Leaping Tigers, Golden Sands and Shangri-La on My Birthday

Yangshuo Travel Blog

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Writing this from Yangshuo and it's still hot but I've found a nice internet bar that has flat screen monitors, a separate non-smoking room populated all with girls (and me!) with strong fans whirling, all for Y3 an hour.  That's about 37 cents.  (I was about the 10th customer when I arrived about 10:30 am and by 1 pm it's literally full, I'd say easily a hundred computers lighting the faces of mostly teenagers/early 20s, boys and girls, playing games or watching movies.)

I'm seriously thinking about cutting short my Yangshuo stay because a peek at www.weather.com shows the highs for the next few days will remain in the upper 80s and even hit 94 on Thursday, when I'm now scheduled to leave.  I've been hoping for a break in the weather, but it doesn't look like it.  Beijing is in the mid and upper 70s which sounds really attractive right now!  I'll check on accommodations there and an agent here says he can change flights for Y20, so if a seat is available early I'll head out.  I cancelled out of that evening performance the other night because even at 8 and 9 pm. it's too hot to even consider.  And the rice terraces require a climb and couple of hours trek, with no shade, so I may not be able to swing that either.  I seem to be the only person perspiring in this whole town!  And I hear more and more each day about how crowded it will become when Golden Week (Oct 1-7) gets under way.  Yangshuo isn't that far from Guangzhou, which is near Hong Kong, and very easily accessible for those relatively well-off folks.  Aiya, is all I can say.

Anyway, let's go back to where I left off after leaving Lijiang and spending the night in the national park reserve of Liming.  We retraced our steps a bit to Tiger Leaping Gorge, past fields full of corn, tobacco, potatoes, pumpkins, cell phone towers, and even a Christian church.  I have a photo of a Lisu (another of China's 55 minorities) woman lighting her pipe.  Lily says the Lisu have a different language from the Naxi and other groups but it's oral only, the written language having been lost since evidently they didn't have a Joseph Rock to save it.  The Lisu live higher in the mountains and thus can grow fewer crops.  They also believe animist spirits reside in all things including rocks, rivers, trees, etc., and that all that happens in the world we can see is determined by these invisible sprite-like spirits, who must be propitiated.  That's where the Dongba shamans come in for the Naxi.  However, Lily says no self-respecting Naxi woman would ever smoke.

The houses we pass are built from bricks, unfired straw bricks, cinderblocks, and logs plus any combination of the above.  The roofs are gently slanted from a line in the center, lengthwise, to the front and back with gentle curves on the eaves and wooden slats hanging from the ends in fanciful patterns mostly resembling fish, for good luck.  They're mostly one or two-story with tile roofs, the upper level often containing drying corn cobs for the animals or tobacco.

We drove past the First Bend of the Jinsha (Golden Sand) river where instead of continuing the southern path of its roughly parallel rivers, the Lancang/Mekong and Nujiang/Salween, what later is called the Yangtze is stopped by a mountain and swings east eventually to the Pacific Ocean, helping allow China to develop and prosper on its banks.  Nearby is the town of Shi Gu, or Stone Drum, whose literal stone drum is inscribed with a description of Naxi war victories during the time of Kublai Khan, or at least I think I read that somewhere. Near the stone drum is a memorial to the Long Marchers and the local people who helped them cross the Yangtze here on their way to Yanan in 1934 while Chaing Kai Shek was chasing the Communists around southern and western China.

Now it's time for Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is mentioned in every guidebook ehivh stresses the arduous and dangerous trekking over its 18 km. length requred to see it "properly."  That ain't me, babe.  In 1998 when Yvonne and I visited we took a vehicle to a point where you could walk down hundreds of steps to see The Rock which the supposed tiger used to leap across the reputedly deepest gorge in the world, 3900 feet from rock to mountain top on either side (The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Mountain).  It's awesome to imagine this is the same river, narrow enough for a tiger to leap across whether one ever did or not, that becomes the awful (NOT awe-ful) giant reservoir that I will be traversing later on the way to the Three Gorges.

This time we approached from the other, upper, end of the gorge, away from the usual spot which is Qiaotou, and Lily and I walked the 6km. round trip to the rock.  The fairly level path is hacked into the mountainside like an old Yangtze boatman's path, but this is about 5-8 feet wide laid with large, cut, natural stones.  Security guys positioned every so often warn you to walk close to the mountainside to avoid being hit by the occasional landslide.  The two tunnels cut into the solid rock are atmospherically lit by candles set into recesses every 15 feet or so.  Gives a catacomb-ish feel to it all.  On arriving at The Rock you can also walk down a shorter distance than at the other side to water level.  Overall, this route is much preferable to either the other one across the river or trekking hundreds and hundreds of feet above over two days, staying at trendy backpacker hotels and eating banana pancakes. In my humble, middleaged, cynical, opinion.

Purists pooh-pooh these newer access routes as "ruining" the site, but I think the route Lily and I took today does little to mar the area of the Rock and allows more people to see it.  I agree the busses that bring the hordes to the other side, with the garish umbrellas and souvenir stalls going down to the water, are not only polluting and an eyesore, but I hope something can be done on that side, too, to strike a happy medium between access and spoilage. I was especially happy to see this again because it's said a dam planned for nearby will eliminate this site in the not-far-away-future.  (By the way, the entry fee here is Y50.)

Back on the road north to Zhongdian.  I didn't realize it as much going there as when returning, just how steep the ascent is.  Coming back this way two days later, it seemed we could have just put the car in neutral and coasted all the way.  We went up actually about 3,000 feet over a few hours on hairpin switchbacks, and even with acclimation at 7200 ft. for a couple of days, I could still really feel the effects of the higher altitude.  I got winded even walking on the level but I had started taking Diamox, often prescribed to avoid altitude sickness.  Compared to my Tibet experience (Lhasa is at about 12,500 ft.), I didn't get the terrible headaches but did lose my appetite, though that could have been a residual of my food poisoning-driven fear of eating anything that may not have been thoroughly cooked.

We passed a new, very small, dam on the tributary of the Jinsha/Yangtze and are seeing some Tibetan influences on the buildings and signs in its distinctive script.  Still the fields are full of corn stalks and structures of logs hold up hay of some kind plus turnips to dry.  Patches of a bright red and orange shrub enliven the generally brown landscape.  Many Naxi live in this area, too, but you can tell the Tibetan houses by the branches of, I think a fir tree?, holding aloft a prayer flag above the rooflines.  As the breeze blows the flags, so do the prayers block-printed on them go to Buddha.

Shangri-La on my birthday (September 23)!  Does this mean I'll never grow older, as James Hilton told us in Lost Horizon?  Or will I suddenly turn to a mass of (more) wrinkles when I leave?  Maybe I can find a spirit to propitiate.  We ended our long journey at the Himalaya Garden Hotel, in the Old City.  That was its only charm. As the sign on the wall of the late, great, Interstate Country Club back home used to say, "What I like about this place is the service: there isn't any."  I had been planning to have laundry done here since I'll be in the same place for two nights and my stuff is pretty raunchy for now, but the alleged washing machine is "broken."  I don't think they have one.  Also, nobody was at the restaurant the next morning at 8 when Lily arranged for us to have breakfast.  And on returning late that afternoon I found my towels, which I had used to blot my sink-washed clothes, were still on the floor, wet as the Tiger's Rock. Ah, the delights of traveling in the rough!

Coming up, the following day's visit to White Water Terrace, a phenominal natural feature that is still not on the usual tour route, and the wonderful monastery on the side of a hill.

bowles says:
Well, a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
I forgot to comment on your thoughtfulnesss for taking the old photo back to the son of the man who was renovating the Rock house. I can imagine that he was surprised and pleased to receive it.
Food poisoning is awful enough but without the comfort and conveniences of home make it much, much worse. Hope you are feeling 100% now.
Posted on: Sep 30, 2006
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photo by: sylviandavid