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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Tiger leaping gorge & Shangri-La

CHINA | Tuesday, 5 August 2008 | Views [3131] | Comments [3]

Sun 3rd Aug - Decided to go ahead with trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge today, so got a bus ticket sorted to Qiaotou, the starting point (ticket 17 Yuan). There were only two buses today, 8am and 2pm. Could only get on the 2pm as the early one was full. It's hardly worth going the bus station yourself as they only charge 1 Yuan to deliver it. Meant a more casual start to the day, and spent a bit of time around a quieter part of the old town. There were a couple of Austrian girls from Vienna who later decided to do the same trek, so joined up with them.
Picked up a taxi easy enough to get to the New bus station. They are really cheap here and only cost 8 Yuan. Thought it was going to be cool today and it did start a bit overcast and cool. Shortly before getting on the bus the sun came out and the temperature shot up rapidly.
Got to Qiaotou at 4pm and the bus stopped near to the entrance gate for the trek. 50 Yuan entry fee and you get a map. There are two routes, lower and upper but the lower is closed right now and everyone wants to trek the upper for obvious reasons.
As it is a late start, can't be too ambitious as only have about 4 hours maximum of daylight. The advice had been to stop overnight at a guest house ahead of the tricky 28 bends section, and to get up early in the morning to see the sun rise and do that section when it is cooler. Seemed like a good plan.
The bus arrived in Qiaotou later than expected at nearly 5pm. Qiaotou has no apparent redeeming feaures whatsoever as we drove through it. Congested and noisy, but fortunately the bus went through the main town and stopped near to the ticket office, which made it easy. Paid the 50 Yuan entry fee for the trail, got a map and sett off. Main objective for now was to make it to the Naxi family Guest House. As expected, it took about 1 & 1/2 hrs of beauiful scenery and not too difficult trekking. For the first part it is concrete road, which soon stops and becomes mud and gravel with much steep sections. It has been raining recently so it got a bit muddy in parts. There are other guest houses along the route, so no problem if you've had enough and want to stop.
Within seconds of arriving at the Naxi house, the lady of the house brought us some fresh mint tea and told us to relax for a bit. Booked in to a dorm for 20 Yuan for the night with outdoor shared shower (only one). It was great to get a hot shower and hen dinner. Chose a number of naxi dishes between us and washed it down with some home made Corn wine, made by her husband. Hit the spot so had another. A really nice meal and the lady of the house was terrific and so happy. Spent a while chatting amongst the group then off to bed as plan on an early start tomorrow. Was pleased when the girls thought I was only 30 to 32 years old. Must be doing something right as I am 48. Yippee!

Mon 4h Aug - Got up at 7am to find it pouring with rain. Apparently it had rained all night. Was due to the section called the '28 bends' which precedes the top and should have only taken 2 hrs to get to 2670m. The rain was so heavy and the cloud cover so low that we decided to abandon and go back down the hill after breakfast to Jane's Guest House near to the ticket office. What a great decision that was.
Jane is now a female...do I need to say any more? What a great help she (ex he) was. By the way, if you have a backpack and want to leave I here whilst you go trekking, you can for 5 Yuan. After some discussion on alternatives, we ended up hiring a minivan to take us down the gorge low road to the 'Teachers' drop-off for 80 Yuan, which takes about 40 minutes of the most awesome scenery. This road was closed recently and it was no surprise why, as sections of rock had collapsed across the road but had been cleared enough for transport to get past. There were some superb view points along the way. Where we were aiming for was to trek to the bottom.
The access point for the descent to the middle Tiger Leaping Gorge was created by 'Teacher Zhang' and her family and took a year and a half to construct. A charge of 10 Yuan is levied for the upkeep of the route. It is a tough one. Soon after starting, we passed a few people who looked ready to die, but said it was worth it, so on we went. It is hard on your legs as it is near vertical in parts. Took about a hour to reach the bottom, but what a reward. The rapids are immense and the view both along the bottom of the gorge and vertically up to the mountainous peaks that tower above, are just breathtaking....one of those wow! Moments. No words can do it justice, so will leave it there. One of the greatest highlights of coming to China.
After a bit of a recovery, the gut wrenching prospect of the return climb awaits. There is an alternative route which we decided to take, referred to as the 'Sky Ladder'. After crossing a short wooden plank bridge over a waterfal you reach another charge of 10 Yuan for the famile who maintain this section. From here onwards it is a killer. Despite a few stops, it is extremely tough going. The 'Sky ladder', is actually a couple of sections of welded iron rickety ladder. About an hour to complete the ascent. We had made the decision on the way up that there was no way we were doing any more climbing today. What we had done was a major achievement, and so amazing that I don't think could be bettered, so completely satisfied. Back up at the road near to the amazingly located Tina's Guest House and we managed to hire another minibus to take us back to Jane's. Scary return journey as since we came the other way, barely a few hours earlier, a large section of rock had collapsed over the road and brought it down to a narrow passage....now that was lucky! Back at Janed's and had some lunch...excellent food by the way (best muesli since I arrived in China). Next change of plan...now going to Shangri-La!  Met up with a couple of australians also wanting to go, so hired a minibus between us for 220 Yuan to take us there. About a 2hr drive. The weather was yuk. Poured it down all the way. They drive like maniacs here and don't stop for anyone. Best not look!
On the way there the scenery open up to vast swathes of green scrub and the appearance of a tibetan influence. The house style, the stupas/ompas at the side of the road, resplendent with tibet prayer flags. Shame the weather was so dire. The rain was getting so heavy...didn't stop our crazy driver though!
Arrived in Shangri-La at 5pm and dropped off at the 'Dragoncloud' Guest House in the old town and got a dorm for 15 Yuan. Superbly located in the old town and with a lot of character.
Straight out to explore and headed for the new town first. They say that Shangri-La is about as close to Tibet as you can get without actually going there.
In the centre is an ornately decorated palace, that is straight from Tibet. Around the new town, most buildings have a tibetan feel to them, very square with chequered d¨¦cor around the roof, and many with sloping walls. A lovely central lake which looks as though you can boa on it. As it is raining, it is very quiet and pleasant to explore without crowds. An interesting detour through the market is always worth it as youalways see things that you don't see elsewhere. Here, there was an interesting selection of fungi, most of which was dried. It is a change to find a  town which is small enough to walk around in an hour and a great surprise, as not what I expected. They have two different types of taxi here. A normal car and a tiny three wheeled two seater, many of which have a horse on the side. Not sure whether that is the company logo?
After the pleasant surprise of the new town, it was time to head to the old town. I had heard that between 7pm and 11pm every evening the old people dance in the main square. As is typical, the rain means that tonight it won't happen :-(
Wandering the streets of the old town is like no placed I have ever been before, even in the tibetan influenced parts of northern india, totally different and really beautiful. The streets are ruggedly paved in and hewn natural stone, and a majority of the buildings are all wooden with hand cut tiles for the roof. As is normal, most of the places are shops with a liberal sprinkling of athmosheric looking tibetan restaurants.
Wandered through the maze of streets and upwards to the buddhist temple that dominates the old part of town. The old folk are a highlight of this town. Many sitting in groups chatting, or just walking around. They always give a cheery smile as you pass. They differ dramatically from the valley folk. At 3,300m the harsh winters and hot summers endow them with a rugged appearance. Many stooped over, which seems to be a common trait, especially amongst the women...most certainly caused by the years of hard labour carrying loads on their backs.
There are actually two temples and a museum that flank a small square. The main temple has a beautiful floral fountain access in front of the steps. After this mornings walking I took one look at the steps and nearly turned around. Am I glad I didn't as the temple is a stunner. Firstly, outside is the biggest prayer wheel I have ever seen...actually, more a tower...huge brass tapering and decorated  with buddhist symbols, which can be spun slowly from the bottom.
Even though I have cut down the amount of temples I visit, this one is worth the effort, as the buddha statue is incredible. Ornate and draped with fantastic robes and surrounded on both sides by groups of decorated worshipper statues. No photos unfortunately. Another great thing about this emple is its manificent views over the old and new towns plus the mountains which surround it. Looking out over the old town is beautiful and reminded of Lijiang, but even more attractive. The tiled roofs give it that olde worlde character.
Back down into town and still no activity in the square, so assume the dancing isn't going to happen. Time to eat and after a quick snack from one of the many food stalls in the square, decided to go to a proper restaurant for a meal. What better than the Tibetan looking 'Lhasa' restaurant I thought! Turned out a bit odd... Mainly due to language issues I think. Ordered a banana yoghurt drink...from the drinks menu of course, and was delivered a bowl of bananas with yoghurt on top. Had ordered momos...the staple of Tibet, and thought I was getting two...they delived a massive plate with twelve! And a bowl of soup I hadn't ordered. A cheese sideplate was actually a plate of sizzling cheese that soon set in to a guey mess. Not a very successful meal!
Raining heavily so thought I would head back to the hostel, and I luckily lanced up a small alley and saw the temple I had visited earlier glowing on the hill. Decided to go and take a closer look. No only is it attractive during the day, but at night it is even more amazing. The massive prayer tower glows a vibrant gold and the temple is adorned with an array of lights that make it stand out.
Whilst the town isn't as lively as Lijiang, and the rain doesn't show it off to its best, I personaly like it because it is smaller and quieter. Not everyone feels the same apparently. Each to their own. It used to be called Zhongdian, and the word is that they changed its name to capitalise on the Shangri-La name from Lost Horizons. Whatever their reason, it is a place worth visiting...sooner rather than later, as I reckon the tourism grip will tighten in the long run, and suffocate any old charm that might remain.

Tue 5th Aug - Another one of those meals for breakfast at the Yak caf¨¦, where it didn't go to plan. Getting used to it here. The buses back to Lijiang leave every hour, so not going to bother pre-booking and just see how the day goes.
One of the major attractions here is the Songzanlin monastery, also known as Sumtseling or Gyalthang in tibetan. Located north of the new town, It has been alikened to Lhasa's Potala palace. Waited for a while to see if bus No.3 turned up. Gave up waiting and got a taxi instead. When you get away from the town and catch the first limpse of the monastery, it is an imposing place...more an ornate village atop a small hill. Just before that, there was a funny sight of a guy dressed as a tibetan herder doing a touristy pose with a yak for a photograph. He must do it all day, and was so animated it made me laugh.
The taxi driver tried to rip me off, wanting 30 Yuan, when the meter read 12 and the bus would have been 1 Yuan. Gave her 12 Yuan and she responded with a Bafta winning performance of fake tears, wailing and all manner of gestures. It was probably worth the 30 just for the entertainment value! Left 12 on the seat and got out...leaving her to complete here performance!
Half way along the dodgy access road to the monastery you buy your ticket from a couple of tibetan guys in a wooden building for 30 Yuan. From where I got out of the taxi to the entrance is a bit of a tourist trap. Kids and adults dressed in traditional costume hassle you for money to have your photo taken with them. You can also have your photo with a sad lookin yak, or dress up in costume yourself. The world, no matter which country you're in seems to have gone tourism crazy. Sort of spoils it I think. The palace is definitely worth the visit though. It comprises a main building with many separate temples surrounding it. Each are superb in their own way. The dark interiors of the monastery are filled with smoke from the incense sticks that burn in the yak oil and the altars. Buddhists sitting in small groups in discussion and some chanting their scripts. Wonderfully details paintings on the walls and colouful drapes from the ceilings. Some parts only men are allowed in. It is a fairly open place apart from that where you can wander almost anywhere and be greated with smiles and Nie Hau from the monks. The kitchen was interesting as a nice aroma was emittin from the pans over the wood burning stoves and open fires. The buddhists in these places must get used to being on show, with cameras clicking at them all the time. I feel self concsious about it.
I walked a little way out from the main monastery and found a part where there weren't any other toursts, but many buddhists were sat in discussion groups. Made a change to just watch for a while and take in the wonderful view of the mountains from here.
A few hours was enough to have a good look around, and it had started raining again, so back out amongst the throng of kids shouting for money and on to the no.3 bus back to town for 1 Yuan. Jumped off at a suitable place and walked to the bus station. Managed to get a seat on the 1pm bus to Li Jiang for 41 Yuan. Plenty of time to grab something to eat and some snacks for the bus, which was full and as usual designed for chinese legs. Spent 5 hours with my knees squashed up against the seat in front, and my bag on my lap. Fortunately, there were sufficient  distractions to compensate, as the scenery was superb. High mountains, vast areas of crops, long winding rivers....
Bus arrived at the new bus station spot on 6pm... Straight to the ticket office to book my ticket to Kunming for tomorrow...note..as a foreigner it is better to go to the information desk rather than the ticket windows, as you are more likely to get some english and they will still give you your ticket. Got one for 11:30am, so that's a good time. Shared a taxi to the Panba guest house where I had left my luggage. Only an 8-bed dorm left so will have to do. I was great to have a good shower and a shave and to feel refreshed.
Not much time to relax as have to see if I can pre-book my train ticket from Kunming...unlikely but have to try, so off to the ticket office in Yuhe square. No success as they wanted me to meet a chinese speaking guy somewhere in Kunming to collect my ticket. I 'm not due to get there until about 9pm tomorrow night and didn't fancy then having to find a guy with no I.D. In a crazy place like a railway station with a language barrier. Also, the ticket office couldn't speak english either and we were struggling as it is, so the potential for handing over the cash for the ticket and it all going completely wrong wasn't worth the risk. Will have to sort something when I get there. The day that China develops the ability to forward book train tickets easily will be a miracle... people's lives would be so much easier... No sign of it happening in the foreseeable future though. Almost everywhere else in the world can do it....but China...one of the mightiest on the planet...nope.
Time to eat and stopped at a superb buffet restaurant with a great international choice for 28 Yuan....including an entertaining barman trying to practice his bottle juggling techniques and dropping them almost every time.
Some great music being played whilst I was eating, which makes me a feel a bit homesick for my passion for dancing. I have been feeling this a lot lately. Since returning to the uk back in june for a few weeks, I have been struggling to get my traveller's legs back again. Need to sort it before the next phase of my journey.
Lijiang at night is an amazing place. It is alight with lanterns, colourful displays in the bars and restaurants and music from every direction. In many ways it is overpowering, as everywhere seems to be in competition. Girls outside in costume  have to shout for business to make themselves heard. The volume is far too drowning to be enjoyable. It is a big shame as the ols town is stunning. A victim of its own popularity I guess.
Heading back to the hostel down the quieter end of Wuyi street is a pleasure as the music gets more mellow and nobody is competing. Aaahhh....

Thats it for now. Off to Kunming tomorrow on an early bus. More on that another time....




Great read about your time in north-west Yunnan.

  happysheep Sep 8, 2008 11:24 PM


Super helpful description of TLG and Shangri-La!! We are off on a bus tomorrow ourselves and are starting the trek bright and early. Hopefully we will be ok,as we'll have our 2 yr old son strapped to my husband's back. Hopefully we'll survive to tell the tale as you did! My site is www.olivertheworld.blogspot.com.
Thanks again!

  aejae212 Sep 11, 2009 1:31 AM


Thank you and I hope you have as wonderful experience as I did. As is often the case, it doesn't matter whether the weather doesn't turn out great or that things don't go according to the original plan...all that matters is that you enjoy what you manage to achieve and live to tell the tale.

Happy travels and enjoy China


  jeff bradshaw Sep 11, 2009 6:28 PM

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