You're Not From Around Here, Are You?

A travel blog covering living, working, volunteering and travelling in over 90 countries

Driving to Songpan through the mountains of Sichuan Province




The roads of Sichuan

A famous poet wrote that crossing Sichuan is as difficult as climbing up to the heavens. Mountains so steep that monkeys cannot climb over them and eagles cannot fly over them.

Sichuan is divided into two clear regions. In just 50km the land rises from the 600m high fertile Sichuan basin in the east, to the beginnings of the Tibetan plateau in the west, reaching up over 6500m.

Between these is the Longmen Shan fault line, the cause of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake that measured 8.0 on the Richter Scale. The series of quakes and aftershocks killed nearly 70,000 people and left 11 million homeless.

This rapid change in altitude leads to prolonged periods of monsoon rain, which combine with minor earthquakes to cause huge landslides every summer. These slips destroy the transport infrastructure nearly every year.

Destroyed road in Sichuan

Green flag – must be safe…

The combination of Sichuan’s wealth of natural resources and its inaccessibility has historically meant that whoever controls the region can use it like an independent kingdom, away from the watchful eye of Beijing.

Our new driver has guided people through this area for the last 30 years and it showed. Had we been driving on our own I think we would have lasted about 100 metres.

The road was appalling. Huge sections were missing, crumbled away into the fast-flowing river below.

Broken road in Sichuan

Looks fine…

Other sections are buried under massive rock falls. The huge boulders are too large to move out of the way so a new section of road has to be built round them.

Rock blocking the road in Sichuan

Rock blocking the road in Sichuan

Any sections undamaged by natural causes seem to be getting dug up anyway, for no discernible reason. Because of this continuous reconstruction, the roads are busy with lorries ferrying gravel and rock to the various concrete factories built alongside the road.

Collapsed tunnel in Sichuan

This tunnel had seen better days

The scariest part was the tunnels. Those that hadn’t collapsed had power cuts, so even with headlights on full beam, visibility was just a couple of metres:

In amongst all this work and chaos we were one of the few non-essential vehicles taking the route, or so I thought until we passed a couple of cyclists. This young Canadian couple were only a couple of miles into the stretch under construction, and I didn’t envy them the journey ahead.

Of course, in amongst this some parts are still beautiful, if perfect for another rockfall:

Beautiful road in Sichuan Province





Since leaving London in 2006 I’ve travelled, worked, volunteered and lived in over 90 countries. Highlights so far would be driving along the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, a complete circuit of South America and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Costa Rica. I’m currently back in Beijing, as a base to visit more of Asia and attempt to learn Mandarin.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *