Date: 22 Sept 2019
Location: Tea Horse Guesthouse, Tiger Leaping Gorge (Yunan, China)
Feeling fresh after a long good shower with not so hot heater. Feeling grateful.
Today, we are going to trek the Tiger Leaping Gorge (TLG). We arrive in Lijiang at 6.05am, on the dot. It is drizzling and it is 13 degrees Celsius.
Just outside the railway station, we hop on a bus to get to the Lijiang Bus Station, to catch the 7.30am bus to Qiaotou village.
The bus leaves for Qiaotou on time. The journey from Lijiang to Qiaotou takes about two hours. The beginning of every bus ride journey is always buzzing with conversation. I secretly listen to the locals talking about the weather.
The weather in this part of China has been wet since we arrived in Kunming, yesterday. The conversation gradually dies out and I can hear the rain hitting the right window as I turn to view the scenery from our moving bus.
Along the way, we stop at a roadside market for a toilet break and a quick breakfast, then back to our transport. I am seated at the back, sandwiched between my travel companion Deidre and Tada from Japan, whom we have befriended on the bus.
At 9.30am or so, the bus driver pulls over to the roadside near a junction leading to a row of shops. Only Tada, Deidre and I alight from the bus, which then leaves for Shangri-La.
We are standing in a small quite Qiaotou village town. There is an arch with a picture of the fast-flowing Jinsha River. The town’s activity seems to be slow-going, maybe because it has been raining.
Just a short walk ahead through the junction is the TLG ticketing counter. The entrance ticket costs us 45 Yuan. No registration required.
Our trekking adventure begins here, on a sealed road. We walk past the river, Jane’s Tibetan Guesthouse – where hikers can store their heavy backpack, a school, some houses, and construction sites. The ground is wet but in fine weather, it will be dusty.
An old Naxi man turns up out of nowhere. He has come with a horse, trailing behind us. Just ahead is a group of confused hikers standing by the roadside. They appear to be studying a map or GPS.
“Are we on the right route to the TLG?” a hiker asks as we approach them.
“I think we are on the wrong track. We shouldn’t be trekking on a road,” says another.
I assure them we are on the right track, that the road will lead to a dirt trail. They look relief.
We have walked for over 30 minutes on the road. Sights are less interesting and it’s quite a boring walk until we reach a muddy junction that brings us to an uphill trekking trail.
The hike from here is steep and tiring, considering my fitness level is so so and that I have a 12kg load at my back. Because it rains, the trail becomes slippery. I slip and fall many times. Since Deidre and I are slow hikers, we tell Tada to go ahead without us.
The horseman, being a loyal follower, remains close. Sometimes, he will overtake us and wait at a certain point. Whenever we stop to catch our breath, he offers to carry our bags or take a ride on his horse for a few Yuan. We politely decline and he stops following after sometimes.
After hiking the steep trail for almost an hour, we reach a flat trail surrounded by forest. This allows us to regain energy and to just focus on doing a leisurely stroll. Here, I take time to look around and I can see the murky Jinsha River, village houses, and construction sites from higher ground.
The sky is gloomy and the moving fog covers the mountain scenery opposite us. At this point, exhaustion has muted both me and Deidre, that we can only manage to point here and there – at subjects we find rather interesting – and give laconic respond to each other.
Throughout our slow hike, I can’t help thinking about the 28 Bends, which many have said is the hardest hike of TLG. I start to doubt my fitness.
Minus the uphill trail, I find joy in trekking on flat ground and going downhill in the forest. It is relaxing and allows us to speed up a little.
Our trek leads to a quaint village, where we walk through a large cornfield and arrive at Naxi Guesthouse at 12.30pm for lunch.
The dining room is lively and packed with a group of young loud hikers. Here, I take the opportunity to recharge my phones.
For lunch, I have ordered pork fried rice and yak butter tea, which I got to know after reading Searching for Shangri-La by Laurence Brahm prior to coming here.
The fried rice tastes extra delish, but the yak butter tea is somewhat unique. It’s bland, bitter, and powdery.
We take our time at the guesthouse. While trying to enjoy my tea, I estimate in my head our time of arrival to the next guesthouse. I have a hard time finishing my tea, so I leave it half empty.
(Notes from my travel notebook)
7.44pm note – Feeling fresh after a long good shower with not so hot heater. Feeling grateful.
I am writing lying down, enjoying my electric blanket for the night on a comfortable bed. Our journey to this warm inviting accommodation has been marvelous.
How did we get here?
We left the Naxi Guesthouse at 1.30pm and headed to the 28 Bends via the guesthouse’s backyard.
As we were not in a hurry, we maintained our leisurely stroll. Finding our trail was easy because of the many signs (see slideshow below) pointing hikers in the right direction.
Just a few kilometres away to the 28 Bends, we saw a local man donning a cowboy hat and squatting on a rock, enjoying the picturesque view of his hometown. There was a wooden bench, so we rested while observing the man and making comments on how blessed he is to have such a stunning view every day.
It was also a perfect moment to take photos of him and with him. So, Deidre and I took turns taking pictures. When it was my turn, I stood next to the man and asked him in my rusty Mandarin: “nage shi shenme shu?”
Shu means book and the man looked at me, confused. I repeated the word shu, twice, while pointing in all directions at the mountain opposite us, hoping he gets me.
“Shan (mountain)! Na shi Yulong shan!” he responded and nodded.
There, I learned we were staring at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (also known as Yulong Mountain) and that the TLG trail is on Haba Snow Mountain.
We thanked him and continued walking to the hardest trail, so they said. A horseman and a horsewoman passed us by. They had come from the direction of 28 Bends. Both asked whether we needed horse service to the 28 Bends. We declined. I slowly learned to understand that these locals with a horse serve as mountain porters.
At the 28 Bends starting point, a Naxi lady was luring me to buy her energy bar and drink, saying I needed it to tackle the hike. She was also selling ganja for 100 Yuan and a walking stick for 10 Yuan.
There was a wooden hut before Naxi Guesthouse. A man manning the hut was selling a walking stick for 5 Yuan, and 3 Yuan for a slightly shorter one.
A note for future self, in case I ever return to TLG and need a walking stick.
The 28 Bends is basically a zigzag trail up the hill. As usual, we maintained our pace, taking small steps at a time while focusing our eyes on the ground and making sure we stop to rest.
Out of boredom, I counted and there were extra three or four bends. I could have counted wrong because there was also a shorter bending trail. At the end of the zigzag trail, was an empty hut.
The trekking trail continues off to the left but just a few steps down the hill to the right is a platform, where you will get a beautiful panoramic view of the gorge.
I read that the locals would usually guard the hut and would ask for 10 Yuan from hikers, who want to view and take a photo of the gorge.
We were lucky as no one was guarding the hut and so we got to see the beautiful view from this section for free.
We continued our hike straight up the mountain, on a flat route, and descended all the way to a waterfall, where we were greeted by a tribe of mountain goats.
At certain areas of the trail, I had noticed there were net fences installed probably to prevent landslide and falling rocks.
From the waterfall, we walked for another 10-15 minutes and finally reached the Tea Horse Guesthouse at 5.41pm. By then, the guesthouse was packed not just with fellow hikers but also big bikers. Feeling tired and icky since we hadn’t had a shower, we decided to call it a day.
A guesthouse keeper told us there was a limited room available but we managed to get a twin bedroom at only 90 Yuan, with a fantastic window view overlooking the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
Without revealing itself much, the misty forested mountain was magnetic. It exuded calmness, that I spent some time to take it all in while sipping a bottle of Dali beer, on the amazing rooftop terrace.
All this while thinking “after all the tiring hike and trek from Qiaotou, the 28 Bends is not so bad after all.”