01.12.2011 - This morning we woke, ready to begin the challenging hike of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Legend has it that a hunter was chasing a tiger through the gorge, and it leapt an incredible distance across the river to safety, via a stepping stone. Hard to believe when you see the distance that it was meant to have crossed, but still a story all the same. Given the rest of the tourist spots in China have been well and truly exploited, it was pleasantly surprising to see that the hike has been left relatively untouched, with minimal signage and a reasonable entrance fee of 50 Yuan.
After a dinner plate sized omelette for breakfast at Jane’s guesthouse, we checked out and began to walk. We had directions, which weren’t always easy to follow, but sure enough soon found our way onto the right track and began ascending into the mountains. We passed through little villages along the way, with many farmers going about their daily chores. The first lookout had been hijacked by a little old lady selling fruit, drinks and marijuana, complete with pipe or rolling paper - your choice. We politely declined and continued walking around 2 hours to the Naxi Family Guesthouse, where we were greeted with a cup of tea and a comfortable chair in their courtyard.
After a short rest, we continued walking and began a tough uphill climb known as the 28 bends. I have no idea why they call it this, as there are at least 40 bends! The top seem forever away as you’re walking, and there are several keen punters waiting with donkeys and horses to carry you up the trail if you aren’t able to make it. But, determined to do it on our own two feet, we waved them away and continued to climb. Around 2 hours later, we made it to the top! Another set of locals who’d roped off the best photo spots and demanded money in order to take pictures…..highway robbery….but what do you do.
We had some snacks at the top, admired the view for a little while, before continuing along the way towards the next guest house. We must have walked until around 11am before we saw any other tourists on the trail, as we’d left earlier than all the buses from Lijiang, but eventually were caught by Laurence and Tessa from Holland, who provided some welcome company, despite leaving us for dust after a short while with their fast European strides. We walked through past the Tea Horse Guesthouse, and eventually after what seemed like a very long day, arrived at the Halfway House.
We negotiated on a room, enjoyed a hot shower and grabbed a drink to watch the sunset on the ‘inspiration deck’, a lookout point over the gorge. We had dinner with some other weary travellers before retiring for a well-earned sleep.
02.12.2011 – Despite thinking it was a good idea to rise early for sunrise, it quickly became apparent that being trapped within the mountain walls meant that sunrise wasn’t going to be appearing anytime soon! So, shortly before 8am we packed up and began our descent down to Jane’s guesthouse at the bottom of the gorge. An easy enough walk, we chatted with Lau and Tess a bit more and made our way down via some great scenery and waterfalls to Jane’s Guesthouse at the bottom in a few hours.
We had originally intended on maybe spending a second night in the gorge before heading back to Lijiang, but the weather was a bit cold, and we were tired from hiking already, so we were easily tempted by the plans of the others to head to Shangri-La. We’d considered it, but for some reason had changed our mind – oh well, time to change it again! We enjoyed some mint tea at Jane’s before booking into a minivan and headed to Shangri-La (with no clean clothes – oh well!).
Early afternoon we arrived and after walking around for a little while, negotiated a great deal on really nice rooms @ £6/night. The owners didn’t speak English, but with a little bit of sign language and some iphone interpretation, we worked it out. Shangri-La is a really chilled little town with a very heavy Tibetan influence, and some great little cafes and restaurants. We had been warned that the town virtually shuts down in December for the winter, and around 10% of the shops and hotels were already closed. Fortunately though, the weather was still good and the sun was shining so we happily spent the afternoon wandering around and exploring the little alleys and streets.
There is a really cool little temple within the central streets which we visited giving us a panoramic view over the city centre. Compared to Lijiang, Shangri-La is a relaxed paradise – very little hassle despite there being many shops, and still plenty of smiles everywhere. We grabbed some street BBQ and some drinks in a nearby café before returning to the comforts of our cheapest bed yet in China.
03.12.2011 - The next morning we woke up and there was no power in the whole of the Old Town. We'd originally thought we might stay another night here, but the thought of cold showers and no electric blankets made us pack up our stuff and check-out. We made our way up to the Songzanlin Monastery. This is one of the main sights that people come to Shangri-La to see, and despite another ridiculous entrance fee (which we’re now completely used to in China) we weren’t disappointed. We spent a few hours wandering through the various buildings and around the grounds before making our way to the bus station to take bus back to Lijiang.
Arriving back early evening we ran into Paul at the hostel, a kiwi guy we’d met in Dali. It’s funny how you keep on running into the same people when travelling through this region. We grabbed dinner together before he had to head off to the airport, and then I got my clothes off the line that I'd left there 4 days earlier (guess nobody wanted them!!) and we chilled around the hostel for the evening.