Lijiang is possibly the most touristy site in the whole of China for domestic tourists. The new waterwheel spins in the square, as the refurbished old town attempts to tempt people into to its tacky tat shops, while Naxi women in traditional costume perform dances for the crowds. It was a strange atmosphere of holiday makers wanting to see a fake authentic old city. But luckily for us we had not come for the old town but for the famous trek a few hours drive outside…Tiger Leaping Gorge.
The hike is notoriously difficult and with our weeks and months of mainly sitting on buses and trains and eating way too much, we were feeling nervous! Also to make things worse the path is pretty high up, meaning the altitude was going to make the things even harder. Added to that we had both been surfing with sore stomachs since eating something dodgy in Dali a few days earlier…So needless to say we weren’t all that confident we would be setting any record-breaking times! But having spoken to people about how beautiful it was in our hostel the night before we weren’t backing out of it now.
An early start followed by a couple of hours on the bus, brought us to the to the beginning of the trail, and flanked by a couple of donkeys (the riders clearly thinking we were never going to make it on our feet!) we set off! The day was perfect, with clear skies and sun, meaning every turn held another epic view of the snow-capped mountain across the gorge. That’s not to say it wasn’t a tough climb…in places we had to stop every couple of minutes…but it was completely worth the effort. I have never been more interested in Ryan telling me about the geology of a mountain before, as every time he did we used it as an excuse to sit down! It is not often you can see an entire mountain base to tip in one amazing view…it was very special. We ended up climbing alongside a Chinese guy who looked like he was melting in leather jacket, face mask and woolly hat while we were both sweating it out in t-shirts…all I can say is brave! As with the majority of our fellow hikers we made it to Halfway Guest House at the end of our first day and settled down on its roof top to enjoy the breathtaking view. We also managed it in a reasonable six hours (which is what the guide-book says it should take) which must have been some kind of miracle! The next day we carried on along the track, climbing through a waterfall and meeting more donkeys being herded down the gorge. It was a fantastic hike and a real highlight of China for us!
With tired legs we caught the bus back to Lijiang and to our quirky hostel, October Inn, run by the memorable Tommy, who not only cooks delicious communal meals for his guest but also had the bunk beds hand-made so they look more like mini double storeyed four-poster beds! The following day, before our overnight train, we and some new friends from the hostel explored the nearby park and lake. The most memorable part of the day was meeting an enthusiastic Lijiang native who wanted to walk with us, who we soon discovered learnt his English from Westlife and Michael Bolton songs…well I guess you’ve got to learn somewhere! Ryan was very excited that he had heard of Northern Ireland and even where Belfast was…presumably from a more UK geography based Boyzone song.
And just like that it was time to leave Yunnan and begin the first leg of our epic journey back to Beijing…lets just say we got very bored of trains!
(P.S. Notice we have been missing our trademark selfies in the last couple of posts? (or any pictures of Lijiang) Find out why next time….)