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Published: August 7th 2007
The taxi first took us from Fei Lai Si to Xi Dang village along roads hugging the steep side of the valley. We saw the landslide that had blocked access to the Mingyong Glacier - it was huge yet we saw 3 people, hands joined, inching across its treacherous surface. From Xi Dang village, we then drove to some hot springs, lopping 7km off our route and requiring us to walk through several sections of loose rock as otherwise the taxi would be too heavy (and even then we had to push). It would appear that the road maintenance budget for this part of Yunnan has totalled roughly 0 yuan for the last few years.
The trail over the Nazongla Pass started at the hot springs and went up and up and up. Due to the mornings/evenings being cold, we all needed to carry warm clothes but the exertions of hiking up the path, and the increasing temperature as the sun rose higher, soon had me stripping off my layers. With 1km in vertical gain over the length of the path, it was hard going for everyone. Worst off was poor Jimi, who hadn't slept last night because of continuing
headaches and who brought up the rear for most of the climb, sometimes by a couple of hundred metres. Whenever we looked back at him, he was trudging along slowly, his face a picture of stoicism.
We stopped at both teahouses on the way up, and I sampled some of Song's yak butter tea, which was a little salty but not unremittingly grim. At the second teahouse, we had fun watching an unsteady calf that had only been born that morning, and a young boy who was carrying a spring onion stalk as though it was a cigarette.
We were passed on the way, in both directions, by convoys of horses/donkeys, some of which were being used to ferry tourists up/down the path, others of which were genuine pack animals.
Not long after leaving the second teahouse, and with 5.5 hours elapsed since we left the hot springs, we saw the numerous strings of prayer flags marking the top of Nazongla Pass, where some celebratory instant noodles were had at a strategically positioned teahouse.
A further hour brought us to Upper Yubeng, where Song kindly phoned for the cab driver to ask him to meet LA
Woman and I at the hot springs tomorrow afternoon, then the best part of another hour of downhill then uphill plodding to reach Lower Yubeng. The village is set in a lush green valley with snowy mountains and a glacier at the far end - very picturesque indeed.
Facilities were basic. We ended up in a guesthouse where the hot shower produced water at such low pressure that it would have taken 5 minutes to fill up a cup (though the many sounds of dripping indicated that maybe it was only a multitude of plumbing leaks that were to blame), the bathrooms were accessible via an obstacle course of planks over muddy ditches and had no lights (meaning that any nocturnal loo visits were likely to take place in the alley adjoining the guesthouse), and the light in the bedroom had no obvious switch so we had to rip the wires out of the wall to turn it off. At least the toilet was a trench one - the most popular guesthouse in the village had simply a wooden floor with holes in, so you could see previous users' business while doing your own.
More distressingly, there appeared
to be a complete shortage of packaged goods in the village, e.g. bottles of water and soft drinks, chocolate bars, trekking munchies, etc. This wasn't good, as we'd finished all our supplies during the day. We knew such goods were available in Upper Yubeng, but the thought of traipsing up there and back was too unappealing for words. The one liquid that did appear to be available everywhere in unlimited quantities was hot water in flasks. We hoped to generate some cold water for the next day by leaving the lid off a flask overnight. Note to self - Thermoses work damn well even when unstoppered. Plus the water tasted of wood smoke.
Despite this, the room provided us with a good night's sleep, and a plain bao and some tea were tasked at breakfast with ensuring I had enough energy to reach somewhere with more calorific food supplies. Jimi still wasn't feeling great, so it was only Li Jingjing, Song, and the 2 of us who set off for the sacred Yubeng waterfall at 7AM. Based on split times we'd been given in Fei Lai Si, we realised we could only spend 4 hours getting to/from the waterfall
The slog begins
(L to R) Li Jingjing, Song, Jimi, LA Woman
if we were going to then make it up and over the pass to meet our minivan in the afternoon. Li Jingjing and Song had no such constraint, so we ended up leaving them behind.
The scenery was appealing, with first the river flowing next to the trail and then the path heading through leafy forest. There were no signs of the bears, snow leopards, and monkeys that supposedly inhabit the area, though we did see some yaks and more tourist horses. Occasionally we passed special pilgrim sites, where visitors had either attached offerings to the spirit of the mountain to a rock or tree, or had left items of clothing as a symbolic casting-off of their worldly worries.
The trek to the waterfall was mainly uphill and this, together with the elevation and proximity to the glacier, meant we were in the curious position of sweating even though the air temperature was low. The waterfall itself was a high wispy thing, and we only spent a few minutes admiring it and its surroundings before heading back to Lower Yubeng (saying our goodbyes to Song and Li Jingjing on the way).
The climbs to Upper Yubeng and
Slain by a yeti
then up the Nazongla Pass were tough as we were both tired from the previous day but we were buoyed by the knowledge that, on reaching the top, everything else would be downhill (and in a good way).
The trek down the other side left me marvelling that I'd had the willpower to make it all the way up yesterday, given how unrelenting a climb it appeared (it hadn't seemed as bad at the time) and the anguished expressions on the faces of the hikers we passed going the other way.
Confusingly, there turned out to be 2 carparks at the hot springs - an upper and a lower - but we assumed our driver would come for us at the lower, where he'd dropped us off. Our rendezvous time 5PM came and went, in the company of a mentally subnormal kid speaking gibberish who kept hacking at his bench/trousers/shoes/etc in a concerning fashion with a mean-looking knife, and at 5:20PM LA Woman wandered to the upper carpark to see if our driver was there. He wasn't, but she did find a couple of other trekkers who were negotiating with another driver and would have room for us.
The going gets tougher
(L to R) LA Woman, Li Jingjing, Song, Jimi
We made the decision to go with them, as time was moving on and we didn't want to get back to Fei Lai Si too late for the hot water.
It was nearly 6PM by the time we left, and on the route out - also the only route in - we saw no sign of the minivan that should have met us.
Back in Fei Lai Si we tried a new guesthouse where unfortunately the shower didn't work but the bath did. Given how filthy I was, I didn't fancy wallowing in my own dirty water but such concerns are easily dismissed when tired muscles just want to relax and hot water is beckoning. Dull but possibly useful info Getting there:
Hire a minivan to take you from Fei Lai Si to the hot springs beyond Xi Dang village, costing 150 yuan (for the whole minivan, hence try to get a group of 5 people)and taking about 1.5 hours. If you have the time, you could hike the entire way. Stayed at:
An Zhu Guesthouse. Cost 40 yuan for a twin. Owner completely unwilling to bargain. Little water of any temperature. Most travellers stay at the
The group stretches out
(L to R) Jimi, Song, Li Jingjing, LA Woman
Mystic Waterfall/Shenbu Guesthouse, which looked better from the outside but had even more basic toilets than An Zhu. Take your pick - you're not here for the facilities ...
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