The Lashi Watershed Nature Reserve is the largest of its kind in Yunnan and a major stop-off point for thousands of migratory birds and the humans that love to watch them. Located just 10 km (6 mi) outside of Lijiang on the slopes of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the marshy sub-alpine Lashi Lake (Lāshì Hǎi, 拉市海) is a popular day trip for those interested in boating across the lake, identifiying dozens of different bird species and chatting with tradition-bound Naxi, Yi and Tibetan people.
The reserve is made up of Lashi Lake and Wen Lake (Wén Hǎi, 文海) as well as the surrounding wetlands. It is possible to stay at one of the farmhouses here and wake up to bird calls, the soft swish of the lake's waves and the impressive snowy visage of the surrounding mountains, dominated by the Jade Dragon.
Come summer, the valley grows a carpet of wildflowers, especially bright rhododendrons, and both lakes fill up, allowing for boat rides and skinny dipping (not to say the authorities allow it). The wetlands hold many different plant species as well, important as a food source for the birds and for their own intrinsic beauty: look for the local water lily, a protected plant found nowhere else but here.
The villages around the lakes are mostly Naxi, with scattered Yi villages higher up and a concentration of Tibetans living in and around the Buddhist Zhiyun Temple (Zhǐyún Sì, 指云寺) along the shores of the lake. The villagers are still quite traditional, very friendly and very curious.
Like most natural wonders in China, the Lashi wetland area is under threat from human encroachment and general degradation; the Nature Conservancy has established some programs to try and protect the wetlands and the many species of birds and plants that call this place home—be aware of this situation if you do head out to the lake.
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