Saturday, 7 June 2008

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Next day was a three hour bus journey to Lijiang, north of Dali. It's not on Grandad's route, but it's an amazing town and also the start off point for the trek down the Tiger Leaping Gorge (so named, because a bloke chasing a tiger made it leap across the gorge - yeah, right, as if!).

Lijian is more touristy than Dali, but it's bigger and more attractive. The architecture here is amazing and the old town is a maze of cobbled streets that all look the same. It's impossible not to get lost (despite the purchase of a map) and I take a wander the first night after checking into Mama's guesthouse. It's more like a mad-house, all run by this woman that barks her 'Chinglish' at you and you can't help but lover her.

The next morning I'm up early for another three hour minivan trip to the gorge. To be difficult I want to start at the far end (the gorge runs along a north east axis) and to walk in a south west direction. I'm in the car with two Londoners funnily enough - Neil, who's tattooed pretty much everywhere and Luke, who looks like Neil from the Young Ones. We're about to set off and Mama bundles a bemused looking Canadian (Kaitlin) into the car too - "but I want to go with my friend" she says to Mama - " No matter, you all go Gorge" she says.

The drive is unremarkable and we enter from the southern end of the Gorge. Kaitlin decides not to wait at this end on her own for the other bus to turn up also means I've got a trekking parther, which I'm much happier about. Neil and Luke are just exploring the lower path (which is basically a semi-metalled road) along the bottom. After a quick power lunch at Tina's Guest house, we're off up the hill and what a slog - sweating again - and I'm lucky as the sun has come out, the skys clear and the views amazing! It's a steep hard climb, but then levels out and the path winds in and out of the spurs of the gorge with some of the most amazing views I've ever seen. There's a buddhist temple along the way (quite how they built that there is another amazing feat of hard labour and design) and a refreshing waterfall before reaching Halfway House. It's more like a hotel and is really nice. I check into a great room (more like a hotel) with views overlooking the gorge. The owner - 'Freddie' looks younger than his 43 years and I can see why - he runs an amazing place and has lived in the gorge all his life. He reminds me of a Chinese Michael Palin, which is a little ironic as I think this guest house (or more specifically, one of the squat toilets with a fantastic view) was featured in Palin's latest travel documentary.

You can't hear the river and rapids roaring away below you (too high up now) and the mountains opposite are snowcapped when they reveal themselves from behind the clouds. After dinner on the rooftop terrace, the clouds cleared at night to reveal the stars, slowly moving satellites and more than a couple of shooting stars. Just fantastic, and the electric blanket to warm my bed topped off an excellent day.

Had to deal with a rather large spider in the shower in the morning and then it was off early (08.30) as day two was the longer trek. Overcast and cloudy today, but the views back down the gorge are still impressive and the cooler weather is nicer. There was one long climb, but nothing too strenuous to reach the high point and amazing viewing platform before descending the '28 bends' to the next village. I was glad to have done the route this way round and not have had to climb these bends on the first day. We passed a shop in the middle of nowhere, and the owner accosts you with "Have a rest (sounds so enticing!), drink tea? Eat banana, snickers, mars, walnut? Smoke Ganja?" It seems that the hippy travellers in this neck of the woods have created quite a reputation for themselves as pot-heads. Needless to say, I declined (I want to walk off the mountain, not fly off it!) and head down to a traditional Naxi family guest house at the next village for some lunch.

It's more descending after lunch and the track gets better, leading one down past farms into the village of Qiatou (pron. Chow-toe - ironic pun huh?). Here is the spot for a well deserved cold beer and a rest at Jane's guest house before catching the bus back and a celbratory meal out in Lijiang.

So, I'm writing this in Mama's guesthouse lounge, a little hungover after post-walk celbrations and waiting for the 18 hour (!) sleeper bus to Ruili. This border town is my last stop in China, and next to the crossing at Wanding where grandad crossed into Burma (needless to say, I'm not going there) before passing into India. I'm a day behing schedule, so not too bad and should be flying back to HK on Monday now instead of Sunday, where I'm looking forward to staying with Ruth's bridesmaid Sarah, doing some washing... and being back in some form of civilisation before my week in Beijing. It's strange to think that in two weeks I'll be back in the UK (I'm really looking forward to coming home to my loved ones) and that I have recreated a respectable trace of grandad's route in just over 5 weeks. I think the bus journey will give me time to reflect on all this before my next post.

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