14 – Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge – Yunnan Province, China …

14: Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge

18 May 2002
Since arriving in China’s Yunnan province, I discovered that I should have read up a little more on China earlier, since it’s somewhat chilly here (due to the elevation) and I’d tossed all my cold weather clothes earlier. Oops! Luckily there seem to be many outdoor stores here with very nice equipment at a reasonable price.

The other unpleasant discovery is that China’s toilets are the worst that I’ve ever encountered. Usually you encounter a porcelain-lined trench with low barriers separating you from the next woman. Even if you get stalls, the doors are never there. It’s quite a communal experience, though unfortunately they’re also quite stinky as no one ever seems to flush!

After arriving by train in Kunming (a big, busy, and rather ugly provincial capital) we immediately lept on a bus and headed for Dali. We didn’t spend too much time in Dali, although it is a pleasant enough city
with well-preserved cobbled streets lined with pagodas and other traditional stone buildings. The landscape around is pretty with lush green mountains on one side of the town and Erhai Hu on the other. Maybe the happiest thing about Dali was that I discovered that many guesthouses have a free washing machine for use. A modern machine it ain’t, but at least it washes the clothes, even if I still have to rinse and wring by hand.

From Dali, we moved northwards to Lijiang, an absolutely gorgeous mountain town nestled beneath the snow covered peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The Old Town where we stayed is a little too cute to be true with tiny winding cobbled streets surrounded by gently flowing streams.

Most of the Old Town’s houses are in traditional Naxi (one of Yunnan’s hill tribes) architecture. The all-wood houses have wide A-frame roofs covered with a grey version of what looks like Spanish tiles. The roofs are slightly bowed, making the houses look somewhat pagoda-like. The front facades of the houses have red accordianed wooden doors that are wide open all day and shuttered up at night. At night, most of the houses are also lit up
with red lanterns.

Lijiang is a tourist city, but it exists primarily for Chinese tourists. As we wander through the streets, crossing the streams on cute little bridges, we constantly have to avoid flag-toting tour guides chattering away at their flock of identically clad Chinese tourists. It’s quite a sight to see the Chinese on vacation!

But the most spectacular part of China (so far!) has got to be our trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge. We made a 2-day hike following the Yangtze River through one of the deepest gorges in the world. We started on what we thought was a narrow path along the edge of the ravine. To the right, the scenery started with snow-capped peaks. As we kept on going through the day, the snow-capped peaks were replaced by a group of sheer black craggy outcroppings that looked to me like Tolkien’s Mount Doom. We could see the wind rise up and the clouds appear to fly imposingly over the
face of the mountains.

As the evening approached, we heard what we thought was thunder and kept hurrying onwards (past many beautiful waterfalls) until we reached our first night’s stop at a guesthouse in Ben Di Wan village. We later discovered that the “thunder” was in fact dynamite as the government is rapidly trying to develop Tiger Leaping Gorge for tourism. Sadly, cable cars and even a Disney-style resort is planned for the future and one of the villages near
the gorge has already been renamed to Shangrila.

Our second day’s hike got even more spectacular as we hiked down the mountain to the gorge itself. We perched on a rock right above the Yangzte River, whose brown silty water was finally turned foamy white through the rocky gorge. Maybe a future white-water rafting endeavor? Linh went swimming in the freezing cold waterfall pool water besides the river, but I was much too weenie to go in.

The trail up from the river was frightening. At many points, it was so narrow that we had to turn and go sideways, hugging the wall with our arms and legs to inch along the pathway, hoping that our backpacks didn’t overbalance us. Along the wall were spray-painted sayings like “You are OK.” and “Don’t be scared.” and “Don’t look down.” Parts of the path were also carved out of the rock face, walking us through narrow tunnels of marbled rock.

Anyway, enough rhapsodizing… we’re back in Kunming now and about to part from Linh and head on by train to Guangxi province and more natural wonders.

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