Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Tiger Leaping Gorge: The Descent (Part 2)

It felt like a movie, this trek. I felt like I was part of a movie set, with new scenes after each trail bend. The next day I woke up at 8AM, hoping get back on the hike by 9AM. My plan was to leave for Shangrila at 2PM, after reaching Walnut Garden where I would have lunch. So, after a heavy breakfast, I went ahead alone. There was still group of young backpackers behind me, but I didn't mind them yet, until I passed the waterfall that flowed right on our path.


The waterfall was a sight, as it crashed gracefully onto our path. I stopped to feel the cold yet fresh water. I also got the chance to speak to the group of backpackers that was on my back. Turned out they came from the Tea Horse Guesthouse, the place where I should have stayed. The group was mixed, like almost everyone, except for two from Denmark, were all solo travelers as well. There was a Japanese and an Albanian girl. The rest were all guys from Australia, Israel, and Finland. They told me to join them, as they continued the hike down the trail.


The hike down was straight, and because I had some buddies to talk to, it became shorter. They asked a lot about the Philippines. They thought I was from South America, so they were pleasantly surprised to have a Filipino with them. Some of them were actually planning to visit the Philippines in the South East Asia leg of their world tour.


It took us around 3 hours from Halfway Guesthouse to Tina's Guesthouse, in the Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge. So, my plan was I would make it to Walnut Garden and catch a bus back to Qiaotou, to get into another bus onwards to Shangrila. My trail mates however, had a different plan. They would descend further down into the gorge for 2 hours after having lunch at Tina's Guesthouse, and catch their onwards buses at 5PM. I didn't think about going down the gorge, into the rapids, but I thought it must be worth it. So, as we arrived in Tina's Guesthouse, we arranged a minibus for all of us, back to Qiaotou at around 5PM. I just went with the flow.


After a quick full lunch, we looked for the path that would take us down. We saw it after a while, and a lady at the entrance of the path charged us 10RMB each. Yes, it was just a simple path down, but we were charged (for "maintenance"). So we paid our dues, and slid ourselves on a steep down path. At the back of my head, I was thinking of how to get back up, because I wouldn't want to take this same path up. It was just too steep, and it took us 30 minutes to get down.


Finally, we arrived at a leveled path parallel to the rapids. We rushed to the rock where the Tiger Leaping Gorge got its name. The Chinese believed that a tiger leapt from one rock to another, over the Yangtze to escape its hunters. So, even though the Chinese guide books mention that the locals claim several "tiger leaping" rocks, we just picked out one and took a much needed rest. It was relaxing listening to the pounding music of water on rocks. The weather was great and the scenery fantastic. I really felt like I was one with nature already. Then, someone mentioned an ever familiar word to me as I was lying down at the top of the rock, "Kabayan?"


Yes, he was a Filipino, who was traveling with his brother. They were surprised to see me, again, alone traveling. They kept asking me how I planned this trip and how much I spent. They were surprised that I didn't consult any local forums in the Internet. I just told them that I had this map, and looked for the places that seemed interesting, and asked how I would go there. The two Filipinos didn't even know the trail I just took, up the mountains, and one of them was a mountaineer. I gave them a map of the upper trail, and told them to take it backwards, which would be relatively easier. I was happy to see some kababayans in my trek, in my entire trip for this matter. After traveling from Guangzhou, it was the first time I met some Filipinos. And right here, on Tiger Leaping Rock.


Now, going back up was a mystery. Everyone didn't want to take the same way we went down, so we asked around. I asked the Filipinos, and they told us that they were taking the ladders up. So, there's this trail back up that had 3 ladders on its way, to make the ascent faster. So, we all decided to take that trail which cost us another 10RMB each.


Going up was an ordeal. It was the 24 Bends all over again. We were all exhausted after the first ladder, and had 2 more. There were steep steps up between ladders, that were literally against a cliff. We were catching our breaths every step of the way. We even went passed the Filipinos who took on the trail earlier than us. I had a big bag at my back, and wished I left it in the guesthouse. That was stupid of me. Anyway, horses were also on the trail, bringing cursing Chinese tourists.


After an hour, we reached a meadow that had some dazzling views of the Yangtze and the Gorge. The exhaustion evaporated as soon as I witnessed this grand landscape. I really felt I was in heaven, because it was so peaceful. I was overwhelmed at the grandeur of the mountains, bowing down to the river that cut across them.


We took in the wonderful view, and after realizing it was 5PM already, we walked back to Tina's on the tarred road. It was a relief walking on solid ground again. The minibus would take everyone else back to Lijiang, while I and the Israeli guy would catch a bus at 6PM to Shangrila. The ride back to Qiaotao made us reminisce our trek the day before. What took us 1 day to hike, took only 30 minutes by car. But we all thought it was worth it, and one of the best experiences in our lives. Every step of the way was an experience in itself. We touched the mountains, rolled down the hills, and basked ourselves in the rivers and falls. The Tiger Leaping Gorge took us so close to nature, that we became a part of it.


Back in Qiaotou, we got off the minibus, and asked around for the bus onwards to Shangrila. The Albanian girl spoke fluent Chinese, as she was a student so she handled the conversations. They told us that they weren't sure if a bus would come. We realized that they were offering us a private car at 400RMB to go up to Shangrila. So, it was a risk. A bus may or may not come. I decided to take the risk, and go with the flow once again. So, with the Israeli guy, we said goodbye to our new friends.


The Tiger Leaping epic may be over, but another adventure awaits, in my finale at Shangrila.

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