8 Oct 2004
|Well, straight off. let me say Tiger Leaping Gorge was the most amazing place I have been so far in China, so much so I was only meant to be there one night, but spent three in the gorge. It was less hard and less scary than the Verdon Gorge in Southern France, but there was a distinct element of faith that there would not be a landslide at that particular moment, and note please that there was at least one massive landslide a day while I was there. The area does not feel like China at all, more like the Himalayas, though the locals are mostly from the Naxi minority, some Yi, some Tibetan. I am afraid my pictures cannot do justice to the sheer scale, which was awesome. The gorge is nearly 4 kms high (deep?), and in places, for example where I spent the last two nights, one is looking across at a cliff nearly three kms high.
So a bunch of trekker types got off the bus at Qiaotou at the point where the Yangtse River is first compressed into the Gorge. I helped this non-Chinese speaking English woman find somewhere to leave her humungous rucksack. This was Jools, a female Physical Fitness Instructor in a Woman's Prison, and a little bit of a stereotype. So we walked together up and into the Gorge, up and up one side, as the gorge heightened and narrowed. After two hours, lunch at the Naxi Guesthouse, pretty much opposite where I had got to the day before on the other side, and then things started to get a bit more serious.
Next was the "28 bends", as the path zig-zagged first up and then back down the whole side of the gorge up to nearly 3 kms height. No real bad drops yet, or not many anyway, and fortunately the path not too slippy either. It would be very hard work in the rain, though not necessarily any more dangerous. And then two hours later past the Tea Horse Guest House the path levels out very high up with some serious drops in the awesome middle section of the gorge. It had started raining also. Round about here we caught up with this German medical mature student called Susanna, plodding long with a full pack, and kept her company until we all got to the Halfway house Guest House two hours later, just before dark. Susanna was over here studying acupuncture as part of her GP training, lives in a commune in East Berlin and reminds me a lot of the people I hung out with in Berlin when I was there in 1980 in my 'gap' year.
It was raining by now, but on arrival the Guest House immediately give you a cup of tea and a charcoal brazier to warm up with. We three took a room together and had a great evening talking to various people, warming up, and appreciating the amazing views up and down the gorge from the terrace. Most amazing was this American guy and his Panamanian girlfriend who turned up about an hour after dark, having done the last hour in the dark and the rain without a torch, which I have to say was a bit mental, if not downright stupid, as that section had many thousand foot drops directly off the path. As it was, she fell off the path above the Guesthouse, fortunately only a few feet.
The next morning it was still pouring with rain, so Jools headed back up the gorge to Qiaotou. To give Susanna a break from carrying her pack, and as an excuse to prolong our time in the Gorge, we left our stuff at Halfway and walked the levellish high path back to Tea Horse and back again (about three hours). We got soaked, so hung out drying clothes around the charcoal braziers, drinking hot chocolate and eating at Halfway before setting off again for the next stage.
We both felt the upper path would be too slippy, especially for Susanna with a big pack, so we dropped a long way down to the Gorge road, the one that was completely destroyed nearer the start. This gave a real sense of the depth and scale of the gorge, and was a relatively easy trail, though did involve walking under some serious huge and unstable looking cliffs and overhangs, with pebbles bouncing down and water pouring over the cliffs. There was evidence of many recent landslides still covering the road, as well as some mighty drops off the side to the raging waters below. The Yangtse seemed to resent being squashed into such a narrow chasm.
After a few hours fab though occasionally anxious walking, we got to Sean's Guesthouse, where I have been for much of the last two days. Sean is a Tibetan Hippy, and I think may have leprosy (I deduce this from a photo of him with a load of people with leprosy that he was raising money for, and that a lot of his arm is missing, though Susanna is less sure). Sean's website is at www.tigerleapinggorge.com, though it does not feature his 'happy' menu.
His guesthouse is surrounded by enormous cannabis plants, and every other thing on the menu was called 'happy', e.g. happy pizza, happy tea, happy omelette, etc. In case you hadn't already guessed, this meant normal food with Sean's homegrown added. Sean could make any food happy for about 20p. This was very popular with many of his guests, though as an unhappy person I stuck to my beer. It was quite funny though watching people order more and more 'happy' food as the evening went on.
There was also a very eclectic mix of people there, some really fun Americans (including the nutter from the day before), a Croatian guy who had been absolutely everywhere, etc. The next day was a couple of Israelis and their partners (Canadian and Dutch) and this English guy and his Canadian girlfriend that I had met in Lijiang, English teachers in Vietnam. Another really enjoyable aspect of travelling as people talk about their cultures and where they have been, etc.
Susanna and I had (platonically, I may add) the best room in the place, floor to ceiling window looking on to the two mile high cliff opposite. To look below my feet down into the depths of the gorge...amazing. The next day we followed Sean's dodgy instructions to climb high up our side of the gorge to see some waterfall. Sean sort of said go up the hill, turn right, then left. Almost immediately there were several paths to choose from, and there continued to be. This involved some of the most lively walking yet, inching around this very narrow path above sheer huge drops, facing the cliff and using hand holds on very narrow overhung bits, though we eventually gave up as the path crossed a wet smooth steep slope that went several hundred feet down into the gorge. Great views though, as the rain had stopped, and we could see everywhere.
Another great evening eating outside with the few hardy people who had gone through the Gorge in the rain, most getting 'happier' by the minute. As we were sitting there in Sean's front yard, there was this incredible noise like a whole lot of huge firecrackers, and then an enormous long rumble followed by a series of big explosions. The locals said it was the gorge opposite landsliding again. That morning we had planned to go down to get next to the Middle Rapids, but Sean advised us not to go down to the river that day, as there were always more landslides when it rained, and he said three people had been killed last month doing just that.
The next day the whole lot of us walked for four hours out of the Gorge, very sorry to leave. It widened out and became a lot less dramatic, though still a few tricky landslide areas. After eventually finding a ferry to get us acros the Yangtse, and some palaver negotiating hire of a bus with some avaricious locals, followed by a wild bus trip through the mountains and driving over landslides, we all are back in my previous Dongba Guest House in Lijiang: Susanna, the two Israelis and their Dutch and US girlfriends, three English women, and me.