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Green gems shine
 updatetime:2021-06-15 16:39:44   View:0 Source:China Daily

Guilin's famous karst mountains, clear waters complement cultural, culinary treats on road to global sustainable travel

Fisherman Huang Quande skips down the cliff to the riverside, hopping onto his bamboo raft before launching it from the shore within seconds.

Two cormorants, one of them taking a quick dip in the crystal-clear waters, move to perch comfortably behind their owner.

The trio glides swiftly across the smooth-flowing waterway, framed by misty karst mountains and lush bamboo groves.

The scene is picture-perfect-exactly like the iconic image on a 20-yuan bill.

Huang, 93, and his cormorants have become a must-see attraction on the Lijiang River in Xingping town of Guilin, in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, one of China's top scenic spots.

Since his teens, he has been practicing the traditional cormorant fishing method-which trains the birds to hunt with snares at the base of their throats that stop them from swallowing larger fish-even as growing numbers of visitors have made him a celebrity at home and abroad.

"There have been changes through the years, including improvements in the environment. But we still enjoy our traditions here," Huang says.

From pristine landscapes to culturally rich communities, Huang symbolizes one of the best attractions that Guilin has to offer as it leverages its global tourism pioneer position toward green cultural development.

Guilin's karst terrain, part of Guangxi's world heritage site listing, has inspired traditional Chinese landscape painters for centuries with the Lijiang River complementing the breathtaking mountain sights.

The local authorities have been banking on the protection and promotion of the river and its environs in recent years amid increasing development. Recognizing the river's source reliance on rainwater and plugging seasonal low water level risks, Guilin city has invested more than 6 billion yuan ($915.6 million) to boost ecological water replenishment projects in Lijiang's upper reaches. They aim to better regulate the drainage basin, maintain the natural surroundings and improve river navigation.

Wang Zixi, head of the Guilin tourism bureau, says the city is moving beyond the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and is tapping demand from home and abroad with competitive and sustainable products and services.

"We're already recording impressive domestic recovery in the cultural tourism sector. Guilin will continue to leverage its physical and cultural advantages to develop tourism management and facilities," Wang says.

Natural comforts

Guilin is gearing up its offerings as a global tourist destination built on natural beauty, Chinese aesthetics and ethnic charm.

The Sanqianli Leisure Tourism Resort is one of the latest efforts to develop and upgrade green tourism. The resort in Xingping, which is under Yangshuo county, covers more than 100 hectares with an investment of more than 3 billion yuan. It boasts an awe-inspiring karst range as a backdrop to a tributary of the Lijiang River.

Visitors can experience ethnic snacks and performances across a network of culturally themed streets, which is host to an art museum dedicated to master ink painter Xu Beihong. The modern art pioneer spent time in Guilin and was inspired by its beauty.

Handicraft workshops, such as those for traditional tuanshan or round fans, also help preserve and promote local heritage.

In line with the resort's ecological approach, guests can try farming activities to bring them closer to nature, while outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy mountain climbing, paragliding, water sports and other physical pursuits.

Yi Ke, general manager of Guilin Palm Culture Tourism Investment Co which developed the site, says more than 300 village households have retained their homes and farmland, which they can continue to use to complement any work they do in the project as significant stakeholders in the area's growth.

"The residents and visitors all get the opportunity to mingle and interact with each other and nature as part of our long-term sustainable development model," he says.

Steak and stone

At the Ru Zhuo restaurant, on the banks of the Lijiang River and near the city's Elephant Hill scenic spot, French-based cuisine, including pan-seared shrimp salad, beef and codfish with accompanying sauces, are paired with a wide selection of wines from the New and Old Worlds.

Diners are surrounded by priceless stone sculptures dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), which are part of owner Zhuo Ran's private collection. The unique East-West restaurant spans more than 1,000 square meters and is touted as a one-of-a-kind with its museum-like setting nestled among Guilin's traditional attractions.

Exhibits include a Bixi turtle-like mythological beast carving from the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-581), frog-shaped "money-ringing" high-relief from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), Taoist statues of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) from Shanxi province and various Gandhara-influenced Buddhist relics.

Zhuo says he wanted to offer a "culturally beautiful place that left a long aftertaste" through a "feast of historians and poets".

"Guilin has long been known for having one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, which makes it easy for people to ignore its stone-carving relics," he says.

Guilin stone carving began in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420), flourished in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), reached its peak in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), fell somewhat in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), and shined in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. According to research, there are more than 2,000 stone carvings in Guilin from the Southern Dynasty (420-589) to the Qing, including more than 1,500 cliff carvings and nearly 600 cliff statues. These stone statues are sited at more than 30 famous mountain caves in Guilin. Among the picturesque mountains and rivers, the forest of stone inscriptions makes Guilin seem like a huge museum.

"Ancient stone carvings, Han and Tang sculptures, are the pinnacle of such art in my country and a source of culture. These items are transported here and displayed in their authentic and natural state. Diners can use their own experience and knowledge to perceive each other, drink with the ancients and feel the beauty of culture," Zhuo says.

Ziggy Moore, 38, has been in Guilin for a decade and points to the city's natural and cultural charms alongside its impressive growth.

"I wanted to travel the world; I wanted to learn a new culture, language. I never really thought about Guilin because it's a smaller city. My first choice would have been Beijing or Shanghai," the Californian says.

"But after traveling to many different cities throughout China, Guilin felt like home to me. It has beautiful mountains, the Lijiang River, lots of places where I can go and enjoy my life. Everyone seems so friendly, happy and helpful," he says.

"Outdoors, my first choice would be to go to the river for cliff jumping. I want more people to know about Guilin, how the people are always striving to improve their environment and city."

Li Ziyu contributed to the story

Web Editor:MXJ