Mountain horse (detail)
âA spare pair of pants! What do you need those for? I havenât packed any.â. Hey, donât look at me ladies. This was Kathlynâs exclamation when, two days ago, following my response to her enquiries about the contents of my trek day bag I informed her of the presence of such essential items. Kathlynâs a well hardened traveller. And a lady. So if in the course of this entry there be any looks of horror, disapproving mumblings of âmen, theyâre sooo disgusting!â or up-turned eyebrows from the female readership as to the state of Nick and Iâs personal hygiene in the ensuing tale I bid you remember Kathlynâs example.
Yes our five day round trip, all the way to Yubeng, back again and onwards through a night in Deqin and returning to Lijiang will not see Mr Atkinson or I venture anywhere near a shower or even a wash basin in all that time.
âCos frankly why bother?! Itâs true to say - and the spirit of the 2 year old boy with chocolate smeared round his chops, half the garden on his clothes and some momentary wrongness in his pants (just for Mommy) is proud to confess - that the very same pair of underpants did not leave my body, come day or night in all that time. âEeeergh! Thatâs disgusting!
â I here you say. And youâd be right I guess, but hygiene comes second to inflicting Prisoner Cell Block-H so-called showers on oneâs cold and weary body at 4,000 metres plus above sea level sometimes so youâll have to forgive this lapse in cleanliness.
Itâs moments like this that always strangely bring to my mind âEl Chanchoâ. El Chancho, meaning âthe pigâ in Spanish was the none too affectionate nickname given to a very youthful (pre med-school, pre motorcycle adventures, pre-revolutionary) Ernesto Guevara by those who knew and had to suffer his incredible pong.
Quite infamous in his youth for his will and capacity to go without bathing or showering for days, weeks and even months at a stretch this rather unbecoming nickname was his reward for such a staggering lack of personal hygiene. And itâs a name I never fail to recall when my own personal standards in this regard start to fall. Funny the things our memory holds fast sometimes!
Anyway, that filthy little prologue set aside, you find Nick and I arising to another Sunshine Kid blue-skies picture perfecting day, ready in the mountain village of Yubeng. We arrived here via a good long trek up and over the ridge from Xideng yesterday after we parted company with the kindly Goat Family. There may have been adventures on the way but I canât trouble you with every detail of my journey - youâre bored enough as it is! - and the photos have been left to speak for themselves in my last entry.
Trinkets of faith pinned and strung to trees in Yubeng valley.
Suffice to say that permission to ascend to Yubeng comes at the expense of 85RMB ( $12.50) and that when this unexpected further commoditisation of Mother Nature was sprung upon us yesterday Weselby was NOT a happy bunny and turned the air fairly well blue with expletives and expressions of indignation at this latest âdisgustingâ
tax on the natural surroundings.
Yubeng has been a âPlan Bâ for Nick and I all along as previously recounted. As such weâve done little more research than how to pronounce its name correctly. Which we rarely achieve either ways. This means that we pitch up in Yubeng whole heartedly expecting to be able to catch a bus back down to Deqin when our mountain exertions are concluded. âNo such luck fools! Itâs a village landlocked in a mountain ridge valley you idiots! No roads!â.
Nope. Yubeng is only accessible by foot or the rather expensive horse rides provided by the entrepreneurial locals, mostly to the wealthy Chinese visitors who drive as far up the mountain as is physically possible before letting a donkey do all the remaining hard work. This means another day lost off our respective itineraries as we must make the return trek now too. âWhoops!â
Happy days. So, one full day in the Yubeng valley so weâre off to the very foot slopes of Mounts Miancimu and Jiariren-An ( âBuddha Head Mountainâ ) to see the Sacred Waterfall. âOooo!â.
Yubeng, with its valley setting, surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains and verdant pine-forested slopes and its namesake river running betwixt its âupperâ and âlowerâ areas is a destination of great scenic beauty.
Nick, Steve and some ruddy great mountains! :)
Its principle trade now is that of a pleasantly nonchalant catering to the valleys tourist visitors. But its white Buddhist stupas, horses, other livestock, rice fields and daily routineâs seem little imposed upon by this modern source of revenue as yet. Nick and I stroll down from âupperâ Yubeng, through the white-washed mud ânâ plaster walls of the village below and on outwards through the pine forests, the mountains reflected in the little village pond and looming larger with our every step.
The meandering walk through the prayer flag festooned pine forest on the 90 minute or so walk towards the waterfall is simply beautiful. Many creative expressions of faith accompany ones progress. The forest of prayer flags. The clusters of trinkets, pretty oddities and curious miscellanea strung up on the trees.
Mounts Miancimu (left) and Jiariren-An or 'buddha head mountain' (right)
The small âtownshipâ of stone-balanced cairns that reside in large numbers at one point besides the riverside. The therapeutic tinkle of said rivers icy waters. An incredible 360 degree halo of rainbow set in the blue sky above. Flowers that teased us with their bud-bound promise of bright blossom just days ago trekking in Reringkha now in full burst and bloom. Pink, white, cream and purple poetry. Every now and then the ubiquitous Buddhist phrase âOm Mani Padme Humâ carved or painted into the side of large rocks. Incidentally tattooed on Nickâs calf muscle too.
A hot, hot, super hot day. We marvel at how the snows are able to retain their hold on the mountain flanks as we finally arrive incredibly, incredibly close beneath them.
It is firmly avalanche season and Nick and I have passed various safety warnings with regards their likelihood at this time of year as well as one Chinese travellers pleading of us that we âDo not be long. Go there. See waterfoo, come straight back!â.
But Iâm sorry, with the white meringue icing-topped peaks of Miancimu and the toothy, craggy but majestically beautiful grin of Jiariren-An now so close to us Nick and I are totally, utterly mesmerised! We sit for literally hours on the grass and rocks besides the great slope of avalanche snows that slew with mighty white grace down the mountain flanks, right before us, eventually thinning enough for the sun to encourage them to dissolve and join the summer melt waters.
Nick and the avalanche plain.
Terrifying and beautiful. We happily sit and wish an aesthetically pleasing doom upon ourselves.
We are in full on lemming mode. Completely insensible - or indifferent anyway - to any avalanche dangers. We arse about on the snow. Nick makes a snow angel. Stevie carves the latest of his âOde to Travbuddyâ hearts-of-appreciation in the soft white gorgeousness. We sit and sit and eat and chat and literally will disaster to give us a show! Not to involve us in the entertainment, âplease if you donât mind awfullyâ. But a nice little âcraa-a-ack!â and a tidal wave in white ice right before us, right now would be perfect âthanking you very much for obliging Mother Nature!â.
Apparently there was one yesterday. But who knows. There are 3 or 4 promising âCRAAAACKS!â of either rock or ice heard somewhere overhead, and a faint ensuing rumble throughout our afternoonâs avalanche-chasing but not in our neck of the woods.
(Miancimu) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
A beautiful, hypnotic afternoon with the sun and snow. So hard to turn ourselves away from it. To do an about turn and go. But we must in the end. Following the little rivulets that trickle down having started as the various ethereal waterfalls weâve watched coursing off the mountain flanks all day and that will eventually flow onwards, gaining in strength and breadth to become the River Yubeng which then itself not so many miles from here bequeaths its relatively meagre concourse to the strengthening of the mighty Mekong.
I like this thought. Having started at the Mekong delta in Vietnam, in some small way I have travelled a long way to end up at one of the innumerable sources of the âMother Riverâ. Nickâs snow angel will fall some day soon, swooning in the heat, dissolve and merge its body with the Mekong. Stevieâs heart, carved and encompassing the initials âTBâ too will melt into the great river.
An absolutely perfect day. One of the best. Amongst many a good one it must be said. More adventures come and go, the poor afflicted underpants lasting out all the while.
You find me now upon a bus once more. The day long journey back to Lijiang a day or so later (same underpants). A round trip that started with tigers in The Gorge sometime ago now.
The latest effort in Stevie's visual crusade for TB appreciation :)
Itâs early morning. Practically dawn. Cold. The mist hangs about the mountain tops. A certain chilly monochrome envelops the mountain-scapes as we wind and wind and wind down, down and around. The bleak black hills, speckled with frost-stripped skeletons of trees line our view both near and far. Large, amorphous white stripes of snow skew in bright contrast down their darkened flanks as yet still wonting of the suns attentions. This view conjures for me perfectly the immaculate beauty of a tigers hide. A snow tiger. Black white, black white black. Cool ice. Hot blood. The landscape is a tiger. A giant, slumbering snow tiger in repose with its back turned to me and its tail tucked beneath the earths hoary mantle.
Tigers have trailed me through the mountains of Yunnan. I run my fingers through my incredibly greasy hair. El Chancho needs a wash. Itâs dirty enough there might very well be black stripes of dirt within my ginger mop. Black orange, black orange black. I am a tiger too.