Monday, June 11, 2007

Day 63-70: Unforgettable adventure

The main reason western travelers stop in Lijiang is to proceed to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest gorges in the world. It is located between the Haba Mountain and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Xueshan), where the mighty Jinsha River flows, north of Lijiang. Both mountains measure over 5500 meters and it is an impressive 3900 meters from the river to the snow-covered mountain tops. The hike through the gorge is an adventure one cannot miss traveling in southwest China, in the province of Yunnan. I knew the trek through the gorge was going to be one of the highlights of my journey.

Before I left to go hiking I decided to stay in Lijiang for a couple of days to rest my muscles and enjoy what the old town of the city has to offer, despite its similarities with Dali. The old town of Lijiang differs greatly from the otherwise contemporary city. The ancient town is a beautiful maze of cobbled streets, dark wooden buildings, never-ending souvenir shops and lively markets. The narrow, winding streets make it difficult to navigate and I spent a great part of my first day trying to find my way around including locating my hotel. To my relief many other travelers had faced the same problems, making me feel less incompetent. After a visit to the Black Dragon Pool park with the famous and spectacular view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Xueshan), I ran into Alberto and Sebastian, the two Dutch fellows I had met in Hanoi waiting in line to enter the Chinese embassy. We had discussed doing the famous hike together, thus made dinner plans to discuss our next adventure. But before we headed into the wild we made a 30 kilometers cycle tour, leaving Lijiang to Baisha to visit the now very well-known Dr. Ho (He). He is an old man, looking just like you would picture a Taoist physician, treating patients with herbs that he collects on the mountains surrounding the village. Interestingly, he has made a name for himself over the years and has been featured in many newspapers all over the world, as well as international TV stations. As a matter of fact, two days prior to our visit NBC was there to interview him, and many other TV stations, including channel four from Sweden, have also paid a visit to Dr. Ho. Every visitor got a thorough introduction of his clinic, success story and treatment methods without any charge. It was a genuine experience, opening up my eyes to alternative medical treatments.

Originally I had planned to take a round trip by bus to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, but after four tiresome bus rides with the bicycle, I had promised myself to never set my foot on a bus for the remaining of my journey. Therefore, on day 65 I headed for Daju, a village 90 kilometers north of Lijiang and 50 kilometers from the gorge, on my loaded bicycle. Leaving Lijiang was a straight, endless slope lasting 30 kilometers towards the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The entire morning I had the colossal snowcapped mountain in sight, leading the way to the north, inspiring me to pedal up the slanting road. I took the opportunity to stop for breakfast at one of the tourist cafés facing the mountain. The view was incredible. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the pricy noodles. I must have ascended significantly because the low temperatures forced me to dress up in my full wind-proof attire as I left the mountain behind me. I continued to pedal uphill, dressed for winter, until the road dramatically turned downward. After 40 kilometers traveling at sneaking speeds, I quickly took the advantage of the steep slope and caught up with a bus full of Chinese tourists. Free-wheeling behind the bus I attracted most of the passengers to the rear seats. Having all of their attention I did all the tricks in the book; letting go of the handle-bar, cycling slalom and standing up waving. When I finished entertaining the crowd I gave full power and passed the long bus at 60 km/h feeling like a rock star. I hoped that the Chinese tourists had enjoyed the show as much as I had. The joy quickly ended when the road turned evil once more. But not only was I continuing to pedal uphill, the smooth tarmac had become a rocky surface of sharp stones sticking up from the dirt, ready to puncture any bicycle tire, forcing me to pedal next to it, on gravel, sand and loose stones. After about 65 kilometers I finally could rest my legs as the road leveled out, and gave away to smooth tarmac. Again, the joy was quickly interrupted by the return of the rocky road. However, this time I was descending, straining my arms and fingers opposed to my legs. The dreadful road forced me to break constantly for the furthest descend I have encountered this far; an unexpected 28 kilometers. Sadly, I could not enjoy the view or the speed as I had to keep my eyes locked to the thin strip of gravel bordering the road, insuring that I did not slide down the side of the mountain. In a rear moment, I looked up from the road to see another cyclist struggling his way up. He was a Swiss trooper who had started his journey in Lhasa, Tibet, and was on his way towards Kunming where I started my tour in China. As we stood there in the middle of nowhere sharing experiences and having a laugh at the horrible road, his tire flattened. Apparently, he had hit one of the sharp rocks in the road and now was suffering the consequences. He cursed the road once more and explained to me that this was his sixth flat tire in recent days, and had run out of tire patches. Fortunately, I still had not had a single puncture and could offer him some of mine. As we continued to chat, I watched him repair his rear tire, trying to remember all his moves for my first flat tire; an inescapable fate. We said our goodbyes and I rolled down the rocky, bumpy road to Daju, happy to have arrived despite my throbbing headache from the last two and half hours of constant rattling.

I still had one more day before I would reach Qiaotou where I had agreed to meet Alberto and Sebastian to start our hike in the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Before I could start cycling towards the town on the lower trail of the gorge, however, I had to cross the Jinsha River, a task I highly underestimated. Just to find the ferry at the side of the river was an adventure in itself. After an hour of cycling around the village asking every resident of Daju where the ferry is located (the people of Daju cannot for the love of God show directions), I found the small dirt road leading to the edge of the river. To get down to the ferry I had to carry my bicycle along a narrow, steep path in loose gravel and sand, which took me another half hour. Ironically, after all that strenuous effort and time, the ferry crossed the river in less than a minute. Before I had caught my breath awaited the other side of the mountain, and a 45 minutes walk uphill on a similar path. Fortunately, this time there was help available and for 30 Yuan (3 Euros) the Captain, his man and a pony carried all my gear and bicycle up the vertical mountain side. The men left me in the middle of nowhere on a wrecked dirt road, huge peaks surrounding me. I felt very small. At this time I did not trust any directions from anybody ever set foot in Daju, so I cycled partly on instinct and partly on compass until I reached the main, paved road. For a moment I lost my senses and asked a woman which way I should go, right or left leading to Qiaotou. Not to my surprise she gestured me to go the wrong way, and once again I was frustrated having cycle unnecessary meters. At this point I have pedaled many pointless kilometers due to poor direction from the people of Yunnan. However, I have finally figured out where the communication dilemma lies. Instead of showing me the way I should go, I am often pointed the direction where the destination is located, and that is not at all times the correct route. It seems to be a difference of communication. Sometimes I forget I am thousand of kilometers away from home.

Finally I was pedaling towards Qiaotou, but it was already after lunch and I knew I was going to be late. I was also aware of that I had to climb a few landslides that had crashed on the road in the last weeks. Only a few had supposedly been cleared. When I was faced by the first huge pile of rocks I knew I was not going to arrive in Qiaotou for a few more hours. The landslide was massive, covering the entire road and measuring over 20 meters in height. It was not the size, nor the height that scared me. It was the fact that the landslide led directly to the edge of the road, and a 2000 meter plunge down to the river, that terrified me. The loose stones that rumbled down at every step crossing the enormous pile of stones did not exactly calm me down either. After climbing the landslide, not carrying any bags, having both hands to balance, I knew that this was going to be the most frightening experience of my life. I quickly thought about turning back, but that meant cycling 20 kilometers to the river to cross it again, and pedal 100 kilometers on the same road back to Lijiang, and cycle 80 kilometers on the other side of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in order to reach Qiaotou. This would take days. I decided to give the landslide a try, promising myself not to look down, and calculated that I had to cross it five times to get all my gear and bicycle on the safe side. After my first load of equipment I met a group of travelers on the other side as I was unloading. I met them in Lijiang at the guesthouse I was staying and we had enjoyed a few beers together and played pool at the English pub on one of the nights in Lijiang. It was very calming and relieving to see them again, this time at the edge of a massive landslide. They recognized my problem but also realized that they had to cross it in order to make it to Daju. When I returned with the second load one of the girls of the group was shaking from fear and tears was rolling down her cheeks. I did not blame her; I was shaking like a leaf on a windy autumn day myself, but was too focused to shed tears. Carrying the gear I was able to free one hand to balance my weight against side of the landslide, but when I carried the bicycle over, I had no hands to rely on, and I was walking up and down the slope of the landslide, holding my bicycle firmly, looking straight ahead taking one slow step after another at the very edge of a 2000 meter plunge. When all my equipment was on the safe side I felt more alive than I have ever felt in my entire life.

Before I reached Qiaotou I had conquer three more landslides, fortunately not of the scale of the first, and I had cycled almost 50 kilometers, 20 more that I expected. It was now past three o'clock and the Dutch fellows had already left for the first stop of the trek. I was complementing heading into the mountain or waiting to start the hike the following day. Being exhausted mentally as well as physically I decided to wait as I met a friendly couple staying next to me at the guesthouse. I quickly invited myself to join them the next day and they gladly accepted. The lovely couple, Dave and Jess, turned out to be very easy-going, friendly, inspiring people, and the perfect couple to share the Tiger Leaping Gorge with. On the two days it took to stride through it I saw more scenic mountain views than I probably have ever seen in my entire life traveling. When the clouds cleared we could see the top of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and its glaciers glistering in the sun at about 5500 meters elevation. At the same time we could look down 2500 meters to witness the force of the mighty Jinsha River as it surges through the gorge. The trail winds its way up and down the mountain side, at times physically challenging, but more often simply enjoyable. Along the way we met other hikers just as awed by the scenery, creating a magical atmosphere. We spend two nights in the gorge, looking out over the gigantic, impressive peaks, eating, drinking, talking and laughing, until we retired to our beds. Tiger Leaping Gorge was an unforgettable adventure.

After two days trekking and two additional days cycling my legs were beat and lacked energy. Still, I managed to pedal the 80 kilometers to Lijiang on the larger road east of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. It was a misty, rainy day, the beautiful mountains well hidden behind the thick, grey clouds. After 40 kilometers the cycling lots all of its appeal and I just wanted to arrive in Lijiang. Every kilometer seemed to take an eternity. Eventually I made it back to the ancient city of Lijiang, completely soaked from the heavy rain, drained out of energy, hungry, thirsty and tired beyond description. After dinner I collapsed in bed enable to join the others at the Sexy Tractor bar across the street from our guesthouse. Now, I will allow myself at least one day of rest before I head east, on my way to Chengdu, about 900 kilometers away.

SLIDESHOW
LIJIANG TO TIGER LEAPING GORGE


4 comments:

  1. AnonymousJune 19, 2007

    Tjenare Daniel!
    Du skriver jädrans bra får jag villigt erkänna. Även om jag fortfarande saknar fotobevis för vadstorlek så följer jag bloggen slaviskt...
    Här rullar livet sin gilla gång. Har knappt varit hemma i Tysklandet på flera månader känns det som. USA, England, Frankrike och Sverige (x5) har stått på tapeten de senaste månaderna. Fullt uppp med andra ord. Men i Januari bär det hemmåt. Ser fram emot utgång på Öl och vinkällaren och sena nätter i Etages karaokebar. ;o)
    Ha det great och fortsätt skriva!
    Bitchslaps from bulk

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