“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.” – Fitzhugh Mullan
“The journey not the arrival matters.” – T. S. Eliot
The authors of those quotes weren’t on my trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge.The government are in the process of building a new expressway between Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge, but it’s not finished just yet. Our tiny van with its tiny wheels and no suspension hit every single rock, bump, lump, pebble and kerb along the way as it sped between traffic jams.
Just to make life more interesting people and animals would randomly stand in the middle of the road, usually on blind corners, then glare angrily at traffic that dared use the road rather than the perfectly good verges, pavements and fields.
As we neared our destination, it was noticeable that someone had deposited a van-load of horse manure every 500m, blocking one carriageway and causing our unstable little wagon to swerve violently before we ended up in the dung.
Alive but not happy we finally made it to Tiger Leaping Gorge and readied ourselves for a major eight hour hike through the broken trails along the top of the valley.
The first point of interest we saw was a small restaurant, so after about a 30-metre hike we rewarded ourselves with a large brunch, as fuel for the rest of the journey. All the vegetable dishes were particularly sweet, but the chef was adamant that he didn’t add any sugar – the local vegetables really are that sweet straight out of the field.
Paying our 50rmb entrance fee, we walked through a small archway to the trail-head. Having heard it was a long and torturous hike I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the descending trail from our vantage point and see whether it was really worth starting with a dodgy knee.
We rounded the first corner and realised we were still down by the river, on the lowest trail. Our much maligned van driver had brought us to the wrong starting point, so instead of muddy trails and endless steps we had a flat and nicely paved walkway to promenade along.
This is a very newly created path, skilfully blasted out of the side of the gorge to make the walk more attractive to older and less able visitors. And to make me quite relieved.
Wrapped protectively in high-tech soft shells, thermal layers and hiking boots we wandered along behind groups of students and old couples out for an afternoon amble in their t-shirts, shorts and fake Uggs. There were even rickshaws to take those unable to walk the hour or so to the main viewing point.
The gorge is about 16km in length and formed by a river passing between the 5396m Haba Snow Mountain and the 5596m Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The marble and granite cliffs lining the edge soar up to 2000m high, making it one of the deepest gorges in the world.
According to Naxi legends, a tiger jumped across the river to escape from a hunter. Reaching the narrowest point it appears to be about 25m wide, so well done to the tiger. There is a large green statue of a tiger on the rocks above the river, but it’s barely visible from the side we walked along. Most visitors seem to visit the more official looking viewing point on the other side of the river, visible in the photo above. Our driver had even managed to take us to the wrong wrong start.
In all the walk from the car park to the main rock was less than two hours, so much less than our expected eight hour trek. The only shadow over an enjoyable day was knowing that we still had to take the awful van ride back to Lijiang.
Lijiang Hot Pot
Unlike the greasy delight that was our Chongqing Hot Pot, dinner that evening was a local style hot pot of thin broth, bones and weeds. Like most of our meals around Lijiang so far it was massively overpriced, but delicious.
Most of the restaurants have small bands playing live music. Traditionally, crowds in Lijiang (who are mostly coachloads of domestic tourists) try and out-sing the crowds in nearby restaurants. Lots of enthusiasm on display, but not much talent, so don’t go expecting a quiet meal.