The first thing that struck me when I moved across to Ruili from Muse is large scale use of electric scooters and carts. Andy told me that the government supports this venture in a big way to reduce pollution. Apart from the electric scooters and carts being relatively inexpensive, due to a form of government subsidy, it is also hassle free to register them for use. One could almost buy them and drive them away – as easy. In the towns of Ruili, Dali and Huize I found that this initiative has kept the environment free from air and noise pollution. They are so silent that they almost ‘creep’ on you in the markets. Besides, the scooters are invariably fitted with fancy umbrellas to shield from the rain. Besides, even the heavy freight trucks that plied between Muse and Huize across major mountain terrain did not spew ‘poison’. It shows that good governance ultimately support the citizen and improves quality of life.
What has left me gaping continuously in the past two days is the infrastructure of roads, bridges and tunnels. I have done over 1000 km from Ruili to Huize. Driving has never been such a pleasure before. Totally uninterrupted stretches of freeways that are linked by huge tunnels and bridges that are maintained so well that one can even ‘sleep’ behind the wheel. I have liberally used cruise control and kept the legs free of stress. Not a single pot hole! How is it possible? The terrain through which I passed through gets very foggy and rains almost through the year due to the tropical climate in the Yunan province. In India it is customary to blame the weather for the poor upkeep of the roads. Monsoon and heat wave are the favorite excuses. Another feature is that the freeways are completely isolated from the villages, towns and cities in that there is neither encroachment nor hindrance for smooth ride. Proper signages herald exits and entries and at intermediate locations there are comfort stations that offer fueling, parking, restaurants, shopping and restroom facilities. Undoubtedly, use of such freeways is expensive. Over 1000 km I have paid 540 Yuan – the equivalent of nearly Rs 5600! In turn I have enjoyed a safe and stress free drive that has taken me longer in a shorter time! The investment in such infrastructure is done by private companies under the guidance of the government.
Before turning in last night, Andy and I had decided to go for a morning walk to the ancient city of Dali. It was just a short distance away from the place where we stayed overnight, the Jade Emu. It was a pleasant walk the market was yet not crowded. There were shops of all types. Bakeries from where the smell of fresh pastries filled the nostrils, butcher shops that did not smell of the freshly cut animal meat, restaurants that showcased their morning wares such as Bao, dumplings, noodles and rice and many more. There were Italian restaurants and there was a McDonalds. Fresh fruits and vegetables were sold on the sidewalks. Some of the shops were creatively decorated and some outlandishly named. But to me, the feature of the morning walk was the beautiful Catholic Church that had been established in 1927-32 by Fr Pierre, a French priest. The architecture was very Chinese with some of the European at the entrance. It was so peaceful inside that spending some time in soulful prayer there was a gift from the heavens.
After the walk Andy and I settled to have breakfast in a restaurant where Bao and dumplings were being made fresh. We sat down to a serving each of the steamed pork Bao and dumpling delights. I helped myself to liberal doses of the spicy chilli paste with every bite of those, almost shocking Andy who finally ventured to taste some of the paste with the last bite of his helping. On the way back to the hotel we dropped into a bakery from where Andy suggested that we buy some breads for the day. He also wanted me to taste the flower pastry, a local delicacy. Later when I had it the taste was extra ordinary. It was like a croissant baked with fresh flowers inside them! Besides the great taste the smell of the flowers was the added attraction. It was glorious. The breads were also unique. One of them was green tea flavored and had boiled red beans in it and the other was liberally laced with red bean sauce and sugar syrup.
By the time we set course for Kunming, which was the original destination for the day, it was 9 am. It was just over 300 km to the big city. Along the way Andy asked if I was good for a longer drive than that for the day. With the glorious roads that stretched endlessly I readily accepted the offer to drive some distance more for the day. Andy came up with the suggestion of Huize, which he said was a small county township. Most importantly, he was able to come up with a fantastic hotel offer that would give us a large twin bed room for Yuan 165, which included breakfast. Even the stay in Jade Emu had cost me about the same, but without the breakfast. Andy and I decided on twin sharing accommodation to reduce costs, since lodging of the guide was the responsibility of the client!
About 50 km short of Kunming, after Chuxiong, I overtook a car that was ‘lazing’ in the driving lane. In a short while the car overtook me on the overtaking lane and hung around. Then the passenger seat window opened and a very Indian face came out of it. I pulled alongside that car on the driving lane because Andy thought that the person had smiled at me. The head popped out yet again and smilingly said, “This is Kerala registration”! And his pronunciation left me in no doubt that he was a ‘country cousin’. My word, my eyes popped out. Then Andy told me that there were many from India in the IT and ITES industry in China.
I did not know what it was, but I was overcome by sleep on a couple of occasions along the route to Huize. We pulled over for breaks each time at the way side facilities and on one of them I took a twenty minute power nap that stood me in good stead till we reached Huize. It is said that in the ancient past dinosaurs roamed the terrain through where I was travelling. The World Dinosaur Valley is a major attraction on the route and I was told that there is a large Museum of exhibits of the animals of early civilization.
We drove into the small town of Huize at about 4 pm having done over 550 km. I was not at all tired or in need of rest. The hotel was not difficult to find given Andy’s familiarity with the GPS. The large hotel was being decked up for a Chinese wedding. The check in formalities was done without a fuss and the excellent Wifi connectivity immediately brought in WhatsApp messages. Gmail and Facebook were not available. Later in the room Andy tried to set up a VPN connection, as suggested by a Facebook friend, but could not succeed.
After catching up with friends and family on WhatsApp and completing some documentation Andy suggested a visit to the old part of Huize. We parked and walked. The township by itself was unremarkable and it was not a touristy place. But such walks help to understand local culture and sample life there. We saw many restaurants were many during the walk and assessed each one of them. In the end we plumbed for a Chinese set meal dinner. I had a pork fried rice with soup, kimchi, steamed egg and a bottle of Yanjiang beer. The portion was so huge that I sought Andy’s help to finish most of it. Later we went to the main town square and were greeted to a large gathering of people. The centre of attraction was the large replica of an ancient coin which was bridged through and under the bridge were lovely dancing fountains. There were many groups of ‘dancers’ who moved their bodies rhythmically to lovely music. Anyone can join any of the groups and I came to now that the dances are after dinner exercises. People of all age groups could be seen enthusiastically participating in them. I wondered about the level of community engagement even on a working day. Moreover, even in a small town such community infrastructure had been planned and maintained by the administration.