Near the wooden paifang that marks the entrance to the village of Yunnanyi (云南驿), a plaque commemorate an episode of the Long March. Indeed, in 1936, the soldiers of the Red Army rested in Yunnanyi for a night.
Beyond the paifang, the cobblestone streets lined with Ming-Qing style houses, the village looked deserted. Yet, the silent adobe walls have interesting stories to tell about the past of this village.
The legend of the “southern source of the clouds”
The name of Yunnan province is usually translated by “South of the Clouds”. A legend linked to the village of Yunnanyi itself and that dates back to the Han dynasty (200 BC – 220 AD) tells us otherwise.
Two thousand years ago, the emperor Han Wudi (汉武帝) wanted to know where clouds formed. He sent a group of his best men to the south of the empire. When they arrived in the village of Yunnanyi, they saw clouds forming over the Longxinghe mountain range. To them, the clouds (彩云) came into existence in the south (南现) and Yunnanyi was named the “southern source of the clouds” (云南之源).
From the Southern Silk Road to the Tea and Horse Road
Yunnanyi became an unavoidable stop for caravans transporting goods on the Tea and Horse Road between Yunnan and Tibet. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, horse caravans led by Yunnanese Muslims stopped at Yunnanyi. They were transporting Pu’er tea between south Yunnan to Lijiang, Zhongdian, or Deqin in the north of the province where Tibetan caravan leaders took over.
Yunnanyi is home to what is probably China’s best preserved horse caravan inn. It’s an inn with a stable where muleteers could feed their horses and let them rest overnight, exchange stories and tips about road conditions with other fellow caravan leaders. On the second floor of this “horse stable inn”, we can still see where the caravan leaders slept and where they pray to the gods : the gods of the roads, the gods of the mountains and the gods of the bridges.
Yunnanyi and the Japanese : From the Burma Road to the Flying Tigers
In 1939, the allies completed the “Burma Road” which linked Yangoon to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. The “Burma Road” was China’s lifeline. Indeed the Brits transported supplies to help the government of Chiang Kai Tchek in its counter-attack against Japan.
In 1942, Japanese forces took over Burma and cut the “Burma Road”, leaving no choice to the allies but to fly from British India’s Assam to Yunnan. Military airfields were built in western Yunnan province in Yunnanyi, Tengchong and Baoshan.
The squad of American soldiers who flew over the Himalayas (so as the avoid Burmese airspace controlled by Japan) to Yunnan were knows as the “Flying Tigers” and their prowess over the world highest mountains as the “Hump”.
The museum of the Tea and Horse Road & the Yunnan-Burmese War Museum
It is in this museum that I learned about Yunnanyi’s past. I knew that the village was an important stop-over on China’s ancient trade roads, but little did I know the village was home to one of the key military airfields during WWII.
The price of the museum is 40 RMB. I found the price quite steep at the beginning, but it gives you access to the caravaneer’s inn and horse stable. When traveling in Yunnan, we hear a lot about the old Tea and Horse trade road, but Yunnanyi’s museum definitely put a new meaning onto it.
The part of the museum dedicated to the US daredevils who flew over the Himalayas has a lots of artifacts (communication devices, helmets, guns, empty ammo boxes) let behind by the American soldiers, large-scale maps and photography.
It is very easy to find the museum. Just walk up the main street of the village and you will see a sign in English and Chinese. If you plan on visiting the museum, know that there is no reliable opening time, but just call and give the curator a heads up : 0872-338-2007 or 338-2023.
The curator is usually in his office during lunch.
Putting the past behind
In spite of its history, Yunnanyi remains a quiet village, out of the path of tourists. Honestly, I did not see many people, but sure heard the sound of majhong tiles being shuffled behind closed doors.
The fall atmosphere and the corn and red chilies drying in front of these centuries old wood and brick houses surely contributed to make Yunnanyi of the most picturesque village in Yunnan. Also, if you are looking for a 100% tourist-free day-trip destination from Dali ancient town, Yunnanyi is waiting for you.
The best way to reach Yunnanyi is from the ancient town of Dali or from Xiaguan (aka Dali city).
How to get there
From Xiaguan Southwest station (西南客运站), take a bus to Xiangyun (祥云). There is a bus every 15 minutes and the ride to Xiangyun takes 30 to 40 minutes.
Once in Xiangyun, you will have to transfer to the local bus station (城乡客运站 – Cheng hsiang ke yun djan). Take a tuk – tuk, it will cost 5 or 6 RMB per person.
At the local bus station, you can take either a green mini van for 8 RMB or a regular small bus that heads to Xiazhuang Township (下庄镇). Tell the driver you get off at Yunnayi (云南驿). It takes around 30 minutes on the countryside road. The driver will let you off on the side of the road, just walk straight and you will see the gates of the village.
On the way back, just wait by the side of the road for a bus to come. They all go to Xiangyun. You will probably see the characters “县城” on the bus, which means county seat.