We made it to Lijiang with no issues except the girl behind me being sick into a bag then throwing it into the bin untied and rinsing her mouth with water, spitting as she goes. We got a taxi to the hostel using the flyer from the hostel. We walked around for a bit and realised we were not going to find it in the maze that is Lijiang old city. We stopped and asked a local tea seller who kindly pointed us in the correct direction. For some reason I decided to cross check the flyer with the guide book. Turns out the hostel had moved so after some confused phone calls and negotiation the shop owner poured is a lovely cup of jasmine tea in a traditional ritual and we waited to be collected by the hostel owner. We weren’t far away but not sure I would have found it without him showing me. We checked in then attempted to meet up with the girls from the previous hostel who were in a bar. We got lost again amongst the hundreds of Chinese tourists traveling with their selfie sticks in packs along long cobbled alleyways. Eventually we found them and had a well deserved beer and discussed what day to do the trek to Tiger leaping gorge, the mumma of all Chinese hikes. As the weather was to be good for a few days we decided to go the day after and spent the next morning exploring the black dragon pool and surrounding mountain. Lijiang is a UNESCO heritage site since 1997 when it was effectively rebuilt and restored after an earthquake. Whilst incredibly touristic the architecture was interesting as was the fact the old city is dissected by canals that brought water into the city from the black dragon pool. The views of the jade dragon snow mountain were quite beautiful and the park offered some peace and quiet from the crowds. We tried to get in for free following a sneaky route but I think the locals had cottoned on and we had to pay. Aghh well! Lijiang is also home to the Naxi people for the past 1400 years and are descended from Tibetan tribe. The museum proved interesting in explaining the local culture (matriachal) and traditions including a local song which to be honest was pretty depressing and referenced people hanging themselves for love! The food has been incredible with spices, coriander and cumin being used all over the place, really not what you would expect from Chinese food and a definite gap in the uk market. I have never had aubergines done so many different ways and all delicious. I will be looking those recipes up when I get back for sure. We had to move hostel but got our snacks and bags sorted for our early start to embark on our two day trek along the worlds deepest gorge bordering Lijiang and shangrila. And what a trek it was too! The weather was beautiful, although arguably too hot, and the views stunning but I think it is fair to say that the hike tested all of us both mentally and physically. I keep saying in my blog “that was the toughest walk yet” but my god this was tough and incredibly dangerous if I’m being honest. The gorge measures 16km long and 3900m from the waters of the Jīnshā River (Jīn- shā Jiāng) to the snowcapped mountains of Hābā Shān to the west and Yùlóng Xuěshān to the east.The path constricts and crumbles and is ridiculously narrow in places. At one point there was a sheer drop and I could only get one and half of my feet on the path. Shit! I have to admit my legs turned to jelly which didn’t help when 3 out of the 4 of us had issues with heights. We walked up 28 switchback paths for 3 hrs climbing with every step and walked through waterfalls and slippery rocks. Dangerous? Absolutely! Our timings were out and we ended up staying at the half way guest house which looked like parts had been finished. The view from the dorm was stunning, looking straight into the mountains.
I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to hike with and we met some lovely people along the way. It is alarming though how slow Koreans are up the mountain yet get a real pace on coming down. We all shared a delicious dinner and retired for the night. An earlyish start for pancakes and banana to fuel our last 5 hrs and we are on our way to what I think was the most dangerous part of the hike, climbing over water pipes and electric wires. We made it to Tinas guest house had a quick break to get our return bus ticket and refuel before our 1 hr descent to the waters edge. Steep doesn’t even come close to describe the adventure down and at points ladders were provided to get down rock faces. We all made it and boy was it worth it but the trek back up nearly killed us, especially the debate about wether to take the 20 meter vertical ladder or go back the way we came. Sometimes it’s not good to mull things over.
We treated ourselves back at the top to a well deserved lunch with some spectacular goats cheese dumplings with honey. We caught the bus back and later wearily decided to get some food which was a tough call as everybody was tired and struggling with the crowds. Dinner was delicious and we all went to bed happy but knowing we were going to ache, and ache we did. The girls left the following morning after a nice breakfast including yunnan coffee and Daniel and I ventured to some local villages of Shuhe (a mini Lijiang) and Baisha. On the plain north of Lìjiāng, Báishā was the capital of the Naxi kingdom until Kublai Khan made it part of his Yuan empire (1271–1368). We were guided around a Naxi embroidery school which was incredible and later the son of legendary Dr Ho showed us around the traditional Chinese medicine garden and pressed flower and herb collection. A very enthusiastic and loud fellow but interesting non the less. Dr Ho is 94 and still treating people today with a long record of success and claims to fame including visits from Michael Palin in his visit to the Himalayas. All in all a very interesting and relaxed day. We tried to get into a local restaurant (Naxi snacks) but the queue was huge and we were tired so ate elsewhere and planned to go in the morning at around 11 am. It was worth it! Spicy fish, bread with fried egg in it and chilli on the side, along with mixed mushrooms one which was Jews ears ( not actually their ears). Our final day set us out to the south of the city to see the white dragon pool where women washed their clothes and vegetables in the fresh water supply. Local men sat in the park with their birds on display listening to them sing and around the corner was a stunning market. They sold copper, produces as well as livestock. The meat market was a bit much for me and as a result do not feature in my photo diary of my visit. A peaceful and relaxed day before we headed back into town for a beer and later to the hostel to get a taxi to the airport to catch our flight to Chengdu. Pandas here we come!