The Race to Shangri-La
02.03.2011 15 °C
After feeling that I had stayed in Lijiang for too long, I was desperate to get out and do something more demanding than walking through Lijiangs old streets. Tiger Leaping Gorge looked like it was the next stop on the road north so we caught a bus to Qiaotou, the town at the start of the gorge and and the beginning point of the trek. Lonely Planet recommends taking two days to hike to Walnut Garden (the end of the popular trek) and catching a bus back to Qiaotou or heading further north-east to Haba. Our plan for the trek was to just hike to Walnut Garden then see where we would go from there. I left my large pack at a guesthouse in Qiaotou and took my small day pack (with a sleeping bag this time - lesson learnt!). I find it hilarious and annoying that China charges admission for anything and everything. Sometimes, if you ask politely, they give a discount for students. After asking, the guard asked for a student card but given that i had left mine at the guest house, i showed him my Australian drivers license. He looked at it and pretended read the english on the card before saying it was all good, and charging me the half price student admission.
I was led to assume that we were hiking the Gorge in the tourist low season because we hardly saw anyone except for a few foreigners at some of the guesthouses. On the first day, we trekked for 6 hours and arrived at Halfway Guesthouse, known around the Gorge, if not the rest of China, as having the most amazing toilet. Although the toilet facilities are the standard hole in the floor, toilet enthusiasts are rewarded with a view that rivals most points along the trek. There is no back wall, which provides an excellent panorama view of the Yulong Snow Mountains on the other side of the Gorge, but leaves you open to the elements when you inevitably need to wake up use it in the middle of the night. A worthy trade off.
We made it to Walnut Garden on the second day in the early afternoon and enjoyed just relaxing and walking around the one-street town. A look at any of the menus in the area is good for a laugh as they all offer "happy pancakes" and many other variations of western dishes laced with the "happy plant" - marijuana. At some of the guesthouses the menu made no effort to hide it, selling "ganja butter bread" and "marijuana pancake with any topping". We even saw one local woman along the trek who had set up a small store selling all the regular hikers refreshments and, in between the Red Bulls, Snickers and Oreos, she had four big bags of Marijuana. It is surprising to see people so openly selling the drug, especially in China where it is punishable by firing squad.
One thing that is great about travelling in Yunnan is that people are usually travelling north or south so you see people more than once. I met these two Swedish guys in Yangshuo, then saw them again in Kunming and then once more on the trail at Tiger Leaping Gorge. It is pretty cool to see someone once then find them again in a completely random destination.
My friend from school who i met up with in Kunming decided he would continue hiking on to Haba on the third day, whereas I decided to return back to Qiaotou. We both planned to meet up in Shangri-La, a town in the north of Yunnan, so we decided to make it interesting, we would have a race to get there. Both routes should take the same amount of time (1 or 2 days) so we figured it would be fair enough for both of us. Desperate to win, I ended up hiking/sprinting all the way back to Qiaotou and ended up covering the distance we had previously done in two days in just 7 hours. I arrived in the evening and couldn't catch a bus until midday the next day. I arrived in Shangri-la the next evening, thus winning the race, but unfortunately realising we hadn't had a wager or a prize so i ended up with just boasting rights. My friend arrived the next morning.
I really enjoyed Shangri-La, a small city by Chinese standards, which sits at a fairly high altitude and thus experiences strong sunlight, fantastic in the mornings after the freezing nights. We stayed there for a night of two, enjoying the weather and the town before heading to a nearby town, Deqin.