Our second day in China turned out much better that the first. We continued our mad bus trip north. After taking an overnight to Kunming, we caught a bus straight to Lijang (another 9 hours away.) The ride was easy, though, on a fast, modern highway and the views as we made our way north were spectacular. Most of the trip was along a plain, surrounded by peaks of 5000m or more. We arrived in Lijang around 6:30 in the evening; it was still broad daylight as the sun doesn’t set until about 8. We walked about 20 minutes through the modern, and relatively quiet “new town.” When we arrived in the old town,we were overwhelmed by the crowds of Chinese tourists. It was the middle of a big holiday week. We began to get nervous about finding accomodation. After checking out 4 or 5 hotels, we settled on a charming little place, the “Tea Horse Guest House” named after the famous Tea Horse Road that ran through the area. It was the most expensive room we had had since Europe, but we were ready for a little luxury after the previous days.
Lijang was absolutely charming and the weather was great. The altitude is 2400m, so the evenings were cool, but the days were warm,dry and sunny. The first evening we took it easy and enjoyed a good dinner and a bubble bath. Then after a good night’s sleep we spent a day exploring the little town. We climbed up a small hill with a pagoda on top to have some nice views of the old town. From many places in old town, you can see the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a mountain over 5000m covered in snow. The views were best in the morning and evening when the clouds disappeared. Then we made our way down the hill for a fantastic Chinese lunch before continuing our visit of the old town. We went to a shop for tea tasting; the area is famous for it’s tea, and we tasted “health” tea that goes for about $30/ kilo. I opted for 100g in a small souvenir box. Then we visited a nice exhibit by the Nature Conservancy who is working with local villages to manage the environmental problems of the area. The photos were fascinating (mainly of Yunnan and Tibet.) Finally we arrived at Mu’s residence, one of the outstanding structures (or collection of structures in the old town.) Here you could get a little glimpse into how the town functioned in the old days, during Mu’s (a Naxi Chieftain) time. The evening we spent preparing for a two day trek to Tiger Gorge. We found a big supermarket in the new town to stalk up on snacks and picnic supplies.
Saturday morning, we woke up early to catch a bus to the start of the Tiger Leaping Gorge Trek (about 2 1/2 hours away.) We arrived at the bus station around 7:15 to get the bus for 7:30 which was already sold out. We bought tickets for the bus, and headed back to old town to check out the morning market. A typical bustling village market, women carrying large baskets on their backs, haggling over cabbages and melons. We also took advantage of the great morning light and the dirth of tourists to take a few photos of snow mountain in the distance.
We finally arrived at the start of the trek around 11:30, a bit behind schedule. We knew it would be a long day of walking to reach the Half Way Guesthouse. The first part of the trek was beautiful, a moderately difficult ascent; we climbed to about 4700m, but the view of the mountains, totaling around 8 peaks, many snow-covered was exceptional. Below us we could see the rushing Yangtze River. Many people were taking horses to get to the high point; we were determined to hike the trail on our own. Fabien was proving his never-ending endurance, while I quickly realized that 9 months of fried food and irregular exercise had taken its toll on my fitness. The second half of day 1 was a slow descent to the half-way guesthouse. We passed through a couple of small, charming villages. The guesthouse was great, a view of the mountains from our window and from the Chinese style toilets (ie there was only a partial wall hiding the toilets.) We relaxed with a couple of beers,a game of cards and big dinner to reward ourselves from a long day’s hike.
Day 2. We got a bit of a late start (around 9:00). We descended about an hour until we got to the main road following the river. Then we took a trail that descended all the way to the river so we could see the rapids (the river is completely unnavigable in this area.) Here is where we saw the “tiger leaping rock.” Legend says that a tiger jumped from this rock to other side of the river, an impressive distance, thus giving the gorge its name. We continued the trail along the river for about 1 1/2 hours along a rocky path through a few small farms and found a cozy little spot for a picnic lunch. Our plan was to continue to a village called Daju on the other side of the river. We would have to climb back to the road, then follow the road until we came to the ferry. There were two ferrys marked on our map, the new and the old, and as the new was about an 1 1/2 hours closer, we chose to take the path to the new ferry. The path to the river was extremely steep and rocky. By the time we reached the place where the boat should pick us up, it was about 4:30 in the afternoon. We waited for an hour but no boat came. We were afraid of getting stuck there in the dark, so we made the treacherous climb back to the road and walked back to a guesthouse in a nearby village. Exhausted and slightly defeated we took a room for the evening. As we had finished about 90% of the trek, and seen the most beautiful parts, we decided to catch a bus back to Lijang the following morning.
We returned to Lijang easily, and spent the afternoon souvenir shopping. Besided tea and dried yak, they offer some pretty handicrafts as well, including pretty carved wooden pictures and leather products. We visited the Dragon Pool Park, a beautiful park in the middle of Lijang with a pretty lake, several pagodas and a beautiful mountain backdrop. You could hardly believe that you were inside of a city.
Yesterday, our last full day in Lijang, we rented bikes and rode out to a little preserved village The village was part of the Tea Horse Trail, a charming place with stone streets and many little canals. It was a sort of Chinese Venice. Then we continued to Baisha, to see an 800 year old Buddhist fresco.
Our impression of China has changed 100% since that horrible first day (with the exception of the toilets.) Yunnan is charming both for its beautiful mountain landscape and its interesting Naxi culture.