Tempus fugit! At least it feels like it now. Dad visited me here in Wuhan for almost a week, and we had a lovely time, spending our time usefully among other things examining carnivorous plants and cacti at the botanical garden of the university, and mapping out the city’s infrastructure. He’s returned home now, and I will soon follow suit. Our original plan was to fly home on the same plane, but all seats were booked and thus I will return on my own. If anything, I feel a bit plaintive at the thought of having to leave this country and its wonderful people behind. The return will happen in time.
I need to do some serious catching-up here for you, my dear readers. This entry is dedicated to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. We took a local van from Shaxi to Hutiàoxiá, or Tiger Leaping Gorge on the third day. This was to be one of the best experiences I’ve had during my stay in China. The gorge is one of the deepest in the world. The scenery changes dramatically along the way, and the combination of the proximity of the equator and the relatively high altitude makes for an interesting scenery (eg. there were blooming cacti and very familiar-looking pine trees growing next to each other along the trail). The upper trail itself is about 20 kilometres long. The lower trail can’t really be called a “trail”, as it basically serves as a standing platform for bus-loads of tourists standing on the platform next to the river taking “I’ve-been-there” -selfies to upload on Facebook, and then driving back to town. Legend tells that in the old times, at the narrowest point of the river — about 25 metres — a mountain tiger, running from impending hunters in desperation, managed to leap over the roaring rapids to the other side. Thus, the gorge was named “Tiger Leaping Gorge”. The gorge is located in the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. A bridge needs to be crossed to get to the Tibetan side from the Naxi side, and it has to be done by foot, at least if you aren’t a Chinese national. I suspect it’s because the police want to avoid having to deal with checking the foreigners’ passports on the tourist buses.
When you start hiking, I strongly recommend you to leave your big backpack behind at the first Tibetan guesthouse, and carry only a small day pack instead. You will tackle some strenuous parts such as the 28 Bends on your first day. They consist of vertically ascending zig-zag-shaped bends which mark the path along the mountainside. This part requires a lot of effort, as you only are gaining altitude (not moving forward but only upward along the mountain wall). After this, the hike gets considerably easier, with only a few uphill stretches. A bigger concern would be altitude sickness and fear of heights. At times, the trail will be located approximately 3000 metres above the river, which looks like a tiny string of water somewhere in the distance below. There are no handrails. A walking stick is a good idea to give you some stability. If you can manage this, I guarantee that you will have a hard time finding a better hike in the world.
On our first day, we lodged at the Tea Horse guesthouse. There are guesthouses conveniently dotted along the trail, about two to four hour hikes apart from each other, depending on your pace. At night one of us saw a faint light flicker on the mountainside on the other side of the gorge. We were intrigued, and my first thoughts were that there would be a military operation base, natural gas burning or a signalling pool. Soon after, another faint light started to flicker at the top of the desolate mountain wall, as if it was responding. Our hosts told us that the altitude and vertical mountain wall made it impossible for human activity to be established there. They ruled out every other explanation but supernatural phenomena, and were visibly unsettled. I guess either the aliens are trying to send us Morse coded messages, or the dragon protector of the mountain is letting its presence be known. 😀
On the second day, we hiked down towards the mountain road and another Tibetan guesthouse. There was a waterfall along the way, the water flowing down vertically through the air, and you could hear the distant rumble of the whitewater river down below. We were exhausted from the heat and decided to take a bath in the waterfall. Mountain water is probably the most refreshing water there is on earth! We played in the water for about half an hour.
We concluded our hike at the Tibetan guesthouse in the small mountain village where the trail ends. They had a guitar hanging on the wall, stairs descending directly down to the road so that car drivers had to be vigilant eg. for elderly ladies carrying a load of fertiliser down the ladder, and fresh Tibetan yak butter tea to replace the lost electrolytes. In the morning, before anyone awoke, I would sit on the roof “terrace” watching the laser beam-like sun rays move along the backside of the mountain, and then the ascending sun. There are white lines looking like waterfalls striping the mountain from the top down to the river. I asked our host what they were. He told me that in 1998, a 7.5-Richter earthquake dislodged the 5000+ metres tall mountains and made them crack vertically. In this kind of place, you can’t but be in awe of nature’s power.