Now you might have heard horror stories with regards to the ticketing Nazis at Lijiang’s famed Black Dragon Pool. Yes, we’re referring to those (insert un-pleasantry of choice here) masquerading as sweet little angelic things, all decked out in their tribal garb. Not only do they demand you fork out an exorbitant sum of 80 Yuan as a ‘preservation fee’, these ladies give you massive hell in the process.
Well, in the midst of dodging from Lijiang’s version of the Gestapo (and being real cheap ba*tards), our dash for safety somehow landed us right smack across a quaint establishment we soon came to know as Through the Window Café. Discreetly tucked away in the most inconspicuous corner of the Black Dragon Pool, the café would’ve certainly gone unnoticed if not for the boisterous yet non-threatening shouts of, ‘Hello, do come in!’, from within. It turns out that this mystery pair of vocal chords belonged to non-other than Stephen, the jolly Kiwi (New Zealander for those fancying political correctness) who runs the show.
One might think that Through the Window Café gets its namesake from some twisted form of poetic romanticism; well, that is certainly not the case here. The café is so aptly called since you literally have to climb in through the window as a construction error left the eatery door-less. For the vertically challenged though, Stephen has taken due caution by placing a series of steps by the window so you won’t rip your pants attempting to get in.
The fare served here does not differ much from your run-of-the-mill western eatery. What is indeed notable though, is the finer touches the affable Kiwi puts into running the place. When we ordered a beer, Stephen ensured that is was served in a nice chilled glass for optimum enjoyment, a rarity in China indeed.
Everything on the menu is home-made and done from scratch, even the Ketchup is no exception. That is why he takes much pride into emphasizing the amount of TLC (tender-loving care) that goes into making his pizzas and burgers; as well as how each dish would be a great treat for your taste-buds. And no Siree, lying he is certainly not.
Besides donning his apron and cooking up a storm in the kitchen, Stephen flips a three-sixty by night and slips on his dancing shoes in an attempt to rule to dance floor. As a parting farewell, he reminded us once again about the weekly Salsa classes he conducts; and the dire need for male dancers to partner his female majority. Yes, not only does the man do a mean pizza, it looks like his Latin Salsa chops ain’t that bad as well.
If anyone were to compile a list celebrating Lijiang’s unsung heroes, it is without doubt that the humble Lashi Lake would emerge tops. Lashi’s the kind of place that makes muted appearances on maps and receives little (if not zero) attention from the travel guide book fraternity. Thankfully though, Panba’s got our very own born and bred Lijiang-er – Guwen (who whips up a mean Fried Bittergourd and Egg Dish by the way) to lead us in our quest into the vast and somewhat arduous unknown.
A trip down to the lake can be done by bike or a hired vehicle. We’d recommend the latter though…especially for those who’ve done the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail and thought they might have keeled over and died from a cardiac arrest mid-way.
Seeing that both our guests and staff weren’t up for a date with the Grim Reaper, we sought out the more practical (ie. lazier) alternative. The mini-van/pick-up hybrid, which departs from Zhong Yi Market 忠义市场 , plies the route all throughout the morning and late-afternoon. And unless you’ve been hitting a patch of bad luck lately, settling the fare at its standard rate of 10 Yuan shouldn’t be much of a hassle.
After half an hour of literally rocking it out in the back of the truck, the little hidden utopia that is Lashi dawned upon our visions. Nestled just beneath the backdrop of the iconic Jade Dragon Mountain, the lake proved itself worthy of its dark horse status, reflecting all the splendor that surrounds it – rolling hills, galloping horses and even the occasional wrinkled Naxi lady.
Negotiating your way through the numerous plantations and touts can prove to be some sort of a challenge; and that is discounting the constant need for skirting your way around the ginormous steaming piles of…souvenirs…the local horses so kindly leave behind. Be forewarned though, that in the midst of these fields and horse stables are strategically positioned locals waiting to execute their trademark move – hidden hand, cunning fee collector. You see, most of these farmers have bought up land surrounding the most picturesque spots of the Lashi Lake. Therefore, making your way inroads would result in you having to crossing their land; and having to fork out exorbitant amounts ranging from 30-50 Yuan. Thankfully though, the farmers don’t really enforce this policy once you’re out of their line of sight.
Once you’ve reached the edge of the lake, treat yourself to a nice afternoon picnic, some good ol’ kite flying or you could do what we did…reward ourselves to an hour long cam-whoring session. If you’re a fan of organic produce, be sure to try out some of those preserved Hawthorne Fruits that the old Naxi ladies hawk along the banks. And no, unlike their counterparts at the Tiger Leaping Gorge, the old ladies here do not peddle any Ma-Li-Wan-Na.