China is situated in Eastern Asia on the western shore of Pacific ocean, with a land area of 9.6 million square kilometers. It has a population of more than 1.2 billion, of which more than 1.1 billion are Han Chinese. Besides Han Chinese, there are 55 ethnic groups in China which are customarily referred to as the 'ethnic minorities' and many times 'nationalities'. These are: Mongolia, Hui, Tibetan, Uyghur, Miao, Yi, Tujia, Hani, Kazakh, Dai, Li, Lisu, Va, Kirgiz, Tu, Daur, Mulam, Quiang, Blang, Salar, Uzbek, Russian, Ewenki, De'ang, Bonan, Yugur, Jing, Zhuang, Bouyei, Korean, Manchu, Dong, Yao, Bai, She, Gaoshan, Lahu, Shui, Dongxiang, Naxi, Jingpo, Maonan, Gelo, Xibe, Achang, Pumi, Tajik, Nu, Tatar, Drung, Oroqen, Hezhe, Monba, Lhoba and Jino.

Yunnan, China's sixth largest province cited as 'dream destination' for tourists and travelers is equally important from academic and research point of view. Situated in the southwestern part of China, Yunnan borders on Mynanar in the west and Laos and Vietnam in the south and southeast. It has an area of 394,000 square kilometers of which 94 percent is mountainous. Yunnan has 25 ethnic minority groups out of a total of 56, the highest in any Province of China. Kunming with a population of 1.04 million, we were told, is called the 'city of eternal spring' for its equable climate - for six months it experiences rainfall and for the rest of the year moderate to cold season. It has some intriguing temples and historic parks and the legendry Stone Forest .Yunnan is famous for its Pu er tea that is considered very good for reducing people's cholesterol level and keeping them slim. one heard that lot of people from all over the world have come to China to view this sight and here I am watching it without making extra efforts. The other place of interest lying in the northwest of Yunnan is 'Lijiang' and all should visit that. A much smaller town with a population of 40,000 people, Lijiang captivated us with its very different rickety wooden building and gushing small canals. UNESCO has placed all of Lijiang country on its World Heritage Site list in 1999. It has been the base of the 286,000 strong Naxi minority for about last 1400 years. The Naxi descend from ethnically Tibetan Qiang tribes and lived until recently in matrilineal families. The Naxi matriarchs maintained their hold over the men with flexible arrangements for love affairs wherein both partners continued to live in their respective homes with men making night visits. Henry, the person who accompanied us as our translator and interpreter was careful enough to point out that these were not 'casual affairs' and women were very particular about their men partners. This reminded me instantly of 'sambandham' relationship once common among the matrilineal Nayars of Kerala so vividly described by social anthropologist Kathleen Gough.

Lijiang Town
The Naxi created a written language over thousand years ago using extraordinary system of pictographs - the only hieroglyphic language still in use. The most famous Naxi text is the Dongba classic creations and ancient copies of it and other texts can still be found in Lijiang. The Dongbas are the Naxi priests who have been caretaker of the written language and mediators between the Naxi and the spirit world. The Dongba religion itself an off-shoot of Tibet's pre- Buddhist Bon religion, eventually developed into an amalgam of Tibetan Buddhism, Islam and Taoism. tourists met one of the Dongbas in the City Museum who showed us the text by writing flawlessly and effortlessly. In the evening you can watched a programme of folk music and Naxi orchestra organised at the Naxi Music Academy. The pieces performed by the group with original instruments were the music from the Han, Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties reviving the ancient history and culture of China.

one can travel from Lijiang for Lugu lake by bus - a long seven hours but enjoyable drive. Lugu lake overlaps the remote Yunnan- Sichuan border. Formed by two sinking faults, Lugu lake is fairly high at 2685 meters and usually snowbound during the winter months. you can rode for a long distance on its coast. If it is raining you can go by boats to the Island in the middle of it and witnessed Buddhist monasteries there. Lama Buddhism is practiced here widely and Lord Buddha, popularly known as 'Shaka Muni' is worshipped here with all reverence. The area is home to several Tibetan, Yi and Muosuo tribes. visited one of the several villages scattered around the outskirts of the lake. The village was called 'Loushui' and many Naxi customs lost in Lijiang were evident here.You can visit the home of one of the matriarchs and interact with the people who seemed proud of their culture. In the evening you can also enjoyed their famous dance called 'Jiacuo'.

Achievements have also been made in Regional Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities in Yunnan Province over the years. It is stated that at present China has five autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties or banners and 1125 autonomous towns. China seemed to have moved ahead from the state where majority ethic groups in Yunnan lived on primitive farming or animal husbandry to the one where they now practice mechanized farming, cash crop plantation, market economy, trade and commerce. However, one thing that made us little uncomfortable was the presence of security guards all around and very structured and planned way in which the whole visit to the villages was conducted. Those who wanted to visit the houses on their own were not allowed to do so.

That apart, the feel of China and of Yunnan in particular was explicit all over the conference. The lectures, presentations, films, exhibitions, tours, the food and the beautiful finale - the cultural programme were all captivating. Never mind the language - the country's development was there for all of us to see and the people at every level, specially the 'volunteers' were genuinely helpful. China is huge and like it all aspects of it are big and magnificent, I only saw a part of it- Yunnan, and it was a truly awesome place.