Four hours travel by bus from Dali to Lijiang, covering the edge of the Tibetan plateau, driving through high hill country, looking down on the clouded valley below.
Arriving in the modern, nondescript part of Lijiang, I had to find the old, tourist part. It should not be too difficult to find, as according to reliable sources, it covered an area of approximately four square kilometres. But after a while I gave up, putting the search squarely into the too hard basket.
Returning back to the bus station, I requested the services of a taxi driver, who drove his car around a couple of corners and then, miraculously, we were there. A mecca, a maze, call it what you wish, it had appeared, as if out of nowhere.
Thanking the taxi driver and walking towards my accommodation, all was eerily quite. Cobbled streets and canals, empty, forlorn, the magic was short-lived.
The lady at the counter told me to wait, told me to eat, sleep and anticipate; for the magic will reappear, like a child’s beaming smile after hiding behind a curtain; later that day, on schedule, as planned.
And then four hours later, a few hours before the setting sun, I ventured outside.
Into the masses, sink or swim, they crowded, they swamped and they followed their tour guide with claustrophobic conformity. Stick to the edges of the cobbled streets or you will be trampled underfoot, for the crowds looked forward, ahead and above, but never below.
Never ever below, for the lost, the forgotten and the left behind.
We were with the masses, surging forward, a weight of numbers, forever Chinese.
We must escape; never fearing the art of becoming lost.
For once it is replaced it can never be returned.
Like watching the regional cultural dances at an open air bar that night or watching a young Chinese woman finish half a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label within the hour and then leave with a man twice her age.
Given chance and hope we shall never have the opportunity to meet their type again.
We must become lost, in the mecca described as a labyrinth, where it is apparently almost impossible to lose one’s way.
But one must try.
Perhaps in the parks beyond the old town, one with a bridge over a shaded pool, below a mountain, enticingly named Black Dragon Pool Park.
And next day that is where I appeared.
But, having left the seclusion of the old town of Lijiang, I was to be rebuffed. The park’s steep entrance fee stopped me in my tracks and I made a hastily convened decision to return, careful not to retrace one’s steps. Then light drizzle, followed by a heavy downpour, a lack of a tourist horde in the early morning trade and it was confirmed I was lost.
Within the labyrinth, where it had been stated, it was impossible.
One must always keep the faith.