children, and is never integrated into his lover’s household.