From Dali to Lijiang I took the bus and arrived in the early afternoon. The following morning I took an early morning bus to one of China’s most famous tourist spots – Tiger Leaping Gorge. It was the main reason that I came to south west China. 16km long and 3900m from the waters of the Jinsha river to the top of some rather tall mountains, it prides itself on being the deepest gorge in the world. However, in reality it isn’t even close.
I hiked for seven hours, up a steep slope and then along a winding path cutting in and out of the mountain, catching occasional glimpses of the river below. It was nice, however, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed.
The walking was great. The weather started out cloudy, making it a very comfortable temperature to walk in. When the sun did eventually come out, it was late afternoon and then the light was great. But the problem comes in the name. It is a gorge. And whilst at times the view can indeed be gorgeous (sorry), it doesn’t change. It’s just the same view for seven hours and due to the high trail path, you don’t get much of a perception of just how deep the gorge is, due to sightings of the river being very rare.
I arrived in Walnut Garden around 5pm, two hours earlier than the expected time of 9 hours and many hours ahead of the other people on the bus, who stopped far earlier. In fact upon returning to Lijiang I was happy to settle a long running dispute between two people who thought what I did in one day was impossible.
The next day my main criticisms were answered. I walked down a nice path from Walnut Gardens down into the gorge. Along the way I paid numerous tolls to use the paths that the locals have made and I hoped tested. Some were decidedly doggy. These paths brought me to a local cave, a viewpoint and right down to the river itself.
Looking up to the mountains towering above as the force of the river pounded past was great. After a brutal uphill, I had lunch and then caught the bus back to Lijiang. All in with the walking of the first day, and the views of the second, I came away with happy memories, although I wouldn’t go as far as to put it anywhere near the best hikes I have done list.
I returned to Lijiang, which is famed for its old town. It’s very much like Dali. Although the buildings remain lost in time, they all now house souvenir and bongo drum shops. The paths are filled with thousands of Chinese tourists. The only difference is that you supposably have to pay an extortionate fee to walk around the shops and overpriced restaurants. A few little tricks, however, shared by my hostel meant that for the most part I could walk freely about without having to buy a ticket. Other than darting around various ticket sellers, the highlight of Lijiang was the food. I had some amazing eats with the hostel owner and various Chinese tourists I met.
Food in China is amazing at the best of times, but when you’re with people who speak the language then the opportunity to try new and exciting flavours is just fantastic.
The main reason for being in Lijiang was to renew my visa. It was mostly a painless process. I first had to register my accommodation with the local police station, which took a while due to the policemen having to find an officer who spoke English. I then journeyed across town to visit a bigger police station where I spoke to the visa officer. As expected, he would only accept passport photos from a specific shop, with documented evidence. Very apologetically, he said he couldn’t give me directions, only a piece of paper with the name of the shop in Chinese characters. Cue one hour of walking in and out of shops and banks, showing the piece of paper and either being met with a confused face or a finger pointing the way.
Photo received, I returned to the police station and was told that I had to wait another five days to pick it up, which was a tad annoying. Fortunately, I bumped into Lisa from Germany, who also needed to kill time, due to waiting for a flight, so I joined her in backtracking a little bit and visiting the village of Shaxi.
There’s not a lot to the place, but it was nice spending a couple of days in an area with few domestic tourists. It was also very small and from what I’ve seen of China so far, that is a rare thing.
After returning to Lijiang, I picked up my new visa and journeyed to Shangri-la. Not long ago there used to be terrible trouble with gang warfare and people carried around knives for protection. Then the old town burnt down and they decided to rebrand themselves after the famous novel. It’s actually a rather nice place. Sitting at around 3000m, it’s got a pleasant climate and life feels a lot more simple. It is home to the largest prayer wheel in the world, which takes around ten people to spin it. Every evening, the town squares blast out traditional music and locals come along for a communal get fit dance. It’s done a great job of rebranding itself.
It also has a rather impressive 300 year old temple complex just outside of town. Home to some 600 monks, it has a silly number of temples which you walk through and enjoy the various paintings and huge buddhas, as the locals hum mantras. It was all rather nice.
Early the next morning, I hopped on a bus to Daocheng, in Sichuan. Famed for its spicy food and Tibetan culture, it was to prove quite the adventure.