19.07.2008 - 24.07.2008
By the next morning, I was ready to head off to Tiger Leaping Gorge, anxious that the good weather might not continue to hold, this being the rainy season. The Gorge is prone to landslides and can be quite dangerous to hike during significant rainfalls. We talked Grace and Dave into accompanying us, though it didn't take all that much to convince them. The Gorge is said to be one of deepest in the world, and was a two hour ride back in the direction of Lijiang. We left our heavy packs at Jane's, a guest house at the start of the trek, and continued on with day packs, knowing we would find small inns along the way. We started out about 3PM and decided to spend our first night at the Naxi Family Guest House. With the weather looking more threatening, this seemed like a good idea after two hours of uphill hiking. The guest house was constructed of stone and wood with a large central courtyard, complete with purple bouganvilla and marijuana plants. The view beyond, was of a line of jagged green and stone mountains, high above the river which we could still hear, but not see.
At first we were the only ones there, but then as evening came on, a rather international crowd of Swedes, Danes, Americans, Chinese, etc. began to arrive. At dusk, the clouds dissipated somewhat, and we were rewarded with an incredible sunset, backlighting the mountains in an evanescent glow. There must have been 15 of us, snapping pictures like mad to try and capture just the right light. After that , we were treated with a nearly full moon rising over the peaks in the deepening night, illuminating the dark clouds in the north.
The next day we started up the 26 bends, a long series of switch backs during which we gained two thousand feet of vertical. Though it was raining just before we started to hike, miraculously it cleared just before we had to start walking. After three hours, we arrived at a series of cascades and couldn't tear ourselves away. Best of all, we saw no people until much later that afternoon. We did see:
Continuing on, we shortly arrived at Teahouse Guest House, where we decided to spend the night.
That way we could easily return to the falls to while away the rest of the sunny afternoon. Dave and I went for a most refreshing shower in the icy water.
It rained again that night, but as we started out for Tina's, the final leg of the trek, it stopped once again affording us comfortable hiking in overcast skies. The trail here was a long traverse across the side of the gorge, with some serious views down into chasm and its churning waters below. In places the path was slippery, with water overrunning it from the previous days of rain. Luckily, no serious erosion had occured and it was all passable.
We arrived at Tina's at midday which was packed with Chinese daydrippers eating lunch before descending to the bottom of the gorge.
After an hour, the place cleared out and we decided to relax and just meander down the road after lunch. Here, in Walnut Garden, there were several other guest houses, all with stupendous views of the gorge and the mountains on both sides.
Now for the piece de resistance. That evening, once again the rains came, but ended in the morning before we started to hike. The trail from guest house to the gorge was steep, and we decided to descend a different way because we thought it might be less slippery. Walking back to Walnut Garden, we cut across a hillside into the village below. It was difficult to find the right path to the river, but eventually we saw some red arrows, and sneaking past the sign which said to pony up 50 yuan, we descending the rest of the way. The rapids were class 6, boiling and roiling in the high water through the narrow gorge, after all the rain. It would make a hell of a rafting trip.
Coming back up a bit, we contoured around the mountain, hoping to meet up with a path that would take us back to the trail further up river near Tina's. At times there was a clear trail, and at others, it was like bushwalking through tropical brush without a machete. We eventually got to a more obvious path, where we saw an old man, sitting on a large rock contemplating the wild scene below.
He seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see him, but we managed to ask if we were going in the right direction and he seemed to indicate yes. We couldn't pass up the opportunity to take photos, and after asking if it was okay, began snapping away. I got one shot off with Nanette sitting next to him, while he, touching her earrings, was obviously fascinated by the gold color. A real National Geographic moment.
Here was a simple farmer, impossible to tell how old, meditating in his own way while enjoying the natural environment, obviously quite content.
We continued on 'through the trees and brush, eventually arriving at another, but more remote Shangri-la. A little spot that had been cleared a few hundred feet above the river, planted with corn, and with a fish pond along side a small stone dwelling. A young woman came out and once again we asked directions. After some confusion we gathered we could continue on the path we were on to get to the one below Tina's where we could ascend.
She asked for 10 Yuan to cross the rickety old bridge.
"Is it safe?" we asked.
"Yes, safe and easy," she said, and agreed to accompany us part of the way along the trail. Well for me at least, it was not that easy. A trail had somehow been cut through the cliff directly above the torrent below, and at times there were gaps in the rocks where you had to descend by small ladders to get to the other side. My fear of heights kicked in several times, but she was nice enough to hold my hand over the worst stretches.
We could hear the roar of the river constantly and it was easy to imagine falling in and being sucked down to disappear in the foam and froth.
That obviously didn't happen, and we made our way to the path below Tina's after 30 harrowing, but exciting minutes. From there we had two choices. We could ascend via a hundred foot ladder and then very steep trail or continue on for a bit more until we reached another trail with stone steps hacked out of the rock. We went on, and not only because of me. Again we were rewarded with close up views of raging class 6 rapids, created by the narrow rock walls forcing a huge volume of water over and around the boulders, at one point creating a drop of 10 feet with murderous looking hydraulics.
We finally got to our path, and here there were literally hundreds of Chinese, including some women in high heels and others in flip-flops, descending the steep, slippery path to the bottom of the gorge. We headed up, grateful that we had gone down a different way and experienced the wildness of the place for ourselves. This trail also had a few hairy bits, with steel wires to help prevent failing. Overall, it was managable, especially going our direction. After perhaps another 90 minutes we emerged on the road just below Tina's.
We had a big lunch, several well deserved Dali beers and then headed back, reluctantly, to pick up our packs and then continued to crowded Lijiang in a minibus. Our friends left for southern Yunnan, and we were sad to say goodbye after such a week. Tomorrow we leave for Kunming, and then to Bangkok to apply for our Indian visas.