China Travels #2: Tiger Leaping Gorge

Friday 30th May

Pardon? It’s boiling hot and we have to walk up hill? A big hill? Are you kidding me? We arrived at the Tiger Leaping Gorge path at 10:30am. Instantly regretting the decision to even do it as the sun was beaming down on us. Plus all we could see was people walking up steep slopes with no respite. I have to say, Google searches really do not prepare you for doing this trek! At first it was just a dirt road winding its way up a shallow incline. (Even though we were already thinking this is too steep…) We then came upon a massive steep slope that everyone ahead of us were climbing. No word of a lie, I would guess it was about a twenty percent incline. We were also surrounded by loads of Chinese local men riding or leading horses constantly asking us, ‘你要骑马?’ which means ‘would you like to ride the horse?’. They remained on the path for a good six hours before turning back with a glowing hope in their eyes that we’d be exhausted or lazy enough to accept. But, of course, it would’ve cost over two hundred kuai for one. You would be glad to know that not once did we give in. We persevered and made it. Although for the first five hours we felt like we were never going to get to our desired destination.

Only about three minutes in was Becky started throwing a couple of threats my way, she was joking of course (I can only hope) but at the time I was totally willing to accept my fate. We had a mountain to climb. A massive huge tall mountain. To give a little back story to this: when Becky had signed up to join us for this part of the trip, she hadn’t had a clue what the Tiger Leaping Gorge was. Thus when I enlightened her about a month ago back in Ningbo she was rather surprised that she had actually agreed to this. So we started the slopes thinking: “why have we done this? “. We climbed and climbed, glugging water and stopping at any shady point we found along the trail. We’re not very unfit people but this was pushing all of us quite hard already. It took us three hours to get to the first guesthouse where we stopped and had lunch. We sat down, starving, legs painted with brown dust (giving us the fake idea that we were miraculously tanned) and perspiring a heck of a lot. Our lunch was good! I had a fried rice with pork and vegetables, Becky had egg and tomato with rice and Lisa had a local pancake known as a ‘baba’ with an egg. At quarter to two we dragged ourselves out of the guesthouse and onwards towards the ‘twenty eight bends’.. Eeeekkk….

We had to climb once again. And on the map we had this part of the climb was drawn steeper than the parts we had already done! Lisa and I hadn’t brought hats with us so we decided to fashion hats out of the strappy tops we had! They looked quite stylish really… But bonkers all the same. We were saved from the risk of very burnt faces and sunstroke so it did make the climb about 1% easier than it was before. Tesco is right: Every little helps! We were told by a man with a horse that the hut on the side of the mountain was twenty minutes away from the start of the bends. The three of us stared at it with slight despair because this hut was already high up and now, twenty long minutes away from us. Nonetheless we gritted our teeth and started walking. Amazingly enough, the walk up to the hut was somehow more difficult to climb (mentally) than the twenty eight bends. It’s quite difficult to explain why but the path before the bends is just flat with lots of dust. Whereas the bends path mainly consisted of rocks, and walking on a hard solid surface is so much easier than a softer one! We were also spurred on by having the goal of reaching the 28th and being able to count down as we went. Eventually after watching quite a few people go past on horses we arrived at the top. We made it. It was fantastic. I was euphoric. Relieved. Elated. Every synonym of that word possible. There was a long part of rock that stuck out of mountain on which we took quite a few photos to mark our success. I was amazed that it had taken that long to be able to finally see into the gorge from the path. Since the beginning of the walk we had had the same view until this point! The rest of the walk to the hostel we aimed to get to, Halfway House, was wonderfully easy. It was either flat or downhill the whole way. It did take us two hours because the path meandered its way along the mountain side. We had to climb over rocks at some points and walk along the cliff edge at others. We were living life on the edge. Literally.

Thankfully by seven o’clock the bold sign saying ‘Halfway House’ came into view. My aching shoulders and our complaining calf muscles were happy to see the end in sight. We were the last to arrive of the whole group that came from our hostel but I couldn’t care less! We were able to shower, eat and sleep. That’s all I needed. The food at the hostel was average. I had fried rice, Becky has egg and tomato noodles and Lisa had different noodle soup. Becky and I also cheekily ordered a banana and chocolate 粑粑 (essentially a flatbread/pancake). Even though it wasn’t incredible, it did the job at satisfying our sweet tooth! By nine o’clock I was getting ready for bed (the first one again) and was asleep by just gone ten. We weren’t in a rush to leave the next morning but were woken around half past seven by the construction going on. Just like on campus in Ningbo, construction always starts really early in China. The Halfway House was having an extension being built to cope with the demand of more and more people travelling to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. So we had nothing better to do than get up and going to Tina’s Guesthouse which would then lead us down the riverside.

Ps. happy birthday grandma!

Saturday 31st May

The walk down to Tina’s was alright. There were a few uphills we thought we didn’t have to do. We stopped to take photos a few times and at one point there was a waterfall that went over the path which was beautiful. We also met, for the second time, two older men from California who were doing their yearly trip somewhere here. They are about sixty and called Glenn and Frank. When we arrived at Tina’s Lisa and I swapped some of the stuff in our small backpacks into our bigger bags to relieve us of some unnecessary weight. I felt as light as a feather afterwards! We had a quick early lunch. I just had a banana and chocolate 粑粑 but it was still average and bland. Lisa had another egg 粑粑 and Becky had tomato and egg with rice. At midday we set off for the Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge which is down by the water. Glenn joined us and Frank stayed behind at the Guesthouse. We were taken by a driver and dropped off five minutes later by the start of the trail. On this part of the gorge there are a few extra fees to be paid. The first one was to enter this trail. It was ten kuai which doesn’t break the bank! Some people find it ridiculous that we have to pay extra, but what’s ten kuai? That’s one British pound. I’d rather see a world wonder for that than buy a big packet of chocolate buttons (if it’s on sale) in Nottingham sainsburys… The climb down was cool. The path was thin and windy with wooden bridges appearing every now and again. Soon enough we were at the bottom by the rapids. Wow. The sound of the rushing water was awesome. The idea that we had been up so high and now we’re at the very bottom was incredible. We climbed out to the rocks to take photos. And paid an extra ten kuai to cross a wooden rope bridge that hung across the rushing water. It was all utterly worth it. We spent ages taking loads of photos of each other, crossing the bridge a few times, sitting and taking in the view. At quarter to two we decided it was time to head on back up as it would take us longer to do so! At this point we have two choices, climb up another path that’ll take us back or go up something called a ‘sky ladder’. Being adventurous and living under the saying #YOLO, we chose the latter. This still involved climbing up many paths but added a bit of fun to it. We paid fifteen kuai and off we went. Oh my gosh it was so scary. I like to think I’ve conquered my fear of heights (and feeling like I’m going to fall to my death at any moment) quite well on this year abroad. Especially after Zhangjiajie. But this ladder was another level. It was directly vertical and around twenty metres tall. It was hammered into the rock and this fact didn’t give me much comfort. Glenn went first, then Becky, then it was my turn. The first few steps were fine and I took them pretty confidently. However my legs started to go a little weak the higher I climbed, my hand clutching onto the handrails for dear life and I just wanted it to end! I didn’t dare look over my shoulder. I wish I had been brave enough to but imagining the drop below was likely to paralyse me to the spot rather than spur me on… I had to talk to myself the whole way up: “think happy thoughts, etc” and lunged happily off the thing once I was at the top. Lisa was brave enough to let go with one hand. Geez.

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The next ladder was shorter and resembled a staircase which was much less challenging. From there on we had to climb a path. We passed one rest stop where a lady was sat with goods and drinks to sell and she commented on how slow we were. I’m glad we were a source of amusement for her..! Soon enough we arrived back at Tina’s. We checked in and sorted out our things, had showers and cleaned our really dusty trainers before heading back down for dinner. A pattern had developed here, Becky mostly had tomato and egg, Lisa had yet another 粑粑 and I had a fried rice. It was still not as good as the first place we stopped for lunch the day before. We played cards for ages before it was a reasonable time to head up to bed (which was nine o’clock hehe!). And we all slept well. There was no rush to get up in the morning so we weren’t disturbed by any alarm clock. On Sunday 1st June we split ways. Becky headed back to Lijiang in order to start her journey to Guilin meanwhile Lisa and I headed off to Dali. It was lovely to see Becky for a few days and I’m glad she was there for the gorge. It was definitely an unforgettable experience!

The bus ride to Dali was four hours. Lisa spent half of it typing up our food reviews for Lijiang and the other either reading or trying to sleep. Unfortunately the aircon was at full blast so we were almost snowmen by the time we arrived amid afternoon. Our first impression of Dali was hot. The hostel we had booked to stay in was on the west side of the old city and where were we dropped off? The east. It seemed like the road to cross the old city was extremely long and with hunger consuming all of Lisa’s thoughts, the walk couldn’t have been longer. But, of course, we finally arrived and were happy to be staying in one place for the next few days to relax and enjoy China at a slower pace.