8 October 2011

Stressing Balls [Tiger Leaping Gorge, China]

Tiger Leaping Gorge has gone from an old goat track that only the most 'off the beaten path' travelers attempt, to a top five on most peoples China 'to do' list. Surprisingly though, the Chinese Government have not yet over tourist-ified it. Well, they have built a big highway from start to end, but in places you actually still walk on grass/dirt/rock, rather than stone and concrete paths. And they charge a reasonable Y50 to enter. Let's hope it stays that way.

I organised a bus in Lijiang through a near-by hostel. It actually turned out really well, as I met a whole bunch of cool people that I ended up hanging out with for the next few days. But there was an interesting story about the bus ride... We stopped at a hostel located at the beginning of the gorge. The driver indicated this was the spot where we could leave our big bags (and just take our day packs). While inside the hostel the bus driver just took off, leaving me and three other guys in the hostel. He made no indication at all that this was the start point of the trek, or that he would be leaving. The other three were a little more cautious than I, and managed to grab their day packs. I waited for about 10 minutes for him to return before calling the hostel. They called the driver, who said that he was not going to come back, and that he would leave my bag at the hostel located at the end of the trek. That bag contained my camera, about Y1,000 in cash, and my PASSPORT! I was stressing balls.

So the three other guys and I set out. Ore and Khen - two Israeli guys, and Sam, a Swiss dude. We found a sign pointing up the hill saying 'Tiger Leaping Gorge' and followed. We walked and walked and walked, cris crossing up the hill for at least an hour, until we were way up overlooking the valley below. The whole time we had been walking on a road, and were starting to wonder when the trail would begin. We were also comparing our surroundings with the small map we had, but nothing seemed to match up. We stumbled upon a German guy who was just as lost as us.

Not being stubborn men, we asked a few locals for directions. It was difficult, but we managed communicate where we wanted to go. Rather than telling us a specific path to take, they all seemed to point in a general direction - down and around the other side of the mountain. It was at this stage we started to realise that we were way off track.

Being stubborn men, we decided to bush-whack our way through across the mountain and find the path, rather than go back down to the bottom and start again. Through thick forest we made our way for a good couple of hours. Most of us having second thoughts about whether this was a good idea or not. Eventually we came across the first village. When I say came across I mean saw it wayyyy below us. We had climbed much too high! And had taken around four hours to reach a village that should have taken us just over an hour. But no worry - we made our way down, called in at a Naxi (local minority) guesthouse, for a good meal and beer. After that everything seemed much better.

Although the weather was a little cloudy, the view was spectacular. You have to crane your neck back to see the top of the towering, rocky mountains. They plunge steeply down to the roaring Yangtze river below. Rocky outcrops, beautiful wilderness, waterfalls, wildlife, flowers and trees... beautiful.

We made good time; getting to Halfway House just before dark. We met up with one other guy who was on the bus (the driver had dropped him just 200m down the road from us) - Jef, a Belgian dude. After a big meal and shower I fell into bed. Sleep was no trouble at all.

The following day the four of us hoofed it down the short trek to Tina's guest house, where thankfully my bag was waiting for me. After getting my camera back I went a little crazy, so excuse all the photos. (The photos up to this point were provided by the other guys).


There are a couple of trails that are maintained by the local people, and they charge you Y10 to use them. The sky ladder - which goes right down to the river where, as the legend goes, a tiger lept across the gorge, is the most popular. It was well worth checking out. One of the ladders was pretty insane - take a look at the photos. We went right beside the river, which was flowing at a crazy speed. It was so loud you could hardly talk.


Wanting to finish what we started, we continued the trail to its conclusion at Walnut Garden. The locals were getting a little greedy in my opinion, and charged another Y10, but hey, it is better than the money going to the government. Walnut Garden was pretty uninteresting apart from the massive marijuana plants freely growing on the side of the road.


That wraps up Tiger Leaping Gorge. It lives up to it's reputation in my opinion; a truely spectacular place. From there the five of us grabbed a bus to Shangri-La. To be continued...

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