Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Tiger Leaping Gorge: Grandness of Nature (Part 1)

When I first planned my trip to China, I never thought I would end up exploring Yunnan. I was just supposed to go to Guilin and Yangshuo for a week. That was it. Now, I am on top of a mountain facing another mountain so close to me I could touch it. Down below was the great Yangtze River. Welcome to the Tiger Leaping Gorge.


Touted as one of the MUST THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU DIE, trekking the TLG is indeed something life-changing. The Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest in the world. The Yangtze cuts powerfully through a massive mountain range, and the result is a spectacle. Located around 120 km from Lijiang, the TLG has become of the fastest rising tourist spots of China. I haven't heard anyone in my trip who didn't recommend taking the trek up its trail.


And so I did. From Lijiang, I took a mini bus to Qiaotou, the starting point for the trek. The bus took two hours, along an already spectacular scenery. We reached the TLG Gate, and someone came in the bus to collect the entrance fee of 80 RMB (I told you the Chinese charged for every sight they have). Then, suddenly, a perky woman appeared at our bus door and began speaking in English. She was Margo, an Australian who owned Margo's Cafe, and a personality in this popular trek. She told us to get off the bus and gave us advice on the weather and safety tips on taking the trek. She invited us to have some coffee and breakfast in her cafe, which was just beside the entrance.


Margo's Cafe was like a waiting shed for those beginning the trek and for those waiting a bus back to Lijiang or onwards to Shangrila. Margo gave us Sean's TLG Map (Sean is a well-known tour guide in TLG and also owns a guesthouse at the end of the trail in the Walnut Garden). The passengers from my bus eventually became my trailmates: a French couple, an American and a Swedish student. After making our mark in Margo's walls using chalk, we began finding the path to the upper trail of the TLG.


The Upper Trail is the hiking trail. There is a Lower Trail, but that was the tarred road where most vehicles pass, so taking the low trail is quite stupid. The Upper Trail goes up the mountains, and takes a total of 8 hours to accomplish by a fit individual. It passes through the most spectacular scenery in the area, giving you breathtaking views of the Jade Snow Mountains and the Yangzte below.


We began hiking at around 11AM, and we were told that the next stop over would be after 2 hours, at the Naxi Family Guesthouse in the middle of a village by the slopes. We were guided by red arrow marks on stones, supposedly marked by Sean himself. The start of the trek was relatively easy. There weren't steep slopes yet, and there was even some Chinese tourists who were on horseback on the trail. The French couple I was with went ahead, as I was taking pictures left and right. The American and Swedish guys fell behind as they walked slow. So, I began listening to my ipod as I embarked on the longest walk of my life.


Two hours after, I arrived at the Naxi Family Guesthouse. It was perched on a cliff, so I had to take some steep steps to go up. The French couple was already there, and I joined them for lunch. There were also a group of Thai yuppies having their lunch. After a while, it began to rain, so we had to let it subside first before we continued with our journey.


The subsided, but it was still pouring, so I took out my foldable umbrella and went back on the trail. The scenery was getting better and better, as I moved further up. Then, I approached the most dreaded part of the trek, the 24 Bends. It was steep hike up and I became so exhausted I nearly gave up. There was a horseman who followed me along the trail, hoping I would succumb to an expensive horse ride. I stopped several times to catch my breath. I never felt so unfit in my life. After a grueling hour, I made it to the peak, where the wind blew hard and cold. I took out my camera and dropped of my heavy bag at a bench on the lookout. It was freezing, but I braved to go further out to the edge of the mountain and take some shots. I took me around 15 seconds to take pictures, then I ran back to shelter. It was really cold.


I continued on the trail, and have already made friends with the Thai yuppies. They were surprised I was a Filipino traveling alone. Even the Thais noticed that. The peak trail gave us the most dizzying views. We were also so close to the snow capped mountains of the Jade Snow that you could almost touch them.


From then on, the trail changed its pace. It was mostly down hill, and the surroundings were becoming different. I passed by tall bamboos, dirt paths and small waterfalls. After 3 hours, I arrived at the Tea Horse Guesthouse, where I was greeted by my American and Swedish trail mates. They didn't stop at the Naxi Family Guesthouse for lunch, so they arrived earlier than me. The French couple was about to leave Tea Horse when I arrived. I was the last to arrive.


There were other travelers in the Tea Horse, and they began drinking. They invited me to stay for the night there, but I wanted to make most of the day and head onwards to Halfway Guesthouse, where I initially wanted to spend the night in.


So I moved on, with 2 hours left before sundown. The trail was getting easier, but more and more dangerous as I was literally walking at the edge of cliffs. I passed by fallen rocks, which made me look above form time to time. There were even animals on the path, like goats and even cows that literally took up most of the narrow path I was in. I had to move myself up the slope. I was hanging on a branch of a bush to avoid slipping.


I hit a paved road already, after an hour and a half, and the sun has already hidden behind the mountains. It was 7PM and the wind was getting stronger. Then, rain fell down, and it became significantly colder. I could see civilization ahead, and assumed that my guesthouse was in that area. After 30 minutes, I arrived at the Halfway Guesthouse, which was under construction.


I wished I had stayed in the Tea Horse instead, if I just knew that the Halfway wasn't as good as it was pictured in the web. Anyway, I had no other choice, so I got a room, and headed for the restaurant, where my French trailmates were beginning to drink. I grabbed something to eat, a much needed hot bowl of chicken noodle soup. The wind was blowing stronger, and the temperature went below freezing. I was so cold, since I went to the restaurant without my winter jacket. So I retired early, after a few beers. That night, the wind blew like a storm and I was freezing cold under my heated blanket. For some reason, I couldn't sleep, even if I was so tired from walking the entire day. I was still anxious about finishing the trek, which I would be continuing the next day.

3 comments:

  1. Hi RJ. Interesting blog you got here! I also did the Yunnan backpacking and it's amazing to hear another kabayan who did the same thing. My route was Beijing - Kunming - Dali- Lijiang- Tiger Leaping Gorge - Dali - Shangri-la - Kunming - Shanghai.
    We left tiger leaping gorge on a rainy day, imagine seeing waterfalls outside the room at Tina's Guesthouse.

    Were you able to visit George Peng and his mom, the owners of Bridge Cafe right above the meadow after the long ladder? They're one of the kindest Chinese we've met and we promised to promote their cafe to backpackers.

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  2. Wow, that must have been awesome. Good to hear you went on the same trip. Am planning to finish China soon, going inwards to Sichuan, Xian and even Urumqi.

    I went to Bridge Cafe after the ladder, but didn't stay long there. I should have met them. When did you do the trek?

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  3. It was awesome! You might have missed it, but I left a drawing of the Phil flag at the Kunming Cloudland wall! And we also stayed in Jade Emu in Dali!

    Go to Xi'an, it's awesome there! And there are beautiful girls there! haha!

    We did the Yunnan backpacking in July of 2008. Even though it was the peak of summer, the weather was still very pleasant in the mountains - Eternal Spring, it's true.

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