18.11.2009 - 22.11.2009
We settled in a comfortable hotel in Lijiang, Fu Xiang Guesthouse, 120 yuan a night, which is just over 10GBP for a twin room. It was set around a pretty courtyard and was newly decorated with heating, TV including one English-speaking Chinese channel which was excellent with informative news and documentaries; jacuzzi bath, hot water flask etc.
Lijiang itself is a tourist group favourite, another 'old town' kept intact, although a lot has been rebuilt and you sometimes wonder what is genuine: a fellow blogger commented - 'the world's most picturesque shopping mall'!
However, it is surrounded by lovely mountains and has an extensive network of little canals running through the streets in which the local people wash their vegetables, rinse their washing etc. Very pretty.
It is also a good base for Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Yangtze River, minority villages etc. As a matter of fact we had quite an adventure, with a combination of our very limited knowledge of Chinese and hand signals, spending more than 2 hours trying to find the No 7 bus to get to one of these villages, Baisha, a few kms from Lijiang. In the end we took a chance, just catching the No 11 in a direction we guessed it may be which turned out to be a good guess, and then we hiked the final approximately 6 kms eventually flagging down a minibus for the final kilometre or so.
It was like stepping back in time - to see the old barber shop with the barber cutting a client's hair in his window, the corn being dried out for grinding, the pigs grunting in their sties, the cows being herded through the streets. We lunched in Mr Yang's front room on delicious Naxi bread freshly baked by his wife and followed that with cold noodles, a favourite since coming to China.
Baisha was the capital of the Naxi kingdom for a thousand years and seems today as it must have been then. I definitely recommend it as a day's outing from Lijiang. There are apparently some frescoes to see in the temples situated around here from the 15th and 16th centuries by Tibetan, Naxi, Bai and Han artists but in the end we didn't take them in as there was a hefty entrance charge as usual.
The next day we packed up our luggage and asked our hotel to store it for the night and, taking a small overnight backpack with us, we headed to the long distance bus station to catch a bus to Qiaotou, our starting point for Tiger Leaping Gorge. The journey took over two hours through the most magnificent mountains and valleys: old rural settlements on the side of the road with bunches of chilli and maize hanging from the rafters of the homesteads drying, fat pumpkins recently harvested, dogs tethered or barking fiercely from their cages, kittens mewing from the door, our bus rumbled and negotiated its way around steep, scenic, precipitous passes: we were impressed by our bus driver's skills handling the bus on these narrow roads. We were the only two women on the bus surrounded by local men heading home to Qiaotou, with a rubbish bin which doubled as a spittoon conveniently placed in the aisle of the bus.
Qiaotou appeared an unattractive street of dishevelled concrete-block type buildings, totally devoid of character, not the most appealing town. After paying the obligatory 50 yuan per person fee at the Tiger Leaping Gorge 'national park gate', we proceeded, feeling like interlopers, to Jane's Tibetan guesthouse, the prescribed place to stay in Qiaotou for backpackers needing to add Tiger Leaping Gorge to another dangerous trek conquered! Jane's is a wooden structure on the side of the road otherwise not much different to the other buildings of the street and there was no one to be seen other than a traveller on a balcony way above reading his book. We climbed somewhat ramshackle steps into untidy smoky upper chambers, still not a person in sight to speak to, the only sound a rasping note played over and over from somewhere unseen. Peeping in at the pine rooms, we were aghast at how unlike a hotel room they were and tiptoed out of there, giggling: anything but this to stay in that night!
We headed the 100 metres back into Qiaotou to investigate alternatives. Needless to say, we returned shortly thereafter to Jane's, tails between our legs: at last we met her and she actually allocated us a cosy corner bedroom on the upper floor, with a duvet, warm woolly blankets and snowy tv. We realised that our room was definitely the place to stay as the restaurant/dining room and lounge were just an open verandah and unfortunately the weather had turned icy and it was freezing cold. To crown it all, I became violently ill, obviously from something I ate, and ran to my room, very sick, staying there the night.
Waking up late at 8.30am, although my sickness had subsided, I felt very weak, I had no appetite. I managed to sip a cup of black tea and eventually we decided we would venture along the low road towards the gorge. Jane wanted us to catch a minibus but some American girls who'd just returned from the gorge discouraged us, saying that the road was precipitous, very narrow, without any barrier on the gorge side, and they had felt uncomfortable returning the previous evening in a minibus from it; they advised us to rather walk.
It was a pleasant scenic walk - hardly trek! We were only here to see the river and gorge after all, we're not hikers. We passed goatherds tending their goats as they grazed on the mountainsides, nimble creatures; delapidated settlements; mountain streams. The views were stunning. The Yangtze River roaring swiftly beneath as mountains soared overhead. Tired, after about 7kms, we flagged down a minivan and negotiated a fee to be taken to the 14km peg, where the road was being blasted and road construction carried out. The road became narrower, tar disappeared and gravel replaced it. The gorge became ever steeper. Unfortunately with me feeling very weak, and seeing, when we arrived at the 14km peg, how dangerous the landslide could be (with a bit of a history of people being buried under landslides here, trying to climb over them, as we had been warned by fellow travellers), we soaked up the views, it was glorious, took some photos, and engaged our minibus driver to take us back to Jane's.
To sum it up and on thinking it over, the problem with Tiger Leaping Gorge is the lack of formal, and current, information. For us, who are not trekkers, and didn't only want to come here to notch up yet another adventure destination on our metaphorical belt, and only wishing to see the Yangtze and Tiger Leaping Gorge, coming here was actually a matter of concern and quite frightening; not only is it quite remote (and a basically relatively uncommercial destination at this point), but for budget travellers, such as us, our options had been depleted with news of the road being blasted and therefore blocked halfway along the gorge, as we had been advised in Lijiang when we were about to set off. It is told on the travel forums that some of the upper trail is often only half a metre in width with a precipitous drop to the river below so we elected to take the low road. We were there at about the same time as this poster on the Thorn Tree forum, and we can only say that we assessed the situation and that is why we turned back where the road construction was blocking the road, see here for conditions: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1899866
But what an exhilarating experience for me! Ever since I was a child, I've always longed to see the Yangtze and this was her at her truly grandest!