Deqin : The high road to Deqin

Deqin Travel Blog

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Early scenery as Nick & I hit out from Shangri-La

Time for ‘Plan B’.  A change of plan for Nick and me.  The road to Chengdu.  What to do?  We’ve been turning a couple of options over in our minds for days now.  “What was ‘Plan A’?” I hear you say.  Well, we’d set our hearts on the rocky road route to Chengdu that runs east from far northern Yunnan province and is referred to as the Sichuan-Tibet or ’Southern Tibetan’ Highway by self-explanatory virtue of its being the road that runs aaaaall the way from Chengdu to Lhasa in Tibet.  Described in Lonely Planet as one of the ‘highest, roughest, most dangerous and most beautiful roads in the world‘, my appetite for this ride through the Tibetan-dominated townships of Xiangcheng, Kangding and Litang was thoroughly whetted when my eyes alighted upon it in my brief Hekou LP research session.

One of the 'Choir Girls' with tissue paper inexplicably stuffed up 'er nostrils :)

As I keep saying though friends “Plans are subject to change”; and change they must this time.  Turns out this last month or so the Highway has once again been closed to foreign travellers by The Authorities.  As with all such situations a whorl of rumour, hearsay and conjecture; Chinese-travel whispers has formed around this event.  Nobody knows for sure what the state of play is up there and a mixture of disappointment and expressions of fevered hopes, “maybes…”  and “well ya never knows…” dominate the thoughts and itineraries of Nick and I and many of our passing travel conversationalists.  We have it on fairly good second-hand authority though that less than a week ago buses were stopped halfway, foreigners taken from the bus in question and sent back the way they’d come on the next available transport.

  One man’s apparently made it through but being an undetected visitor of ‘Chinese ethnicity’. 

The reasons why?  Well, ultimately who ever knows?  But the word is that recent pro-Tibetan liberation protests in the townships (not uncommon understandably) had led to a declaration of temporary martial law and so the presence of foreigners with cameras or domestic social/ political agitators is, for now, deemed highly undesirable by the Powers That Be.  I stress once more that this is all hearsay and conjecture.  Nothing more.  No smoke without fire though my friends.  “KnowwhadI’msayin’!”. *

“So anyways Stevie, what’s ‘Plan B’?” I now here ya ask me.  Nick and I (not our good friends Vanesha and Emmy “sob sob!” ) will now take a trip up to North West Yunnan, to the town of Deqin and beyond to the mountains approaching the Tibetan border.

River on route.
  This is a ‘double-back’ route though requiring now a return to Lijiang before heading on up another way to Chengdu. 

Farewell to Fifi the beautiful Golden Retriever at Harmony Guest house and an early doors bus to Deqin.  This will prove to be one of the most beautiful bus rides of my life so far.  The scenery in this part of China rarely ceases to cast beauty and pleasure plentifully before ones eyes.  It’s a good 7 hour bus ride and in between inevitable snooze sessions there is a bountiful feast for your eager peepers.

As we set off from Shangri-La everyone on the full bus is in high spirits.  This includes the gaggle of young girls sat on the two rows behind Nick, soon-to-be-travel-pals Marcel and Kathlyn and I.

A Bend in the River : (pity I can't remember which one... not the Yangtze and not the Mekong, possibly the Jinsha?)
  For the first 45 minutes or so they do not let up a constant stream of high-pitched karaoke accompaniment to the ‘China Hits’ CD that’s playing over the bus speakers.  Loudly!  Actually, for the first 20 minutes anyway this is great fun, adding a curious carnival atmosphere to the commencement of our journey.  They smile and giggle, leaning over the backs of our seats and duck for cover if a camera hoisted anywhere near them.  Hey, at least they’re singing in tune!  Small mercies.  And it’s better than listening to the strange Chinese cover of ‘All Rise’ by the defunct British boy band Blue that I hear time and time and time again travelling on public transportation in this country… and then that gets played too! : ‘One for the money and the free riiides, It’s two for the lie that you deniiiied… All rise…Aaall rise’  "AAAAAGH!"

Soon that curious chemical effect of buses that I’ve observed throughout my travels kicks in.

"Yeeeeeeeey!" I see snow! :D
  Something… some gas pumped through the A/C system? … something in the water often provided?… I dunno?… that almost always, without fail has nearly the entire bus dozing asleep after a very little time.  Thankfully including the choir of girls.  Thankfully not including the driver!  Nick’s zonked out too.  I’m left alone to take in the views.

The bus driver kindly pulls over and lets the bus dismount to take in a couple of the more noted and spectacular views of this fabulously scenic ride.  This includes the grand circular bend in the [?? Name forgotten, The Jinsha ??] River and a stop for 5 minutes or so at the journeys highest point of elevation.  4,300 metres above sea level.  Outside of an aeroplane this is the highest I have ever been in my life.

  It’s pretty chilly.  As if to invest this ’high point’ in my life with a little visual poetry  and mark the occasion the merest scattering of snow flakes drift down to dust our shoulders whilst Nick and pose around a bit ( “Okay, OKAY, so I’m more of a poser!…so what!” ).  Taking in the fabulous snow coated scenery that’s beginning to unfold upon our journey.  Winding slowly back and forth up the valley sides and then back down, wonderful mountain vistas accompany us and our jolt-frustrated cameras all the way from here on in.

Arrival in Deqin is functional.  At this point in its history, whatever guide books might say about supposed ‘charms’ this place is a near total dump right now.  Seriously, how much naked broken concrete and advertising hording can one mountain town hold?!  Half of it’s in the process of being torn right down anyways to make way for more ‘Development’; more ‘Progress’ presumably.

  A twisted twitching demi-corpse of iron-rod wrangled concrete rubble and brick and mortar destruction.  Half faded childhood memories of ’80s Beirut newscasts are called to mind.  Move on quickly people!  Lunch and a taxi with Marcel and Kathlyn get us straight out to Tashi’s Mountain Lodge besides the road besides the tiny village of Reringkha, halfway between Deqin and the tourist route-one destination of FeiLaiSi.

We are made very welcome by Phil and Sylvia the young Italian travel couple who are currently house-sitting this place for its English owner Richard, whilst the place tries to find its feet.  It’s late but so’s sunset this time of year and the weather, at the minute’s fab so all four of us act on Phil’s statement that FeiLaiSi is only “half an hours walk away”.

  Unfortunately this turns out to be 1 hour 15 minutes away even at a fair old clip and all the way sunshine is being consumed determinedly by a great deep grey pall of cloud swooping down from the North.  “Yelp, I hope we make it to FeiLaiSi avant le deluge!!”.

We do.  Just!  The clouds have clustered in and only moments after we arrive in the dust-blown streets of FeiLaiSi the famous views of the opposing mountain range will be swallowed up.  This sudden bleakness serves as an appropriate accompaniment to our first sight of the grimmest manifestation of the - on occasions - almost cannibalistically greedy tourism agenda in ‘New China’ that I will see in my 6 weeks in the country.  The Great Wall of FeiLaiSi.  An upwards of 12 feet high concrete monstrosity currently under construction and designed to run the entire length of FeiLaiSi in order to block the street-café level view of this beautiful mountain vista so that you will have to pay for the privilege not too long from now.

Stevie at 4,300 metres (+ wall!) ;D
  For now as with everything in the vicinity of Deqin it’s all one huge construction site.  A giant green metallic skeleton of iron girders stretches many tens of metres over the old cliff edge where soon a viewing platform and shop kiosks will predominate and distract from the natural serenity and majesty of the location.  Reconstructed white-concrete stupas have been plonked on its far edge to replace those of a certain antiquity destroyed in the construction.  “A violation of the natural landscape!” is a statement I blurt out over beers later on to enthusiastic approbation all round.

It’s dark now, and cold, and rain is coming down periodically.  The taxi drivers have got us over a barrel so the economics of getting one back to Tashi’s are not really viable.

Mountain view from Tashi's Mountain Lodge. Not a bad place to stay for the scenery.
  The four of us take refuge in a café, meeting Wen and Kent (friends from our time in Shangri-La).  The 1 hour walk back in these conditions is unthinkable.  We’ve been left stranded without our stuff courtesy of some well-meant, but ultimately, mis-information on the distances involved between Reringkha and FeiLaiSi.  Nick and I crash out in some nice enough guest house for 20RMB($3) each and slowly drift away watching Angelina Jolie in ‘Tomb Raider’.  An unexpected moment and one I’m curious in having visited Ta Phrom temple at Angkor (where a big scene from the movie was shot) since I last saw the flick. 

Nick drifts off.  Just me and Angie now.  But I’m tired too.  I stick it to the end.  It’s been a long day.  Beautiful sights seen etc…  the credits roll on the flick to the strains of a remix of U2’s ‘Elevation’

‘High, higher than the sun, You shoot me from a gun
I need you to elevate me here… ‘

It’s nice to be back in the mountains.

  I miss them so.  Can’t wait for tomorrow and pray that the momentary evening lull in weather passes…

‘Maybe you can educate my mind. Explain all these controls, Can't sing but I've got soul,
The goal is elevation… ‘

Elevation.  4,300 metres above sea level today!  “Phewf!”.  That is some elevation for little me.  That’s 2,774 Weselbys high!  Jeez!

Eh - le - va- tiiion!’

* At the time of writing (24/05/2009) I am unaware about the current situation on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway.  Rumour had it, through continued conversation, that beyond 1st May the Highway had once again been opened, such a decision being apparently consistent with previous behaviour of the Chinese Authorities i.

Construction worker atop 'The Great wall of FeiLaiSi'
e. the resetting of previous decisions at the beginning of a new given month.  But things are so changeable in this regard the only advice I can offer is that you must make your own fresh enquiries and have many conversations when you come to this part of China/ Lijiang.  Ask guesthouse managers and fellow travellers.  Check up to date blog sites.  Sometimes the Lijiang bus station will just flat refuse to sell you a ticket to Xiangcheng and then you know right out you're just not wanted.  Do not trust to guide books as through no fault of their own they are, of course logically, out of date the second they go to print.

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Early scenery as Nick & I hit out …
Early scenery as Nick & I hit out…
One of the Choir Girls with tiss…
One of the 'Choir Girls' with tis…
River on route.
River on route.
A Bend in the River : (pity I can…
A Bend in the River : (pity I can…
Yeeeeeeeey!  I see snow! :D
"Yeeeeeeeey!" I see snow! :D
Stevie at 4,300 metres (+ wall!) ;D
Stevie at 4,300 metres (+ wall!) ;D
Mountain view from Tashis Mountai…
Mountain view from Tashi's Mounta…
Construction worker atop The Grea…
Construction worker atop 'The Gre…
A violation of the natural landsc…
"A violation of the natural lands…
This poor lass spends most of the …
This poor lass spends most of the…
Beautiful landscapes on the way to…
Beautiful landscapes on the way t…
Soooo cool to be back approaching …
Soooo cool to be back approaching…
The incredible mountain range look…
The incredible mountain range loo…
Half of China it sometimes seems i…
Half of China it sometimes seems …
photo by: Stevie_Wes