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Published: December 5th 2012
Tiger Leaping Gorge in all its glory
So in the first half of my blog I promised you tigers and dragons and I wasn't kidding, so if you can cope with the excessive amounts of photos and more of my waffle, please carry on with part two…
Right, I believe I left you in Shangrila, lucky you! So following on from the delights of the monastery visit we decided the next day to walk part of the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge. We’d arranged a car and driver to take us there and arranged to meet him bright and early outside the travel place at 7.30am, far too early for a holiday but we needed the early start. As we left the hotel it was literally freezing but the driver, with his long hair, Cowboy hat and long black coat, was standing by a nice looking car so I wasn’t too worried. He gave us a quick ‘Ni hao’ and strolled off around the corner to the dodgiest looking minibus thing I’d ever seen and it was so cold the door had frozen shut, blah. Needless to say two and a bit hours of no heating and frost on the inside of the window, it had to be
Let's begin at the beginning
The start of the high road path,
one of the coldest journeys I’ve every undertaken, I was not happy.
On emerging from the icebox on wheels we had finally made it to the start of the high road path heading from Qiaotou up the gorge. The first part of the walk was relatively easy, gently meandering through terraces and farmland, it was a beautifully sunny morning and within half an hour I was back to room temperature. We didn’t have time to walk the entire gorge as it is at least a two day hike but our destination was the middle gorge about 20km away or 7-8 hours. Of course this was not along the flat and at altitude, so I knew I was going to get a bit tired at certain points, but the Cowboy would be waiting to pick us up and take us home at the end of our long march.
About an hour up, we came to one of the first restaurants where they tried to tempt us in to hiring some horses, regular readers may remember my Peruvian exploits on a mule, needless to say I ran straight passed with a forceful ‘bu hao!’.
Luckily we’d been at altitude
On the up
Some farming terraces on the lower part of the walk
for a few days so the first couple of hours weren’t too hard, stopping for a snack at an amazing view point, as we were a bit off season we only saw one other person on the trail who wasn’t a local. On the right hand side of us was the majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (5596,) and on the side we were on the Haba Snow Mountain (5396m) rises up, the Jinsha river in the gorge is about 3000m below the peaks, it was breathtaking in more than one way.
The hardest part of the walk is know as the ’28 switchbacks’ section of the path, I’d read it was hard and they weren’t lying but once that section was over and we got to the top, it flattened out a lot. Luckily the weather had remained beautiful and sunny, the views were spectacular both up and down, definitely one of the best things we’d done on the trip, highly recommended if you enjoy a little stroll.
As we approached the ‘Halfway house’ guest house, the scenery changed a bit and luckily the nasty spiders that had been quite visible in the first part of the walk
The Jinsha river snakes through the gorge
seemed to go away but then the path got very edgy and I did have a few episodes of vertigo and issues crossing a few waterfalls, but I survived. We even saw some guys putting up electricity cables at the highest point, now that is one job where you have to have a good head for heights.
After about seven hours it was time to head down back to the valley floor and meet up with The Cowboy to take us home, unfortunately he was delayed as there had been a landslide on the road but eventually they had fixed it and we got to have an extra little white knuckle experience on the way back to Shangrila. The Cowboy did pay us a complement saying it would take a Chinese person three days to do what we did in a day, so I was very proud if a little tired.
The following day it was time to head down to Lijiang about a four hour bus ride from Shangrila, for the bargain price of about a fiver. Not the most glamorous methods of transport but the scenery was amazing. Arriving at the bus station we had our
Get them away from me
After my Peruvian experiences I was not going to make the mistake of getting on a mule again
first difficulties with transport, no taxi driver seem to want to take us to the hotel and it was getting quite late and we had no idea where to go. After a few goes we finally found one guy who seemed to be shouting at us and then started phoning someone up and shouting at them but since he actually let us in the cab we took a chance. Turns out he was being very helpful and the fact that the hotel was in the old town in Lijiang, you can’t actually get a cab in to the old town bit and he’d called up our hotel to meet us, what a nice man.
The old town was like something out of a film, very ‘Crouching tiger, hidden dragon’, our hotel was a traditional building and was exactly as I have always pictured old China to be, it was beautiful and had lots of red lantern, hen hao!
The town is famous for the many canals and bridges and survived intact from the Ming and Qing dynasties and was a very important town on both the Southern Silk Route and Ancient Tea Route, this was definitely ancient-ancient. The
A gentle stroll
More farms along the lower part of the route, the tiger was quite tame at this point
town was under the rule of the Mu family and they had a big house in the town but we didn’t quite make it there, but we saw it from a hill.
First stop was dinner and so we headed further into the town. In the last few years the Chinese have cottoned on to the joy of a nice holiday and it turns out Lijiang is a very popular destination for many, many of the domestic tourists. There were not many Westerners around but plenty of other tourists and thus many choices for food, lots of snack stalls and restaurants. The town is incredibly pretty with old bridges and willow trees lining the canals, just how you want to imagine China to be. The local minority people are the Naxi and so we gave some Naxi cuisine a try, they do a mean fried rice.
However, as with Shangrila they have also discovered the joys of drinking and techno music, one street in particular was lined with bars thumping out the music, it was a little reminiscent of some of the more salubrious European holiday resorts..
The next morning it was time to go and look
Just getting steep..
The path before the 24 switchbacks start, now it was getting serious
at the view. The view you must go and look at is the one from the Black Dragon Pool which gives a vista over our old favourite, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (they do like a good dragon, they are as bad as the Welsh). The view is beautiful although the mountain was a little cloudy and the pool wasn’t quite jade in colour as was promised, still you can’t really complain.
There is also a hill in the park which you can hike up for some views, Elephant Hill, we thought we’d give it a go. However for some rather strange reason you can only go up the hill if you are in a group of four or more, why this is I have no idea and can’t see the point, but the jobsworth at the entrance would not let us up, so no views for us, boo.
The rest of the day was spent wandering around the town, there are many, many shopping opportunities and most bizarrely they had loads of shops with people playing bongo drums in. And they all played the same music and sold the same CDs of bongo music, whether this is
Let sleeping dragons lie
I liked this peak as it looked like there was a dragon dozing on the top of the mountain (well it does to me)
traditional to the Naxi people or just some fashion fad I have no idea but it was a bit annoying after a couple of days.
The last couple of days of the trip were to be spent in the city of Dali, a four hour train ride from Lijiang and sited on the shores of Erhai (The ear shaped lake). This was the one place I wasn’t that bothered about and almost dropped it from the itinerary as I didn’t think it would be that interesting, so naturally I loved it.
Again famous for an old town area, it used to be more popular than Lijiang for the tourist trade but now has lost out a bit to Lijiang, but that is a good thing as it felt a little less like a holiday resort. The old town has four gates (at the compass points) and is famous for three very old pagodas at the foot of the Cangshan range.
So first stop was to see the Tang Dynasty Pagodas, we decided to walk there from the town and headed out via the north city gate. We found a woman charging about 20p to go in to
I had a small attack at this point and clung to the rocks, sometimes I wonder why I do these things
the north gate, so up the stairs we went. It was rather run down with lots of tables and chairs on the balcony, I guess people come up for a drink or something, but I loved it and decided it would make the most amazing house, Grand Designs here I come.
Finally making it to the pagodas they were very impressive and suitably old. There are three pagodas in the arrangement of an equilateral triangle (one for the geeks among you). The biggest one dates back 1200 years or so and is supposedly built in the Xi’an style. The pagodas themselves are impressive but stretching a long way behind them is the rebuilt Congshen temple, this seemed to go on forever.
It took us a long time to explore the temple, lots of Buddhas etc but the most scary was the Arhats hall, this housed 500 gold colour statues of different men, it creeped me out. I’m sure they moved when you didn’t look at them, freaky.
Once the temple had been conquered, took us long enough I think we were nearly the last to leave, we headed back to town to shop (as always) and try the
Here be dragons
I think this counts as the Jade Dragon Snow mountain, can't be exactly sure which peak is which
local Bai food, again it was delicious but rather spicy. Post dinner we found a bar for a few drinks and even got a tequila from the owner, or so he claimed, still they played Gangnam style so it was a suitably Asian experience.
The last day before heading back to Shanghai was spent cycling along Erhai in the glorious sunshine. A road sweeps along the lake shore and you get to pass through some very quaint villages along the way. Lots of fishermen work on the lake and combined with the beautiful colours of autumn it painted a very pretty scene indeed. And we even found some locals selling chips by the side of the road for lunch, the Yunnan chips are a lot more spicy than our though, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten chips with chopsticks before, yum. And no trip to China would be complete without eating a bug or two so as we returned to town via the Southgate of the city we stopped for a few bugs, crickets and dragonflies, they are just like eating prawns with shells on, nothing too horrible, give them a go sometime . And that was that, we
Would be a nice place to rest but we had to push on
got the sleeper to Kunming that night and then flew back to Shanghai and another fantastic China adventure comes to an end. China has certainly changed since my first visit, but it is still an amazing country, go there!
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