A beautiful place high up in the mountains.
08.03.2009 - 16.03.2009 23 °C
Its been a while since my last blog, and I actually left the place im going to be writing about a few days ago but its a place that will linger in my thoughts for a long, long time. Lijiang, in Yunnan province, South Western China is a thouroughly unique place, is a developed city in a basin, flanked on all sides by mountains, the city itself sits at an elevation of 2400m above sea level and is only about 100-150 miles south of the Tibetan border and about 100 miles east of Burma (Myanmar). Like the rest of the province Lijiang is very much a melting pot of cultures and the faces have definitely changed from those in the north.
Lijiang itself is obviously a tourist hotspot and it shows, the old town, which is a vast maze of pedestrian streets and canals, every doorway is either a shop, restaurant or a hotel, no houses or abodes are visible here although a walk around in the morning sees the locals washing from the canals so there must be houses somewhere, that or they live in their shops. A wander through the streets in the day time is quite an experence, the narrow streets are alive with activity, tourists and large Chinese tour groups fight their way through the crowds.
Its called old town for a reason, the whole area is a Unesco World Heritage site, with a history dating back 800 years and though the actual buildings may not date back that far they are certainly a few hundred years old. In fact about fifteen years ago, a massive earthquake hit the region and while all the modern buildings were levelled, the vast majority of old town survived intact.
A walk through the town at night reveals an almost entirely different place to the town of daytime, the streets are lined with lanterns of red and bars and clubs pump out thumping dance music, its an entirely contradictory place at odds with itself and it shows on the faces of the older Chinese people walking past. The traditional and the modern, which Ive mentioned before are struggling to coexist but that gives it a charm that Ive not really encountered anywhere else.
Above everything else we have really enjoyed our time here, we had originally planned to stay here two or three nights but ended up staying for a whole week. The weather was fantastic, pushing up to 24 degrees on some days, with clear skies and for the first time, no air pollution to speak, which my lungs were extremely thankful of. On our first and last days here we visited a place named the Black Dragon Pool Park, which is a damn cool name whatever way you look at it. It has to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet, even when its being ravaged by hundreds of tourists with loudspeakers. Its a Jade coloured lake, full of fish and very still, it sits in the shadow of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Xueshan) and another mountain called Elephant Hill. The lake s surrounded by little temples and forests and its all very picturesque as maybe you'll see from my limited photography skills. Its a superb place to spend an afternoon, or a day just strolling around, contemplating things or even just sunbathing. Most definitely a highlight of the trip.
After another day of wandering around and lapping up the sunshine in Lijiang we decided on a bit of adventure! An 18 mile, two day trek along Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the worlds highest gorges, at its peak reaching some 5500 metres tall. It was a two hour bud journey from Lijiang up beautiful, winding mountain roads, each corner turned revealing yet another beautiful landscape, but this was only a prologue to the real thing. Once we arrived, with a lovely Irish woman we had met at the hostel, we began the hike and after an hour I had already lost count how many times I had said, "Wow!" It was simply that breathaking.
The trail wasnt to bad for most of the mornng, and was quite a pleasant walk through the mountains under the sun, but as we hit the afternoon we reached a part of the trail called the '28 Bends', an extremely tough and tiring section of the hike where the trail snakes its way high up through the mountain a thousand feet or so in a very short amount of time. Jen wasnt really feeling up to it and decided to make use of a local who had been following us up the trail with a horse, for that very reason. But that is Jens own tale to tell, and a scary one by her reckoning, riding a horse up slippery, narrow trails must be trying on the nerves. After reaching the top of the bends we reached the highest point of our trail, we were at an elevation of 2800 metres and it was very windy but the views more than made up for the tough trekking.
After a few hours we reached the Halfway Lodge, accomadation sitting in a little mountain village, strangely enough at about halfway through the hike. As the evening pushed on, about ten more people had joined us at this little hotel that was only half built. With solar power that hadnt been working properly and a lack of hot water, but at least we had a bed, and one hell of a view. For 10 quid a night I certainly wasnt complaining.
The next day we awoke and got going pretty early, it was a pretty bleak looking day, no sun and plenty of mist but that just gave the mountains a different flavour more epic and forboding than they had been the previous day, like something lifted from the Lord of the Rings. We trekked through some more epic scenary and even through a waterfall on a high cliff, and with the high winds made it pretty tough at times.
We were extremely tired by the time we reached the end of our adventure, but its something that we will never forget as long as we live, seeing some of the most incredible landscapes that China has to offer.
We headed back to Lijiang on the same bus we came up on slept very well on our return. We spent the next two days lounging in the Sun, not doing very much, we felt we had earned that after one hell of an adventure.
We felt really sad to leave this little corner of the world but should we ever come back to China then I think that this place would be first on the list to visit again.
We jumped on an overnight sleeper bus to get to Kunming, Kunming was a nice enough place to spend a couple of days, there wasnt much to do there, but it was sunny and pleasantly green for a big city and allowed to sort out where we were going next. We also bumped into Mark and Liv, whom we met in Chengdu previously, on their way to Laos, which was a welcome twist of fate. Thats about it for Kunming though.
Until next time.