Tiger Leaping Gorge

I’m coming off an incredible week of travel. Last time I wrote I was relaxing in Shangri-la, buying warm clothing for the days ahead in the Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Tibetan borderlands. Leaving most of my things in Shangri-la, I took a 7am bus to the Gorge, driving through pouring rain that was turning to sleet at the higher elevations. It was not looking good for the start of a two–day trek. I had breakfast at Jane’s Guesthouse where I picked up beta on the trail and decided to zip up the rain jacket and take off walking. Fortunately, the weather improved slightly, allowing me to enjoy the day, meandering through the gorge, walking past small villages, farms, all the while looking at beautiful vistas of the river below as I ascended the trail. The trail was a bit confusing as it winded around houses and fields and I did get lost a few times. Once a villager came running after me to tell me I was on the wrong track. How nice!

The first day I walked a total of about 16km or 12miles, reaching the famed Halfway House lodge early in the afternoon. Slowly, other trekkers trickled into the lodge and we all congregated over beers and dinner, the evening culminating with a 30 minute episode (caught on camera) of a group of us trying to remove a MASSIVE spider from the dorm room. The next day I joined a small group and headed along the trail, ultimately making it back down to the road. Two of us decided to take the steep trail down to the river, where legend has is a tiger leaped 25 feet from a rock to escape a hunter and hence the name of the place. The water was raging after the rain and quite a powerful site. The path up included some hairy scrambling and 100 foot ladders. Not for the weak of heart or those with a fear of heights!

Tiger Leaping Gorge is listed as one of the must-do’s in Yunnan, and despite the fact that it is highlighted in many guidebooks, the 26km high-route was spectacular and rather isolated, as most tourists come in on the bus and stay near the road. See some of my photos here under Sichuan: http://picasaweb.google.com/kmcguinnes

My next post will include detail my amazing road trip through the Tibetan borderlands. Teaser: It was the most amazing road I’ve ever driven on in my entire life!

7 Minutes in Tibet

I dozed off on the bus today and when I woke up, I was in Tibet! OK, not really, but probably as close as I am going to get while in China. I am in a small town known as Shangri-la (formerly Zhongdian, renamed by the Chinese government to take advantage of a recent novel to increase tourism), whose population is primarily Tibetan. I met a Canadian and a couple of Israelis who I spent the afternoon with swapping travelling stories and talking about everything China. Tomorrow I am going to explore the area, spend time contemplating the two options I have before me. I’m either going to head north into western Sichuan, traversing Tibetan frontier towns on rough roads and unreliable transport OR take the road more travelled, backtracking south to catch a train into central Sichuan. I have set myself a timeline, booking a flight to Beijing for the end of the month – I really want to get into Mongolia soon because everyone I meet says it is already getting super cold at night. Plus, China celebrates the 60th anniversary of their Cultural Revolution on Oct 1- Tiananmen Square is supposed to be the sight of one of the largest parades and celebrations ever conducted!

I am back to traveling solo for a while. Wei and I had a great run, but ultimately we had different travel philosophies and at least for me, the goals and aspirations I have for this trip really require me to be alone. Today was a funny day for me as I have been relying on Wei’s Chinese to take care of things like bus tickets, restaurants etc, and suddenly found myself alone trying to figure this all out! Of course, it worked out just fine and that is really part of the fun of traveling in foreign lands.

After my last update from Kunming, we jumped on the ole Yunnan Tourist Trail, taking a slow train to Dali, spending a couple of nights. I had my first “Chinese Tourism Experience”, signing up for a cruise around Erhai Lake. It was hilarious. Me and a few hundred Chinese tourists, snapping photos, enjoying a tea ceremony and jumping off on islands for quick snapshots before the boat honked and we all ran back to not be left behind. Everything was in Chinese and I must have looked quite clueless so a few people helped me out. Two groups of Chinese girls wanted their photo taken with me so was able reconfirm my movie-star status! The next day was a real highlight for me, trekking around Cangshan Mountain. Early in the morning, I took a cable car to the top through the mist and clouds and spent the day walking about 10 miles through the beautiful landscape. Steep cliff walls with random shrines requiring super exposed scrambling to get to, waterfalls, monkeys and that beautiful mountain air that made me reminisce about home. Getting my hands on some rock, scrambling around and making some mileage was awesome. It really rejuvenated my soul, pushed me past my cold and gave me a nice day of reflection.

The next stop was Lijiang, a beautiful town famous for copper making and its Naxi people (one of the few remaining matriarchal societies left in the world), lined with cobblestone streets and canals. It was extremely touristy, although when the tourists are Chinese, it doesn’t seem as bad. Chinese tourists in China feels like part of the scenery. Nothing of particular interest happened here other than wandering the streets, getting lost, being found, eating, hanging out at the comfy hostel. LIjiang is definitely worth a visit, but I would not spend more than a couple of days here.

So here I am in Shangri-la, a town that feels as though it’s in Texas with a Tibetan twist. Danced with the locals in the town square, drank a few beers, shopped around for knocked of North Face gear in all the shops. Perfecting my bargaining skills as I gear up for cold weather. I’ve managed to find a beanie, next up are long-johns, a fleece and a pair of gloves. Peace!