Tiger Leaping Gorge
Here, I give you the first guest blog post. I came up with the idea for this after chatting with numerous friends about their travels. With not much time to create their own blogs and websites I have invited friends to write accounts of their adventure both in Tasmania and around the world.
In this very first post in the mowser.com.au guest feed, it is with great pleasure I introduce Charles Beaumont. A life long friend since school, 'Beaui' has joined me on many adventures into the Tasmanian wilderness and travels regularly overseas. Here, Beaui fills us in on his trip through Tiger Leaping Gorge last year. Enjoy the read and stay tuned for part 2 of Beaui's adventure!.... take it away Beaui.
Tiger Leaping Gorge Part 1
by Charles Beaumont
I had reached Lijiang in the north west of Yunnan province, bordering the south western edge of Tibet. Although I had been travelling thru other cities over the last week, this was the reason I ventured west from Shanghai, to conquer one of the deepest gorges in the world, The Tiger Leaping Gorge. I spent the evening exploring the maze of cobbled lanes that makeup the old town of Lijiang. On several occasions my, usually precise, sense of direction was not only challenged but completely obliterated, having to resort to the assistance of my smart phone, something I challenged myself I wouldn’t do!
I enjoyed some local Naxi bread and dumplings for dinner, romantically poised on a table for two next to a bubbling brook that dissected the centre of Lijiang’s old town. A fairytale stone bridge completed the scene and was it not for the hordes of tourists crossing it I may have thought I was an extra in a Disney animation.
Although I tried to reminisce about the adventures of the previous week, I couldn’t distract my mind from reverting back to the gorge. Tomorrow I would discover which reviews were accurate and which ones were less so. In researching the Tiger Leaping Gorge’s high trail trek I came across accounts ranging from those that classified it as a “lovely outing” to those that wish they hadn’t been lured to the other side of the world to be tormented by endless ravines of trails where one false step would see you plummet to your maker!
I slept well despite my mattress resembling a freshly laid slab of concrete covered in the thinnest of quilts. Upon arriving at the bus station my guide Richard, a local Naxi man who assured me he had done the walk more times than he could remember, realised that he had forgotten his ID which was required to purchase a long distance bus ticket. Luckily Richard knew the bus driver and managed to broker a deal where we got collected discretely by the bus further up the road out of sight of the bus terminal. As a result of this ‘situation’, my faith in both Richard’s resourcefulness and legitimacy, in terms of local guiding, reached a level I was happy with.
After reaching the village of Qiou-tou (pronounced Shou-To) we were the only people to disembark the packed bus, meaning that we were the solitary pair attempting the high trail, everyone else was being chauffeured into the various commercial areas of the gorge. This cast some doubt in my mind as to what lay ahead on the trail and whether, over the last few weeks, the deluge of rain delivered had rendered the high trail unsafe, or even impassable! We pushed on.
I was armed with my modern Osprey back back, waterproof Scarpa boots, a spare pair of shoes, thermals, a Gortex jacket, thermals, even a head torch. Richard looked like he was about to go to the local supermarket to get his groceries in a shoulder bag. Appreciating both the difference in our income and culture I smiled to myself and continued marching happily up the road.
For the first 2 kilometres, or 20 minutes, the only surface under my feet was bitumen, not what you want to both feel and see when you are trying to escape humanity. Several old vehicles, that had been modified in various ways to offer mechanical assistance in the villages, also chugged past us, often leaving a trail of thick choking fumes.
Finally, I saw the sign that I had been longing to see that suggested the high trail was about to commence. I made a right angled turn off the mundane road, and swiftly began to climb into the hills and gain height with each step. I was taken aback when Richard said that we could save an hour off our journey if we followed the road further around. Yes, of course there was an end point, but the level of satisfaction in reaching it was going to be a product of the route we took and I wanted it to be as scenic as possible!
I started the climb with vigour as I was keen to get altitude quickly and remove myself from the starting village which, must be said, was a mix of concrete, piles of rubble and spluttering old trucks that perpetually carried building materials to fuel the ever-hungry building beast that is China, even in these supposedly ‘remote’ places. I started to get a sense of solitude after a further 20 minutes of energetic walking when to my horror I noticed a huge monolithic structure rising out of the top of a small hill on the far side of the gorge. This huge reinforced concrete A-frame at least 150 metres in height was the support structure for the new highway from Lijiang to Shangri-La, a city further north. Within 2 years the highway would span the entire width of the upper gorge including the addition of a dual high-speed railway.
Although the walking during the first hour was enjoyable I had an overwhelming feeling that the human quest for endless development was responsive for clouding my serenity.
I could feel myself subconsciously lifting the intensity to clear a ridge, that I roughly calculated by basic physics and extrapolation, would rid my view of that huge concrete scar that was so boldly emblazoned on the southern side of the gorge.
As I continued to get closer to the sun, and further into the gorge I began to feel alive. My senses were heightened, and I began to develop that euphoric feeling I get when I feel at peace with my present world, a feeling of momentary bliss that you wish would last forever. Donkeys began to appear, well-fed cattle and goats meandered slowly along the rocky, dusty path which clung tightly to the steepening gorge. Occasionally a shepherd wearing the traditional Naxi blue attire would appear on the undulating slopes, nonchalantly sauntering past confirming that this was a world that was as normal to him as driving a fuel guzzling car was to me.
Then there came a point where I crested a rocky outcrop and it was here that I felt like I had entered the gorge proper. More importantly there was no massive concrete monkey on my shoulder casting a psychological shadow over my appreciation of the deepest gorge in the world.
The endlessly falling cliffs revealed themselves in full, from their sky piercing tops to bases that plunged deep into the river below, my gaze was transfixed to these gigantic wonders and it didn’t take me long to realise that these were the biggest cliffs that I had ever seen!
After, what seemed like an eternity, admiring the macro nature of these jaw dropping creations I had a chance to look closer at the finer detail. Small paths that were dwarfed by the behemoths had been tirelessly cut by hand into the cliffs over many generations to provide precipitous access to various parts of the gorge and to connect villages so that their folk could perform the necessary trading of their various livestock and produce.
I mused that it was possible some of these paths were not just engineered out of necessity, but for the cliff hugging villagers to feel more unity with the mountains, and not be overcome by its sheer and inhospitable qualities.
The boldness and ingenuity of the gorge’s inhabitants in harnessing and exploiting the difficult terrain is hard for a person from more common topographical undulations to comprehend. The need to conquer the gorge must have had a higher purpose that was ingrained in the psyche of the Naxi people’s earlier ancestors. The angelic calling of the gorge and its mountains, like that of a siren, must had been impossible to resist with the thought of hidden powers and energy an undeniable reward.
After descending into a wide valley we reached the Naxi family guesthouse. The respect and pride they had for their village was obvious in the cleanliness of their kitchen. Richard recommended the chicken soup and it didn’t disappoint. The chicken had been prepared for long enough that the meat just fell off the bone, including its head and feet.
Having researched the route well I knew that the infamous 28 bends were nearly upon us. Some people had commented that they needed to stop to catch their breath at every bend, if not between, whilst some said that they found the first hour more demanding. I was firmly in the latter group and after just 30 minutes of moderate exertion I reached the high point of the trail. By now the cloud had closed in but the combination of Tibetan prayer flags, mist shrouded ravines and the resultant feeling of airiness was a perfect setting to appreciate what had been achieved so far.
My reward for the effort exerted over the first half of the day was a gentle saunter down into the next valley. The gentle gradient and ease of walking allowed me to have time to ponder where on the global map I was, the true scale of the planet and the seemingly endless destinations and experiences one could indulge in.
With my mind lost in visions of global exploration the next hour or so vanished before we arrived at the Tea Horse Guest House. We stopped here for a brief afternoon tea whilst sharing the stories of our day’s travels, so far, with some lovely Canadians that were in China visiting their son.
The final leg of the first day, from the Tea Horse Guest House to the Half Way Guest House, was advertised to take a further 2 hours so after exchanging some pleasantries with the lovely owners of the Tea Horse Guest House Richard and I pushed on. Most of the altitude for the first day had been gained so the remainder of the day only required minimal physical exertion, allowing me to focus on the serene qualities of the gorge, including the occasional waterfall, meandering donkeys and various Naxi folk going about their daily duties. It was interesting to note that even though I was in the heart of one of the deepest gorges in the world there was still enough room for relatively expansive, gently sloping fields of rice and their accompanying tiny villages.
The final couple of hours seemed to pass in an instant as I wandered, almost in a dream, around the cliff hugging trails that lead deeper into the chasm. Before I knew it the final destination of the day, the Half Way Guest House, was upon me and I strolled happily into its welcoming entrance feeling a sense of both achievement and satisfaction. The building’s exterior initially looked quite harsh with a mix of concrete and bricks forming the solid foundations but as I looked beyond this feature, I noticed beautifully carved motifs of various Chinese landscapes decorating much of the building, whilst the tiered rooves were adorned with traditional Chinese tiles.
Upon checking in, I realised that there were several different price points for the rooms generally determined by how high up you wanted to go. It wasn’t often that I found myself sleeping in the middle of one of the deepest gorges in the world, so I took the top floor already imagining my breath being taken away upon waking up in this unique setting!
After dinner, which consisted of numerous freshly picked vegetables and recently caught chicken and pork I retired to my basic but quaint room. It wasn’t long before I fell asleep with my mind full of the somewhat surreal thoughts of my first day in the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The last thought I seemed to remember was that scenery and trails of the second day were supposedly better!
Full Gallery of Pictures below the maps....