Tiger Leaping Gorge

20 May

This amazing Gorge on the Yangtze River is located 60 km north of the ancient city of Lijiang in China’s Yunnan Province. It is easy to view Tiger Leaping Gorge by walking or driving along the 15km-long dusty low road that runs parallell to the river running through the basin. Though you must hike the 1km vertical climb to the high road in order to see the most impressive views of the Gorge and the snow-capped mountains that tower over it.

The initial climb from 1600m to 2670m above sea level was tough. Like other unfit tourists who start the trek every day, I opted to rent and ride a mule for the tough ’28 bends’ section of the trail. Of course the mule was the lazy option, and unlike Alex I can’t gloat about my strength and endurance after completing the trek. Though I can boast that riding a donkey allowed me to concentrate my attention upon the beautiful scenery that surrounded me and not the sandy track at my feet, which stole the attention of struggling backpackers huffing and puffing their way up the walls of the Gorge.

I found it hard not to laugh when the mule driver suggested that myself and a very large Canadian girl share one mule, instead of us renting two separate animals. I think the poor mules suffered enough carrying even one passenger, especially hers.

On Day 1 of the trek we started walking Qiaotao at 11am in the morning. We arrived at the peak of the high road about four hours later, after stopping for lunch at the Naxi Family Guesthouse. The walk along the high road was relatively easy after reaching this point. We arrived at the Tea Horse Guesthouse at 5.30pm with plenty of time to eat, drink and chat to the friends we made along the trail.

After eating with a Spanish couple and two Polish girls (who have lived in Ireland for the past five years and spoke with Irish accents), we were offered some rice wine by a group of Chinese policemen who were also staying at the Guesthouse for the night. We accepted the first round with a smile and proceeded to drink with the police for several hours. The highlight of the night was the sharing of drinking songs. One policeman sang us a Tibetan tune, we shared an Australian song, and the Polish girls and Spaniards also gave a little performance. Alex also sang the part of ‘Katusha’ that he knows in Russian. We ended the night after singing together what each knew of the Internationale in his or her own language.

Photographic evidence of the frivolities described above can be found here.

It was only on the morning of Day 2 that I considered the ramifications of indulging in vast quantities of rough home-made spirits the before a mountain trek. After a bottle of coke and some panadol I felt well enough to continue along the high-road, though I couldn’t stomach breakfast. We left the Guesthouse at about 7.30am and arrived at the end of the Trail at 11am. The decent was tricky in places only because of the uneven path.

The scariest part of the trek came in our attempt to return to Qiaotao and then Lijiang by minivan. You see the low road that runs through Tiger Leaping Gorge is currently closed as it is being widended. We weren’t surprised by this news as we had heard loud explosions echoing off the Gorge’s rock walls as they were blown up to make way for the new road as we were treking. We were told that such activity is halted every day between noon and 2pm to allow for people to travel along the low road by private vehicles. In a country where OH&S is unheard of, the temporary opening of the road didn’t mean it was safe. To make this journey we had to take one minivan to a part of the road that was blocked by a rock-slide, cross this 30m section of road on foot, and jump into another minivan that would take us the rest of the way. Problematically large rocks were falling at the time of our crossing. As a wave of rocks fell we had to stand poised like olympic runners waiting for the starting gun, as we waited for a pause in the cascading stones. When this break came we had to bolt across the path before the next wave of rocks came crashing down upon us.

I observed that the rocks were large and falling fast enough to cause serious damage if they hit someone, and also threatened to knock a person over the side of the road and into the Gorge upon collision. A number of kids that were traveling through the Gorge as a school group were hysterical after running this gauntlet before us. I guess it could have been quite a traumatic experience for some. Apart from the short burst of adrenaline that consumed me as I run like an injured rabbit from a hunter across the dangerous path, I just felt tired and inconvenienced.

My wise conclusion is – don’t let roadworks get in the way of a good time. It would be wise to check for updates on the status of the road before starting out on the trek. The road should be finished soon and tourists will be able to complete this journey out of harm’s way.

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