Friday, November 11, 2011

Lost in Lijiang and the Tiger Leaping Gorge

My last memory of Chengdu will be the bloke I saw, moonwalking around his own shoes, with blue  shoe covers on his feet as he got a free foot massage by walking backwards on the round cobbled pavement by the river. My day continued onwards as he enjoyed himself though.

Bus to airport, flight to Lijiang and finally another bus into the town of  Lijiang itself. I saw a sign saying the Old Town was 1.2km away and decided to walk with my backpack, to test my knee. It was a good walk as I went through the modern, dirty new town and after crossing a nice open cobbled  square, I found myself in the back-streets of Lijiang Old Town. Finally, after 15 days I am now in China. Not China from 2011, where everyone hoiks, drives mopeds on pavements and argues openly. But China from 200 or 300 years ago. Beautiful cobbled streets, 8 or 9 feet wide, old ramshackle buildings, trees growing from walls and little bridges criss crossing the small brooks and rivers that run through the town. Nobody would bat an eyelid if a Kung Fu master flew from one roof to another across the skyline above the alleyways, following a dragon or some kind of ancient magic animal. Even though its cold, I have a headache, a sore throat and jaw ache, I am happy – This is what I wanted to see in China.

My Hostel is also really nice. I have the best room here, overlooking the alleyway below, with views of the mountains surrounding the town and outside my door is a large terrace with two old rocking chairs. I know someone who would love this!  Its even got an electric blanket which is toasty!

I took a walk back into the hub of the old town and got some dinner and checked out a few of the shops. They sell all the traditional clothes and garments, a few cafés have traditional dancing and live music and all the streets are lit up beautifully, adding to the charm of the place. In the main square there is a big waterwheel which is surrounded by people taking pictures and dancing. This is a really cool place and I’m hoping to feel better really soon and get around to see a lot more of it.

Day 2 in Lijiang started at 9.30 when the red light on my electric blanket went off. It was a power cut and I decided to get up and out to have a look around. The next 4 hours was spent wandering aimlessly down alleyways, around corners and just seeing what I found. What I did find was a lot of cool stuff. There is so much to look at here, whether its a toilet with a palm tree growing out of it or two old women using the ancient water pools to either wash their clothes or clean the veg for their dinner – They obviously have a pool for each, so that dinner doesn’t taste of soap! Every street was different but it was easy and fun to get lost in the maze like streets. I eventually came across another water wheel, with a café next to it, where I had French toast and a coffee for late brunch. Then I continued onwards, finally getting some supplies for tomorrows trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Back at the Hostel, the power came back on about 4ish and after dinner, I spent vegged out for the evening before unsuccessfully trying to get an early night. I just cant sleep at the moment – No matter how tired I am, I just toss and turn most of the night. Its really annoying when I know I’m up at 7. My next few paragraphs will be written in a couple of days after I return from the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Hopefully after that I will be really tired and able to sleep!

Lost in Tiger Leaping Gorge........

Well I am back, so I am obviously alive – But here’s what happened in Tiger Leaping Gorge..

The bus ride there was fine – 2 ½ hours and then dropped off with an Asian couple by the road leading up to the High Gorge path. The girl asked if they would 'walk' with me – I didn’t intend 'walking', so politely refused and tore off up the hill.  Amazingly my body seemed to realise that it needed to work today, so my sore throat went away and my stuffed up nose was clear. I could breathe fine and felt really good!!

The 1st hour or so was great – Good paths, great signs and nice locals saying hello. Then the signs stopped, the path changed to a steep slope and no one else was around. I checked the hand drawn map that the hostel supplied and it looked OK – There was supposed to be a steep hill with windy bends.

I continued onwards and upwards, passing the odd local, who when shown my map, smiled and pointed whatever direction I pointed in! After another hour I passed a local lady, with an umbrella, in the middle of nowhere who actually pointed at the map, at a village on the map and pointed in my direction of travel. It was bollocks. I ended up at the top of a hill in a field. There were huts and the odd farmer, but it wasn’t the village I was looking for. I decided to head downward and hoped to cross the correct path at some point. I knew roughly where I was as there are big fooking mountains and a really obvious river at the bottom of the gorge, so if I went the right way I was sure I would get back onto the right road.

No such chance. I had now been lost for about 3 hours. Had crossed a river, cooled down in a stream and climbed a really steep windy hill and still didn’t know where I was. Luckily a Chinese bloke drove past on a track, looked at the map and ushered me into the truck. After stalling it 3 times, he drove me back up the hill and dropped me off at a junction. Pointing along it. I thanked him and continued only for a different bloke to point me down a hill through the woods. I was, by now, getting a bit frustrated. The only 100% thing I knew is that the road was down the hill. So, I decided to head down and try to get a lift to the other end of the gorge, where the high path meets the road. I could then go back up and find a place to stay the night.

Luckily, I came across 2 old geezers having a fag. One saw me and made the international sign of 'steering wheel?' - I nodded and 2 minutes later, after a quick phone call, a small van turned up from nowhere! He took me the 15km or so to Tina s Hostel, which marks where the path crosses the road. It was now gone 4pm and with only 2 hours of daylight left, I started off up the hill – again. It was a tough path, but after crossing waterfalls, wandering around paths that cling to cliff-faces with drops hundreds of feet straight down and just as it started to rain I reached Halfway Guest house. A hostel type place nestled in the middle of nowhere. I got a beer, some dinner and after watching the moon light up the hills and clouds I went to bed.

I was up at 5.30am, with renewed vigour and loved watching the darkness turn into daylight as the sun rose and lit up the tops of the white snow covered peaks all around. I was the only person up, until about 7am when the muppets started to come out, including one woman wit a massive camera, that she couldn’t even work out how to get the lens cover off – before taking photos of the mountains – with her flash on! Dur!

I left the pillocks behind and walked an hour or so up the slope towards where I got lost yesterday – I saw all the sights I missed – apart from the 28 bends, but I think my windy road was better anyway. At least I got to see all of the gorge, before I headed back down to Tinas place, where the afternoon bus comes from. On the way I passed a load of other walkers, who looked at me funnily as I ran past them, wearing just a t-shirt, whilst they had massive coats and woolly hats. I also passed two girls walking with Crocs and Ugg boots on! WTF!?

After a quick rest at Tinas Hostel, I took a walk down to the bottom of the gorge – To the river itself and the infamous 'Tiger Leaping Rock'- after which the gorge is named. Supposedly a tiger leaped the rapids to escape a hunter. It was about 250m straight down a series of steps, ladders and slopes and took about 30 minutes to get to the bottom. But the views there were amazing – Looking back up at sheer cliff faces that rise over a thousand metres above you. I clambered back up to the road, taking over an hour to reach it, before a well earned rest back at Tinas Hostel.

At 4pm, the bus turned up and drove me back to Lijiang and a well earned hot shower.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is special. I’m actually glad that I missed a sign or an arrow yesterday and got lost as it somehow made it even more rewarding to reach the Halfway house, get up for dawn and spend the day in the gorge. It made it and adventure – I saw nobody but local Chinese farmers and the odd old bloke. It gave me the chance to take two lifts with locals – even only one of them actually got me where I wanted to go.

Today was even better because of the weather – It was cool and cloudy to begin with but ended up as a beautiful summers day. I was up early and loved being on the hills all alone and totally isolated from the world. It was a brilliant feeling. The views here are special, among the best I have seen on my entire journey along with Uluru, Huangshan and Mt Bromo. To do it all alone gave me the feeling of total freedom and I was more unhappy when I met other people than I was getting lost. It has been a brilliant couple of days – my knees held up – just and it is the last 'hard day', for a while. I need the rest.

No comments:

Post a Comment