The coach taking us from Kunming
to Sha Ping (the bus from hell)

 Lotus Tour of China
Gallery 2

by Pat Clifford
Senior Horticulturist
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Click images to enlarge

Sha Ping and Strange Dragon Lake

This trip promised to be truly authentic and if anyone was still in doubt the bus trip into the countryside proved it. No luxury hired coach for us oh no - public transport Chinese style - what an experience! Being 6' 4'' tall it was no fun being squeezed into a seat for 6 hours that was designed for the average Chinese man, and sharing the bus with live chickens and locals who continually ate boiled eggs certainly added flavour. 

I should add here that finding out any actual facts and figures relating to the places in the rural areas we visited was nigh on impossible. Although our guide was fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese he had spent most of his time in Kunming where the dialect of the city is completely different from the outlying areas, so although we had no problems in finding out the basics, trying to get in-depth information was difficult. This only added to the excitement of the trip though, as there was always this air of uncertainty and the feeling we were going places not many westerners had been before us.

After a rather circuitous route through the beautiful countryside we arrived in the small but rapidly expanding city of Sha Ping. We were staying in a government hotel where you were awoken at 6 a.m. with stirring Martial music which was supposed to set you up for the day; personally I'd rather have been woken more serenely. I decided to stand outside the hotel which was situated on a roundabout and have a smoke, but quickly realised that I was going to cause an accident because everyone was swerving and slowing to have a look. My appearance was so alien to the locals, and I suddenly realised I'd finally arrived in "China". From then on I was constantly being scrutinised, but far from being disconcerting it was actually quite nice and although the people were naturally curious they were ever so friendly. The small children were the best though and the look of bemusement on their faces was a joy to behold. 

We took some taxis the next day to Strange Dragon Lake, where there were many varieties of Nelumbo growing naturally. We hired a small boat and spent the day right amongst the lotus, taking loads of pictures and just soaking up the amazing feeling that was created being surrounded by this truly wondrous plant. That evening we had dinner on the lake which was prepared by the boatman using only ingredients from the lake and its environs.

I'm usually quite conservative in my eating habits but on this trip you had to eat what you were given. Because of this, I tried many dishes throughout the journey that I wouldn't have dreamt of touching in my wildest dreams. Admittedly some were awful but some were lovely. I'd like to think that since returning I'm not so fussy and would at least try most things once, another little character building episode. Of course every meal we ate included some part of the Nelumbo and now I must have eaten every part of the lotus cooked in every conceivable way, and an unbelievably versatile plant this proves to be.

 Strange Dragon Lake

The group preparing to paddle out
into the lotus fields

Finally in amongst the lotus

< Peasant fishing 


Michael, guide, Pat

Would you look at the size of
these wild blooms? >


Nightly entertainment in Sha Ping

Local children and Warner with
some of the produce of Nelumbo >



We left Sha Ping aboard another coach bound for our next destination which was a small Shanni minority village on the shores of one of the lakes. This was situated 150 miles south of Sha Ping and was set in the midst of the Witches Hat Mountains'. It was truly the most breathtaking scenery I have had the pleasure of visiting. I thought my camera was going to go into meltdown.

There we stayed in a typical Chinese guesthouse that Grant our guide had stayed in frequently over the years. He told us how about twelve years before he had travelled alone to this region from Kunming in search of these lakes someone had told him about. He literally stumbled upon this village and as a traveller was befriended by this family. He had returned regularly but it had been three years since his last visit and he was welcomed like the long lost friend he was. He was saddened to learn of the death of the old grandmother whom he had told us so much about, and wanted us to meet.  


The amazing Khast Mountains
with lotus lakes everywhere

Dan, Grant, Walter and Nola at our
guesthouse in Shanni minority village

< Gallery 1 | Gallery 3 > | Gallery 4 >

WGI ONLINE Journal Table of Contents
Water Gardeners International
Home | Join WGI | Members' Exclusive | Gateway to Water Gardening