Off-the-beaten path near Shaxi | The City God Temple & Beyond

View of the Shaxi Valley from the top of Shibao shan

View of the Shaxi Valley from the top of Shibao shan

The main attraction of Shaxi (沙溪) Valley is the village of Sideng (寺登) which draws crowds of backpackers on the Dali – Shangrila backpacker’s trail and busload of one-day trip trips tourist departing from Lijiang.

The first time I went to Shaxi, it seemed to me that there was nothing to see beyond the iconic Sideng theatre, the East Gate by the Yujin bridge, the quaint cobble-stone and slab-stone streets of the village and the famous Friday market.

Back in time in the streets of Aofeng village.

Back in time in the streets of Aofeng village.

Beyond Mount Shibao

After admiring the Buddhist grottoes of Shizhong temple (石钟寺) and hiking parts of Mount Shibao (石宝山), I ended up at the top of the sacred mountain, from which realised how vast the fertile Shaxi valley is. It would almost be a crime not to rent a bike in Sideng and explore the other Bai ethnic minority villages.

The City God Temple

The City Gods Temple of Aofeng village near Sideng in the Shaxi valley, Yunnan

The City Gods Temple of Aofeng village near Sideng in the Shaxi valley, Yunnan

After leaving the village, once you arrive on the main road, turn left and cycle south. After a short 10-15 minutes ride, you will end up in the village of Aofeng (鳌风村). At the end of the village, you will find the City God Temple (城隍庙).

It will probably be closed, because local communities are struggling to find the necessary financial means to maintain and keep open places like this temple, just 2 kilometres south of the main village of Sideng. 

Closed or not, the City God Temple is worth the short bike ride. Built in 1890, it features an impressive 16 meters long by 13 meters tall screen wall (照壁), possibly the largest in Yunnan (and the largest I have ever seen). 

On the left-hand side of this giant screen wall, you can try and push open the wooden door of the stone gate. Look on your right and you will see how the West has influence China and how, in spite of everything, it still does : the outline of the portrait Marx, Lenin and Mao stare blankly at City God Temple in disrepair. 

The portraits of Marx, Lenin and Mao inside Aofeng village's City Gods Temple

The portraits of Marx, Lenin and Mao inside Aofeng village’s City God Temple

At the bottom right corner of the screen wall, a stone plate explains that the temple and its screen wall have been listed as regional historical heritage in 1993 by the government of Jianchuan Township. 

I was wondering whether the growth of tourism triggered by the renovation of the village of Sideng will foster growth for all the Bai village of the Shaxi valley and whether these villages will have the necessary financial means, and will, to repair ancient structures like Aofeng village City God Temple.

The gate to Aofeng village City God Temple, dwarfed by the screen wall.

The gate to Aofeng village City God Temple, dwarfed by the screen wall.

Heading south

Aofeng village (鳌风村) is actually divided into three different hamlets : Zhongdeng (中登), Nanpotou (南坡头), and Fushouchang (福寿长). The hamlet of Fushouchang is the starting point to a hiking trail leading to the remote village of Mapingguan (马坪关) – it takes around 3 to 4 hours in the mountain, one way – and home to another ancient performance stage (古戏台) – although less impressive than Sideng village’s.

The old performance stage of Aofeng's hamlet of Fushouchang.

The old performance stage of Aofeng’s hamlet of Fushouchang.

It is also the an incredibly peaceful village, far away from the tourists who are crowding in Shaxi Valley‘s main village of Sideng. Obviously, forgotten by the renovations undertook recently, the streets of Fushouchang provides an interesting look of what Sideng village looked like before the tourism era.

In the streets of Aofeng

In the streets of Aofeng