Posts Tagged ‘tiger leaping gorge’


Walking the tiger leaping gorge

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Tiger Leaping GorgeI took the bus back to Lijiang, met up with Kevin and got my money back for the tyres.  It was funny to be back, it was like going home in a sense, as you new the town and some of the people.  I met Hutch again, an American guy who had been living in China for a few years and a cyclist.  We talked a little about my planned route, then i headed back to the guest house to sleep.

The next day i took the bus to Qiao Tou had fried rice in the same restaurant Margo, Ben and I ate a the first time we were here and studied the map of the walking trail.

A girl came over and offered me a lift to the end of the road and the start of the walking trail.  She said she would do it for 30 Yuen and that doing this I would avoid having to pay the 50 Yuen entrance fee.  It sounded good but i knew that due to the road works you did not have to pay to walk the trail, you just had to accept responsibility for yourself.  I told the girl so and she smiled and walked off, another scam busted.

Chris walking Tiger leaping Gorge Trail

I shouldered my pack and set off to find the start of the trail, eventually I found a dirt road that looked like it was the way to the trail and asked a local lady if my assumptions were correct.  She smiled and pointed in the direction i thought it was, so i thanked her and set off at a gentle pace, admiring the view and enjoying the sun.

Rise small guest house sign

I passed the school and soon the road ended and the trail began.  It was a good feeling to be walking again and I had the place to myself, i had started late in the day but decided not to rush and enjoy the walk.  Walking along in my own world, enjoying the peaceful surroundings, I followed the narrow trail.  The route was quite easy and the view of the gorge below made the trip back well worth it.

After an hour or so i stopped for a bite to eat, a couple of local people came by with horses and offered me a ride to the next guest house.  I politely declined their offer, and they carried on back down the trail their horses strolling along behind them.

Horse Tiger Leaping Gorge Trail

The trail climbed a little and i arrived at the Naxi family guest house, i pondered whether to stay here for the night or to push on for 26 bends and the high point of the trail.  I would mean walking the last hour in the dark.  I decided there was no rush and i was in a very relaxed state of mind.  There was a warm welcome at the Naxi family guest house and i was soon sipping tea and chatting with the owners.  I had a lovely hot shower and enjoyed a lovely meal by candle light in the kitchen.  The power was out and the men had gone to go and see what the problem was.  I finished my meal, thanked the ladies of the house and went back to my room. I was the only guest so had the luxury of a dorm room to myself.  I wrote some of my journal and then wrapped the blankets around me and fell into blissful sleep.

Rest stop Tiger Leaping Gorge TrailThe next morning i had some rice for breakfast and set off on my way, the first part of the trail past through a small collection of houses, once on the other side i found myself slowly climbing the bends towards the high point of the trail.  I stopped to admire the view where there was a seat carved into the rock face.  The first walkers i had seen came past me, said hello and carried on, it was a brief interruption into my otherwise solitary walk.  With my tea finished and a couple of handfuls of nuts gone i set off again. I reached the high point of the trail and stopped to take a few pictures.  I was glad it was quiet as the person that had set up shop here would have charged me 8 Yen for the privilege according their sign, for my photos otherwise. I ducked under the wooden barrier and walked down the arête to take my photos.

With the hard work done I started to walk down again and soon found myself at the Tea Horse Guest house.  I popped in to see if i could get some tea and soon had a fresh cup in front of me and watched the kids as they played in the court yard.  I mustered up my best Chinese and asked if this tea was grown here and if i could buy some.  Either my Chinese was not right or there was not tea grown here, either way there was not tea to buy.  I chuckled to myself at the irony, finished the last of my brew and headed on to the half way guest house.  The only reason i was going here was to check out the view from their toilets.  Marketed as the best toilet view in the world, i was keen too sample the delights myself.

Sun deck Half Way guest house

By three o’clock i had arrived, the place was much bigger than the Naxi family guest house and the staff were busy cleaning and preparing food.  I was the first to arrive and wondered what all the activity was about.  A big group of Koreans was due to arrive later and they were busy preparing for their arrival.  I sat in the sun room with a coke and got the laptop out to write some more of the blog. I raised my head occasionally to admire the view and was glad for the shelter as the wind had picked up and started to shake the windows.  I finished my writing and went down to my room to cosy under the blankets and watch a movie.

Just as the movie was ending people started to arrive, I wondered what people thought of my carrying a laptop all the way up here, but kept to myself until the end of the film.  Up until now I had been in my own little world and now there were people all around me and the dorm room full.  I wandered back to the sun lounge.  The wind had gone and everyone was on the deck chatting, i climbed the steps and slowly started to meet new people and swap travelling stories.  A group of us sat together for dinner and then we retired to the dorm for sleep.

The next morning nature was calling so it was time to get down to business.  The views were truly stunning and i enjoyed the privacy of my own cubical, a lot of Chinese toilets are communal with only a waist high wall for privacy.  I took some snaps for the photo album and washed up ready for breakfast.  I had my first baba, a kind of flat bread and a lovely pancake filled with banana, local walnut and honey. Yum Yum.Toilet view Half way guest house

I chatted to one of the guys I had met last night who was going to spend the morning on the sun deck until he decided what to do.  We had an interesting chat about life and travel, that gave me things to think about for the rest of the day.  I bid farewell to my new friend and set off down the track to the road.  I met a Chinese girl on the way down and we walked together, she was heading to Shangri-la so we decided to try and share a lift back to the main road to get the bus north.

We arrived at Tina’s Hostel, where Margo, Ben and I had stopped before, it was the end of my little adventure and time to get back on the bike.  After much waiting we got a mini van to the main road for a good price and then caught the bus back to Lijiang.  We arrived early evening and i could not remember exactly which bus to get back to the hostel, so we walked asking directions every so often.  Eventually we passed the main post office and I was able to remember the way from there.  We went to my favourite little restaurant and i was greeted by smiles from the lady that run the place and Carole who happened to be there too.  I checked back into the Hostel and started to think about cycling again.

I had planned to spend another day getting a few jobs, like my tax return done and then set off.  With jobs done, a day later i was ready to set off.  I woke up to a blanket of snow all around me and pondered what to do.  I got the guys in the hostel to call the bus station to see how the road was.  Closed, and would be for two days a least.  I could still go though? Having never cycling in the snow and the lack of a bus to pick me up if it went wrong, i opted to stay another two days and wait for the weather to improve.  I got some mountain bike tyres for the bike and two days later set off for my first ride in the snow.  Shangri-la had been a lovely home, but it was high time to move on.

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Lijiang to Shangri-la via the tiger leaping gorge – The last push

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

We set off still a little cold as the sun had not quite reached us yet, we zoomed off down a short hill then started to climb again, the ups and downs were huge, hard work, immersive and beautiful all at the same time.  Each time we went down we seemed to go right to the bottom of a valley, then cycle slowly out to the middle of it, climbing up again.  We climbed most of the morning and eventually arrived at a beautiful summit.  It was windy and cold but I was keen to do a short piece to video at the top, it took ages but we got there.  While I did my my bit to video with camera man Ben, Margo chatted to a young girl who was travelling with her family to a small village for her sisters wedding.

Afterwards we decided to drop down a little to have some lunch, Ben and Margo had had a second breakfast but I hadn’t so was ready for some lunch.  We set off whizzing down the hill and I was soon left behind as my front wheel wobble was on high performance, so I was taking it easy.  I cycled past lots of sheltered little lunch spots but Margo and Ben were nowhere to be seen.  Eventually I caught them up at the bottom of the hill in a rather grumpy bear mood, grumbling that I was hungry and that they had not stopped.  We found a spot by the side of the road, cooked up some noodles, and I had a coffee to try and make me feel better.  I encouraged Ben and Margo to carry on as I was still feeling pissed off and said I would catch them up later.  They set off and I lingered enjoying my coffee and rearranged some gear on the bike that was coming off.

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An hour or so later I caught them up, it was more climbing up up and up and a gusty head wind had joined us, that made things near impossible to cycle, I kept being blown off the bike and was glad when I caught up with them.  I apologised for my childish grumpy behaviour and we agreed that better communication was needed to prevent further Chris grumpy bear appearances.  We set off together hoping that we would be near the top soon and that Shangri-la was not far away.  Ben spotted a phone mast and said that must be the top, after a few false summits it was a good incentive to keep pedaling, we arrived on a flat windy plan and sheltered behind a monument deciding what to do.  There was still a reasonable way to Shangri-La and with the wind and no idea how many hills were ahead of us we decided to camp on the plateau.  We went off in separate directions to find a camp site and settled on a good sheltered spot a few hundred meters from the monument.

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It was New Years Eve and we had hoped to be in Shangri-la, but here we were on the top of a windswept mountain.  I was as happy as a cyclist could be, we had our dinner and then all piled into Margo and Ben’s tent to watch a movie on the laptop, to celebrate our achievements.  We managed to get half way through the video until the battery died, it was almost midnight so we said Happy New Year and I crawled back into my tent to sleep.

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The next morning we woke up to light snowfall, not knowing whether it was going to get better or worse, we quickly packed up, skipped breakfast and headed off down the hill.  The downhill kept giving and I was pleased with my new warm ski gloves that kept the cold at bay.  We descended thought a lovely quiet valley with great camping and plenty of water and eventually ended up at a toll gate.  As bikes we were ushered through free of charge and we asked if there was a restaurant nearby, we were pointed down the road so set off to find food.

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No restaurant in site but a petrol station, so I filled up with petrol for my stove in case there was another day of cycling and hills ahead of us.  A motorist who spoke some English chatted to us for a bit and he assured us that it was all downhill, 30kms to Shangri-la.  I was ecstatic, I had had enough of hills for a few days, I danced a little jig and we set off down the road cycling in formation.  The person at the front broke the wind for the people behind and we were going to do three sets of three kms each.  We were soon gliding down the road, passed amazingly beautiful houses and an eco tourist village and road to a national park.  We stopped half way and scoffed the rest of our nuts and raisins and carried on for the last 15 km.  Shangri-La greeted us with a lovely new road and shiny new lampposts, we dinged our bells in celebration and started asking directions for the old town.

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No one seemed to know where the old town was but we had a general idea so we headed in that direction. By now it was lunch time and we were all hungry, we pulled in to a small restaurant and ordered a feast, everything tasted so good to our weary bodies, now with silly grins and slightly rosy cheeks from hot food,  a great delight.  We paid £2.00 each for our lunch extravaganza and found our way to the old town.

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The Hostel I’d wanted to stay in was closed down, as their hot water system had broken, so Margo hunted for a place to stay while we chatted to some other travellers in a coffee shop.  Margo came back having found another hostel for me and a small hotel for them.

I got my bike unpacked, found some clean clothes and had my first wash in over a week, I emerged from the shower a new man. Tired but so happy, the last week had been hard, but absolutely amazing and stunningly beautiful.

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Lijiang to Shangri-la via the tiger leaping gorge Day 3 & 4

Monday, January 31st, 2011

The next morning, I woke up I looked at my watch and it was nearly 10 o’clock, I must have relaxed and happy because I am usually keen to get up and away in the mornings to avoid confrontation with any disgruntled land owners.  But here I suppose I felt that no one cared and there was no rush, the view was good and the sun was warm.  We had leisurely breakfast packed up and set off.  We now had to get back up the rocky path we had come down, I was under no illusions about cycling it but thought the first bit would be worth  a go.  I came off straight away so pushed the bike and got the camera out to film Ben and Margo as they attempted the ascent.  Margo did really well, got past the bend and half way up but came off just before the top.  Ben – whose bikes skills are quite impressive, his ability to put a fully loaded touring bike exactly where he want it is amazing – he got past the first bend easily and came off, he started again and made it all the way to the top, impressive. I packed up the camera and panted as I pushed my heavy bike up the slope.

Picture cyclist going up steep hill

We were rewarded with a short descent and then started climbing again.  It was a lovely day, still and warm but not to hot, perfect cycling conditions.  After only 10km we came across a couple of guys at the side of the road.  They had lots of wood, and beside them a hole in the side wall next to the road, with a big fire in it.  After some good signing we discovered they were making bricks.  We chatted for a bit longer, and it seemed were being invited for tea so we sat down on the road and watched while one guy was working and the other was preparing food.  We were given some small bits of what I think were black pudding, so tasty.  Then we were offered rice, more meat vegetables and some beans.  The food kept coming and attempts of saying ‘no more, I am full’ were useless our bowls just kept being refilled, Ben ate the most followed by Margo and then me, some of you may be surprised at this as I am know for eating lots, it just goes to show that I am not the only human dustbin – any cycle tourer you meet will happily match me for food eating ability.  Anyway I was getting really full by the 4th bowl of rice and stopped any more going in by putting my hand over the top of the bowl, this seemed to convey the message I was trying to give!

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We thanked the guys profusely and dug out a bag of nuts to give them something in return.  They looked in the bag and at the nuts and then gave them back, then as fingers met thumbs and rubbed together we realised they were after some money.  Now this possibility had crossed my mind and I was now sure that, earlier when the guy was pointing to my camera before he was hoping that I might give it to him.  It was a funny situation rather than tense or awkward, they guys were trying their luck, they had sat us down and given us food, so we probably could have just shrugged a no understanding gestured, more thanks and carried on.  However we decided that we should give them something, it was a lot of food and it was useful for us as it was not like there were many restaurants around.  The guy got out a big note and we all though no chance, a quick group huddle and we decided on a reasonable amount to give them, paid up and cycled on.

Road side hospitality

I felt a little strange as we set off, partly annoyed, partly confused, did they do it on purpose, should I have paid what?  It is difficult when you are in a different country and culture but generally speaking if someone offers you food, then you don’t expect to pay for it after (without knowing the price beforehand).  However as a western traveller I am perceived as being rich and have lots of money.  I mulled the situation over in my head, but it was not till the next day that I realised I had done the right thing for me.  I would have felt worse if I had not had given any money, and vulnerable as I cycled on in case there was any comeback.

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We kept climbing after lunch and continued to do so for the rest of the day, I was mostly in my own world thinking about life, kit and the universe, as usual and admiring the butterflies by the side of the road.  We cycled though some small villages and I pondered their evolution.  A lot of the houses were built of gray brick but the brick work was perfect and beautiful with different shades of gray.  Similar style roofing slates were also in use and intricately carved wooden windows for the houses.  It seemed that it was the newer houses that were brick and the older ones wood or stone, some of the buildings had tin roofs others plastic sheets.  How long had the bricks been a lively hood for these villages and what was their life before bricks.  Seeing the architectural style change as the buildings got newer was fascinating, I could only imagine how and what and will probably never know the real history of this place.

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I caught Ben and Margo up on a flat bit and we sat down to have tea, it had been a funny day, time was irrelevant really but now suddenly it was creeping back into our reality as we realised it was nearly 5pm and we had probably only done about 30km.  Still we waited for the water to boil had our tea and watch as the villages emerged slowly from the trees behind us.  What they had been doing I don’t know, but I imagine it would have involved tending animals or plants.  They were mainly groups of young women and sometimes one man.  They would wait by the side of the road, chatting and giggling until a truck or car came a long and then climb on top to get a ride home.  Some of the vehicles were already piled high with hay but still they climbed on top, to the already seemingly wobbly truck and carried on chatting as they went down the hill to their homes.  One group of girls reminded me of home, they were wearing more western style clothing, almost oblivious to us, three in front chatting away, what about I can only imagine, but I presume it was not Topshop’s new winter collection, the other was on her mobile phone nattering away to someone somewhere.  It struck me that despite the great distance and cultural differences some things are the same.  Sure as the world gets smaller, cultures merge but for me it was a picture of how much we are alike rather than how different we are.

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With tea finished and everyone and their goats on the way home too, even the one that got stuck on a rock wall, we set off again.  We knew from speaking to one of the locals that we would go up, then come to a flat plain, then up again.  All we had to do was find some more water and then a place to camped for the night.  We climbed a short way up and the valley opened out onto a flat plain flanked by the road, going up a steep climb to our right and snow capped mountains on our left.  The plain was dry and dusty and there was not a river in site, so we pushed on and eventually found a small river at the bend where the road started to climb again.  We filled our bottles with ice cold water from the stream and pondered about what to do, go back about 1km and camp or continue up the hill.  We opted to go back, as the whole area behind us was perfect for camping. We cycled back a short way, made a small bridge from a log and pushed our bikes off the road and onto the dusty earth to a clearing behind some trees.  It was another perfect camp site.  With camp set up, we filled our bellies with more rice and drifted off into another peaceful sleep.  It had been a lovely day, perfect weather and perfect cycling, beautiful scenery and very relaxing.

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The next morning we woke up to more frozen water and the sound of the vehicles in the trees behind us, most of the trees were pine and were being harvested by the locals.  We remained undisturbed by humans as we had breakfast and packed up, but a small horse wandered around our campsite, probably wondering what we were doing there, what was for breakfast and why we had so much stuff.  He was friendly and seemed to enjoy the attention we gave him, his soft coat warm from the rising sun.  We pushed the bikes back through the soft dirt and started to climb, the sun warming our bones again and reflecting majestically off the snow capped mountain behind us.

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I took some snaps with the camera that did not do justice to what my eyes saw, undeterred I committed the scene to memory and carried on up the hill.  We crested the hill and descended into another valley, the road weaving though small settlements, the villagers going about their daily life, briefly disturbed by three bicycles whizzing by.  We reached a larger settlement with a shop and stocked up on a few essentials.  Ben was already hungry so stopped for some noodles, I was keen to carry on so left Ben and Margo to have noodles and arranged to meet them later.

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I cycled out of the village, and back up the other side of the valley, on the way I had a fierce growling match with a dog that had a toothy grimace and probably thought that biting a cyclist was a good idea.  Fortunately for me, he backed down and I continued on passed the rubbish dump and up the hill.  I got to the top and freewheeled down finding a great spot for lunch.

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As I was tucking into my noodles Ben and Margo joined me and we enjoyed the midday sun and waved to the occasional truck driver as they plodded up the hill.

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After lunch we descended into another valley and started climbing again.  I heard singing  from somewhere and stopped to find out where it was coming from, not just one person but a group of people, it was the school below me.  Upon closer observation there was two groups of Children singing , they were singing together, sometimes following one another and at other times competing in against each other.  It did not feel like China, more like Africa but it was magical and a part of Chinese life I had not seen before.  With a smile on my face and a warm heart I carried on up the hill, it went on and on and on and on and I felt like it was never going to stop.  We had all separated out, going at our own pace.

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I would sometimes see Margo on a bend above me and wondered where Ben was and if he was ever going to stop.  I started cursing, come on it’s getting late now, I can’t do any more of this, I want to stop.  I had no choice but to carry on, I knew that Ben was probably pushing for the top to get there before dark and so really I understood, just keep pedaling.  Eventually I crested the hill and Ben and Margo were there, an old lady in traditional dress was talking with them.  It was getting cold and I did not want to stop and loose the heat I had generated going up the hill, I voted we carried on and camp at the first opportunity.  I put on some gloves and another jacket and we whizzed down the hill.  We found an empty patch of land that was exposed and rocky, but after a day of climbing it was going to be home for the night whatever.  We pitched the tents with rocks, as the ground was too hard for pegss and started to make dinner.  Ben was exhausted and passed out before dinner, he had eaten at the top of the climb, so Margo and I had some rice, finished boiling the water on the fire for the next day and went to bed.  I was knackered, but happy to have to got the top of the last hill and now be cosy in my sleeping bag.  The next day we were hoping to make it to Shangri-la.

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Lijiang to Shangri-la via the tiger leaping gorge Day 1 & 2

Monday, January 31st, 2011

We left Lijiang late morning with well packed by heavy bikes, a loaf of home made bread from Kevin and some boiled eggs.  With a few pointers from the locals we got out of the town and on the right road.  2010-12-27 011 We stopped by the side of the road about half one to have tomato and egg sandwiches, they tasted so good, it had been ages since i had had proper bread and welcomed a change from noodles and rice.  We continued up the hill after lunch until we came to a line of traffic, I feared a crash or something but as we cycled to the front of the line we found out that they were doing some blasting by the road and were just stopping the traffic.  After about 10 minutes we were on our way again, it was a steady climb with beautiful scenery.  We crested the summit of the climb and after a short descent we came to an impressive stone feature.  We approached with caution, wondering what it would cost to check out. No one bothered us for money but an old guy was quite interested in our photo taking activities.

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We carried on down the hill and then followed the river along the valley floor.  We stopped for some fried rice and discussed where we should camp.  We decided to stick to the lesser road as we were more likely to find a place to camp.  With small houses all along the road, a quiet camp spot was not looking possible.  All the people we cycled passed were friendly, smiling and saying hello, so we asked if we could camp by one of the houses.  We were soon putting up our tents and getting a hot drink inside us.  Some kids came up to us so i made them some tea and they sat with us for a bit.  I learnt the Chinese for sugar and stars but forgot them just as quickly.  Just as we had got into our tents the kids came back, they hovered around the tents for a bit then tried the zips.  After a lot of giggling i realised they were not going to leave.  I got out the tent and ushered them away and they obliged.  I crawled back into the tent and drifted off to sleep.

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The next morning i was happy to have the water for breakfast already in the pans.  It was cold overnight and all the water had frozen.  I melted the water and had my breakfast in bed.  Slowly we packed up, the cold weather was making every job take twice as long, Ben was suffering from the cold but the sun was slowly coming up and starting to warm our bones.  We set off down the valley again following the river, we soon came to the second bridge that we needed to cross, in order to get to the gorge.  Over the bridge and cycling on a lovely new tarmac road, we seemed to be cycling forever, i kept looking at the map thinking that we must be there now.  Eventually the gorge appeared on our left hand side, we carried on cycling past it for what also seemed like ages again until we eventually arrived at the small town of Qiao Tou where we were to turn off for the gorge road.  We met an ozzie couple who were visiting from the North of China where they were working, after a brief chat they set off for their walk and we sat down for some fried rice.  With full bellies we cycled off into the unknown, i was excited, i had no real idea of what was in store just that it was meant to be beautiful and for the first 20km the road was under construction.

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After a short cycle we arrived to an impressive statue of a tiger, possibly a model of the one that actually jumped the gorge!  We snapped some photos and continued on the windy road, behind us the valley was bathed in bright sunlight and the emerald green water to our left,  flowed gently passed us.  In places the road was good and we cycled happily up or down, elsewhere there were big ditches, small detours and narrow sections with steep drops.

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The sun was with us as we started to climb the last few bends of the day, we arrived at one of the Hostels in the gorge, mainly used by people on the walking track and had a brief stop here. We chatted to some walkers who were debating about where to go next and which hostel to stay in.  I think they decided to go to the one with a happy hour.  They set off down the hill and we whizzed passed them on our bikes, it was time to look for a camp site.  As we steered around some of the last bends I admired some of the impressive road building and was in awe of the rocks looming above me.  Soon the valley opened out and there were the most amazing views and a perfect flat plain not to far away.  That will definitely do for camping i thought.  We cycled towards the plain, descended a short but steep and rocky path that Ben and Margo cycled, with my heavy bike and rather inferior mountain bike skills i chose not to ride, but managed to jump back on for the last section, and rolled down into one of my top ten camp site so far.  We set camp, happy and content after a great days riding.  Dinner was rice and vegetables and I was soon in my tent probably snoring happily.

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