Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Lijiang and Leaping Tigers

Lijiang is a nice city in nort-western Yunnan. The place to be over there is the old town, it has several features to add to its charm: traditional style houses of Naxi people, nice cobble-stone alleys, no cars allowed, lots of little waterways, and the location in a valley with mountains surrounding. It's also a Unesco World Heritage site, and full of tourists and shops selling crap to the tourists. The shops seemed to just sell all sorts of tourist crap mixed in with local handicrafts. Also the car ban didn't seem to be as strict as on Gulang Yu island in Xiamen because there was a garbage truck driving through at least once a day and the police had electric cars there. Still, far better than nothing.

A rather interesting visit in Lijiang was the centre of the Nature Conservancy, a US based organization trying to, well, figure it out from the name. They had quite a display of stunning photographs from the area, with the most interesting being the comparison pictures. They were showing pictures taken in the 1910s and 1920s and next to them modern pictures of the same places. It was really easy to see the effects of global warming, the snowlines going higher up, as well as the treelines.

An actual sight in Lijiang is the Black Dragon Pool and the park around it, including Elephant Hill. The pond and the park are quite nice, and it wasn't a bad hike up the hill, but I really don't see how it would be worth the entrance ticket of a whopping 80 yuan. Well, have to spend the money on something, as accommodation in Lijiang was pretty cheap. I paid 50 yuan per night of a single room in a really nice and comfortable traditional style guest house, which had wireless net access that made working from there excellent in the quiet settings and a cute puppy interrupting occasionally.

Oh, there's also an interesting writing system of the Dongba in this area. A little museum-like thing is set up near the Black Dragon Pool where they present things and an old man there writes people short things in Dongba script by request. It's like Egyptian hieroglyphs meet Chinese characters. Here's a picture as a sample.

Not far from Lijiang is the Tiger Leaping Gorge, and of course I have to go anywhere that mentions tigers. Besides, it's supposedly the deepest gorge in the world, or at least among the three deepest gorges, there's always conflicting information running about. Closer to 4 km from the river surface to the mountain peaks. It's a good two-day hike through the gorge, but how to get there was a bit of a question. My outdated Lonely Planet guide from 2005 knows of three bus stations in Lijiang, and it seems none of them exist nowadays. There is a brand new bus station to which I arrived, but they have no buses to Daju where I wanted to start and only one per day to Qiaotou which is at the other end, and that one leaves at 2 pm which would be too late. Naturally I wasn't the only one looking for buses so I teamed up with some other travellers and together we hired a minivan to drive us to Qiaotou for 50 yuan each.

At Qiaotou I almost got a second job as a Chinese - English interpreter, but since I don't accept any jobs that don't let me travel around freely it didn't last long. So we headed to the mountains beside the gorge, me and Mr Fan, one of the people who shared the ride over. The early part of the hike is all uphill, so sweat poured despite the weather not being too hot. Actually the weather reports had said it should be raining constantly, but there was only the occasional drops of water and I even managed to get sunburnt during the hike. Well, rather than telling you how beautiful it was I'll just post some photos. They're all phone photos, so no optical zoom, unfortunately. Should suggest making phones with that functionality. I guess N93 has something of an optical zoom but anyway, I digress.

I stayed overnight at Tina's Guest House, Mr Fan stopped an hour and a half earlier. One of the nice things about such hikes in China is that there are these places where to stop for the night and you don't have to carry tents along. These guest houses come up every 2 hours or less during the hike and they do have decent restaurants as well. Tina's is a regular youth hostel, fine and cheap but nothing to write home about really, so I'll stop writing.

In the morning I went down to the river and climbed on the thing the gorge got its name after, the Tiger Leaping Stone. Legend has it that once upon a time a tiger leaped over the river from the stone. Either the river was smaller back then or then it was one heck of a leap!

There are two ways up from the rock, one is the little path they call the "safe" way which I came down on, and the other includes a long ladder and a very shaky bridge. So I took that option, never too concerned with safety.

The hike onwards was less interesting, mostly on a proper road, albeit with practically no traffic. There was a difficulty finding the way to Daju though, the maps and guidebooks speak of a new ferry rather close to Walnut Garden, but when I got there I saw a couple of French guys climbing up who said there was no ferry. Later I also caught up with a German guy who had gone up and down only to see that there is, in fact, no ferry, despite the signs. Later I've noticed Lonely Planet calls it winter ferry, so maybe it runs in the winter only. Then the walk onwards was a bit confusing, asking all the people I saw for the way and got just pointed onwards. I got a lift for a few hundred metres from the aforementioned French people who had hitchhiked with a local guy. He left all four of us to a post where a small road took off and a sign pointed to a ferry. A woman holding a shop around the corner told me it's about 6 km to go, and perhaps it indeed was, a fair bit to walk across the corn and sunflower fields, and a totally broken down path down to the river. There was also no pier at that side of the river, but on the other side there was and indeed there was an old ferry also! They took us across the river for 20 yuan each, and on the other side two minivans were waiting, one for Daju and the other for Lijiang. We all took the Lijiang one and got the price down to 50 yuan per head.

Here's also a video at the rock to get more of the atmosphere and an idea of how far the tiger supposedly leaped...


Guess Who said...

A legendary tiger, what do you expect! I'm surprised that you can still meet people there in the middle of nowhere... Didn't dip yourself into the water this time?

Luaay said...


Jingle:) said...

wonderful place!Enjoy yourself!——Jingle:)

Jari (travelling-vegan) said...

Ah, no, no swimming this time... felt like it up on the mountains, but I wasn't in a suicidal mood and the rapids seemed pretty strong. And this is China, there's people everywhere.

dreamy said...

Amazing place, looks all natural compared to where I am now! And omg... considering the amount of photos... how long did u take to get this post up?

Jari (travelling-vegan) said...

Heh, it did indeed take a while... fortunately the net connection was pretty fast though.

Anonymous said...

Avocado cafe, best one in Lijiang! Not only for vegans!