Across the valley from the 52nd highest mountain in China

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May 26th 2007
Published: August 7th 2007
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Given how few Westerners seem to come through Zhongdian it was surprising that the bus station announcements were in both Mandarin and English. Half the passengers on the bus to Deqin seemed to be Chinese tourists, including one irritating woman who'd tied a cowbell to her backpack and hence sounded like an approaching cow every time she moved. The road was generally winding and slow - not unlike Corsica - and the journey felt about 50% longer than it actually was.

To compensate, the scenery was excellent, with plunging valleys and wandering yaks, and snow-topped mountains looming closer and closer until we were essentially on the other side of the valley from them. A startling blue sky provided a vivid backdrop.

At Deqin, 2 tourists from Beijing (Song and Li Jingjing) and their friend Jimi from Seoul arranged to share a taxi with us to Fei Lai Si, the main viewing point for the Meili Xue range. We later agreed to do our hiking with them also.

Fei Lai Si consists of 1 street, dotted with guesthouses all having great views of the mountains. Water is in short supply here, with only a couple of hours of availability in the morning and evening. We chanced upon a cafe/guesthouse where the owners spoke good English and they were able to give us information about local conditions.

The main hike in the area is to the Mingyong Glacier, however we were told that a recent landslide had blocked the access road to the main entrance to the reserve, so getting to the glacier would require at least a day of hiking. However the cafe owner then said that the glacier was rather dirty at the moment and really not worth the effort - a better itinerary would be to hike up and over the Nazongla Pass to Lower Yubeng village, overnight there, then visit a waterfall and hike back the following day. Song, Li Jingjing, and Jimi were all happy with this though they were going to spend an extra day in Lower Yubeng (whereas we needed to get back to Zhongdian to extend our visas).

The next morning was a little cloudy, meaning the sunrise never really materialised, though it seemed as though the entire population of Fei Lai Si had turned out to see it. A quick breakfast followed then we piled into a taxi with the other 3 and headed off for our hike in the mountains (blogged separately).

On returning, we heard from the guesthouse owner that a shared taxi driver would be heading back to Zhongdian the next day and was looking for passengers. Since he would be going directly there (versus us having to go to Deqin then catch another bus), was charging no more than the bus, would leave at a time of our choosing (9:30AM), and would presumably be faster, this seemed like the best option for getting back to Zhongdian.

At 8:20AM the following morning, the driver came a-knocking and greeted me with a flood of Mandarin. Since I couldn't understand a word of it, I went in search of the guesthouse owners to get a translation. Neither of them was around, but the driver disappeared off and soon returned with another Chinese woman who spoke English. She gave me the tidings that she and 3 friends had, that morning, agreed with the driver to leave for Zhongdian at 8:30AM. When I mentioned that we'd agreed to leave at 9:30AM, she rather cheekily said that that was too late for her group, so maybe I could catch another cab. I pointed out that we actually had prior claim on the taxi, so we shouldn't be the ones disadvantaged by this. At my prompting, she asked the driver why he had agreed one start time with them and another with us, and he just looked sheepish. I said that, as a compromise, we'd try to be ready for 9AM, which would mean rushing our breakfast.

The journey back wasn't quite the superior trip I'd been hoping for. The driver seemed to want to conserve fuel plus his knowledge of when to change gear was sketchy, so we crawled along, being passed by pretty much every other road user (including the public bus). This slowness was compounded by multiple loo/lunch/photo stops requested by our fellow passengers, whereas all we wanted to do was get to Zhongdian post haste.

Fortunately the showers at our guesthouse were as hot as I remembered, and the opportunity for a good soak helped wash away some of the irritations of the last couple of days.

Dull but possibly useful info
Getting there: Take a bus from Zhongdian to Deqin (several through the day - we took the 8:20AM), costing 41 yuan and taking about 6.5 hours, then take a minivan to Fei Lai Si, costing 30 yuan (for the whole minivan, so try to get other people to share if your group is fewer than 5) and taking about 30 minutes.
Stayed at: Meili Hotel. Cost 80 yuan for a twin. Little English spoken and poor service (possibly because of the lack of English spoken ...) but comfortable and with a view of the mountains. Would stay here again as I don't think there's anything better.
North Star Inn. Cost 80 yuan for a twin. Cold room and bathroom, and no mountain view, but the English-speaking owners were extremely helpful with trekking information. Would not stay here again, but consider eating in the restaurant and picking the owners' brains.
Notes: i. If you want to go to Zhongdian from here, you may be able to find a driver in the same way that we did. It cost 50 yuan each (there were 6 people in total) and took about 6.5 hours.

Additional photos below
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Mountains in Meili Xue rangeMountains in Meili Xue range
Mountains in Meili Xue range

Note Mingyong glacier at centre right

19th June 2007

I enjoyed your latest few blogs and am gleaning lots of useful information for my own upcoming trip to the same area.

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