Lugu Lake is located in the North West Yunnan plateau in the centre of Ningliang Yi Autonomous County in the People's Republic of China. The middle of the lake forms the border between the Ninglang County of Yunnan Province and the Yanyuan County of Sichuan province. The formation of the lake is thought to have occurred in a geological fault belonging to the geological age of the Late Cenozoic. It is an alpine lake at an elevation of 2,685 metres (8,809 ft) and is the highest lake in the Yunnan Province. The lake is surrounded by mountains and has five islands, four peninsulas, fourteen bays and seventeen beaches.
The lake's shores are inhabited by many minority ethnic groups, such as the Mosuo, Norzu, Yi, Pumi and Tibetan. The most numerous of these are the Mosuo people (also spelt "Moso"), said to be a sub clan of the Naxi people (as per Chinese records of Minorities in China) with ancient family structure considered as "a live fossil for researching the marital development history of Human beings" and "the last quaint Realm of Matriarchy." It is considered as the home of the Moso Tribe However, Mosuo have a separate identity from the Naxis, as it is said that the Chinese used the word Mosuo as a generic term for different ethnic groups, including the Naxi.
Lugu Lake is called the "mother lake" by the Mosuo people. The lake is also well known in Chinese travel pamphlets as the region of "Amazons," "The Kingdom of Women" and "Home of the Matriarchal Tribe", this last name highlighting the dominant role of the Mosuo women in their society. The marriage rites of the Mosuo people are known as "azhu marriage" ceremony and this unique aspect of their social culture has given the title "exotic land of daughters" to the area. It is also known as "A Quaint Realm of Matriarchy." The matriarchal and matrilineal society of the Mosuos is also termed the "Women's World."
Features of Lugu Lake
Lugu Lake lies 200 kilometers (approximately 124 miles) from the center of Lijiang City, on the border between Ninglang County in Yunnan Province and Yanyuan County in Sichuan Province. It is like a beautiful pearl shining among the hills of the northwest plateau in Yunnan.
The lake is in the shape of a horse's hoof-long from north to south, and narrower from east to west. The vista of the lake changes constantly throughout the day. The morning mist mixed with the light of the rising sun gives it an orange glow covered by mist. When the light of sun causes the hills to throw their shadows onto the water, the lake has a jade green color. The lake is calm and dark green in the evening when the sun sinks, and is peaceful when night comes. Gentle wind blows and water ripples.
On the lake there are five islands. They are different sizes and are like green boats floating on the water. Heiwawu Island, Liwubi Island, and Lige Island are most notable. Heiwawu Island is in the center and has a variety of birds living on it. The smallest is Nixi Island - an oblong rock covered with shrubs and moss. Besides the five islands, there are also three peninsulas and an island which is linked to a seawall on the shore by a path paved with small stones.
Mystery and charm surround the lake, partly because it was once an unspoiled place and still retains much of its totally natural beauty, but mostly because the Mosuo people who live there form a matriarchal society. There is no marriage. Men stay in the women's home as mates called 'Axia' and the intimate relationship lasts as long as they like. Children are brought up by women, and use the surname of their mothers. Families are composed of the members of the matrilineal kin. Women operate production and management, and hold the principal position in the society, forming a modern day 'woman's kingdom', which adds mystique to this place.
The lake is encircled with hills. The water is clean and inviting, with fish swimming in it. The forest around is dense and the air is fresh. This is a place that is little tainted by modern industry - the natural beauty is retained. The weather is pleasant - it is cool in summer and warm in winter. All the seasons are as comfortable as spring, but the best seasons to come here are spring and summer when the hills are emerald green, the flowers are in bloom and the birds are singing happily.
The Mosuo people's ancient history is identified with Lugu Lake and their interests are now protected by the "Lugu Lake Mosuo Cultural Development Association". They are advertised as a major tourist attraction of Lugu Lake for their matriarchal traditions and "walking marriages," where marriage is not sacrosanct as women exercise the right to choose and change their husbands at will. According to the 1990 database, there were 90,000 Mosuos, mostly concentrated around Lugu Lake. Their ethnicity has been defined as Masuo people belonging to the Pumi tribe, similar to the Mongolian ethnicity and a branch of the Naxi. Azu marriage is the way of living of the Mosuo people, and Azu in the local Mosuo language (which does not have its own script) means "intimate sweet heart".
It is a convenient arrangement in which the partners come and go as they like. Three types of Azu marriages have been mentioned namely, the "travelling marriage," which is marriage without cohabitation; and the second type is the marriage with cohabitation that have developed into deep feelings after living under "travelling marriage" practice; they then live together and raise children as a family. The third type of marriage, which is linked to the history of Mongolian people occupying Lugu Lake who inculcated the practice of monogamous marriage among the Mosuo people, is called as ¡°One on one marriage." However, in all the three types of marriages, women have the rightful ownership of land, houses and full rights to the children born to them. The children carry their mother's family name and pay greatest respect to their mothers who in turn enjoy high social status. It is for these reasons that Mosuo people of Lugu Lake are an attraction. The male companions are known as "axias" and they work for the women.
Lugu Lake and Mosuo culture, though identified as syncratic, they are spread throughout the hills surrounding the lake. The heart of Mosuo culture is concentrated in Yongning, known as the cultural capital of Mosuo people and their largest religious Tibetan monastery is located here. Yang Erche Namu, a Chinese born in a small village near Lugu Lake, is a famous writer and singer of Mosuo ethnicity. She has written several books including the one titled Leaving Mother Lake, her first book in English. Her career and life is a story of controversies. The minority report in Time mentions "Sex appeals. And today, the area around Lugu Lake, the Mosuo homeland where Namu grew up, has become a chic tourist destination, thanks almost entirely to the renown that Namu's book has brought it." She had even proposed to the then divorced French president Nicolas Sarkozy during his visit to China; in a recorded video introduction uploaded to the internet, she praised the colour of his skin and stated that she would be "a perfect wife for him".
Tribal beliefs about Lugu Lake
The minority tribal community, which resides on the shores of Lugu Lake, have many beliefs and taboos linked to the lake. They hold the lake in sacred reverence and have taboos on killing of animals and felling of trees; and Mosuos, in particular consider animals and trees as innocent. Any body desecrating the lake, as a reparation, has to sacrifice an animal used in tilling and offer the meat to the villagers to eat, contact a "Dingba or hangui (a shaman) to appease the spirits and restore topo-cosmic harmony" and pay obeisance to a Tibetan Buddhist Lama or local Lama. The fisher folk of the lake who practice zoned fishing in the lake believe that a black footed crane (Grus spp.) returning to Lugu Lake ushers prosperity.
As devout Buddhists, the Mosuo people make a devout annual circumambulation of the lake's shore in a clockwise direction. The prayer walk around the lake involves 35 miles (56 km) of trekking covering the numerous temples and stupas around the lake's shore. Generally, this parikrama is covered in a day. However, a leisurely three-day walk also takes place. The Buddhist influence on the lake's shore is also seen in the form of prayer flags and pyramidal stupas or chortens. The religious trek passes through the Lusoshui village of the Mosuo, farms, orchards, temples in islands, pebble beaches, crosses a fork which directs towards the Yongning, once the capital of Mosuo people. It passes under the shadow of Mount Gama, trees wound with multicoloured cloths, rainbow coloured Buddhist prayer flags with an animal symbol and Buddhist scriptures printed on them, rows of pine trees, pig trough canoes on the lake, wooden houses with upturned roofs (similar to those found in Lijiang city), agricultural land of red soils, white gulls on the lake waters; a change of territory into Saichun from Yunnan region, pyramidal stupas made with square segments affixed with flat prayer inscribed stones; the Lama Temple (a three tiered red and white Buddhist structure with upturned eaves surrounded by colourful fluttering prayer flags and a 15 feet (4.6 m) fresco with a monk praying amidst scenic surroundings of mountains and clouds, altars, drums brass gongs and so forth) near the Grass Sea. It then passes through the house of the iconic Yang Yerche Namu (the Lugu Lake native who is famous for her writings on Musuo and its people and for her singing and artistic talents) known as "China's Sexiest Woman", and continues through eucalyptus groves and marshes, finally ending the trek at the lake.