Relatos de Viagem

Trip Information

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Trip Date:2008-03-24 - 2008-03-27
# Photos:2 [View]
Countries visited:China
Visto: 1301
Tibet is closed. There is an army checkpost just before Zhongdian, where I am going, and a few hundred policeman in Zhongdian itself.

But Qiaotou, a stop just before Zhongdian, is open. Qiaotou is the entry point for the Tiger Leaping Gorge, and a starting point for a famous trek through the Gorge.

If I only knew where exactly I am supposed to go once I am off the bus in Qiaotou. I look around and spot the only English language sign on one of the buildings: “Jane’s guest house… Trekking information… Bag storage… 400 m after ticket office”. I ask around for the ticket office, buy ticket and a few minutes later I am at Jane’s.

It’s already past noon and I eat my lunch here. A party of trekkers (= trekking shoes, walking poles and brightly coloured rucksacks) is setting off on their trek, and they are making a ‘final photo before we take off’. I realise, it may be a serious expedition, not a walk in the park as I thought it was. For I came unprepared. I am wearing flat-sole martial art shoes, and I am very happy it is a dry day today.

I take the trekking map at Jane’s which says there is 4-5 hours walk to the Tea and Horse Guest House. This is where I plan to stay overnight. The scenery is amazing – the Haba Snow Montain shows up in the beginnig of the treck and stays there on my right all the time. The path is bearable, so far.

An hour later, I catch up with the trekking group that left when I was eating lunch. The four guys are very tall Caucasians, and I pass them quickly hoping not to get involved in a conversation. For a while however they are trailing behind me, and the click-clack sound of their walking poles is quite annoying. I am here to be alone with the mountains, to listen to the silence. I stop as if to have a rest, hoping the trekkers will overtake, and I can walk again all by myself. But they stop, too, and so I immediately take off.

From then on, I feel that I need to speed up. I no longer walk at my pace but faster, as I must stay ahead of the trekking group. Just then, the most difficult part of the whole trail, “the 28 Bends”, starts. I need to gain an elevation of 900 meteres in a few kilometers, and the path is a crazy serpantine with no end in sight. Every now and then, my heart is just about to jump out of my chest, so fast it is beating. I make it a rule to stop for five or ten breaths at the beginning of each bend.

Lesson One. Do not be proud. I was too much in a hurry to show off in front of these guys with trekking gear. I wanted to ‘save face’ once I overtook them for the first time; I didn’t want them to overtake me afterwards and tell me that I needed to “pace myself”.

Lesson Two. Pace yourself. This is how I eventually dealt with the 28 Bends. At one point, I was ready to give up, and to turn back, thinking that I have already seen enough amazing scenery for the day. At this point, I started counting steps. I told myself, just do five hundred more. Then five hundred once again. And, after about a thousand of them, I reach the end of the 28 Bends and an amazing scenic spot. I am face to face with the Haba Snow Mountain, there is nothing between me and the mountain, as it stand there, in perfect stillness.

After that, the path is almost flat or descending, and I can walk at my normal walking pace, which is very fast. I reach the Tea and Horse Guest House at around 4:30 pm (3.5 hours after the start). Prepared to sleep in a very basic accommodation (the guidebooks strongly advise to brign own sleeping sheet, which I don’t have) I am asked “do you want a room with bathroom”, quickly say “yes” and I am shown into a "en-suite 24 hr hot water double bed with satelllite TV mountain view” unit for RMB 120 a night.

In the morning, I set off for a three hour walk, at the end of which there is a descent to a paved road where I plan to take a bus back to the Jane’s GH. The map says it’s an easy walk, and I am in a great mood. An hour later, I am scared, for the first time on this path. I see a waterfall crossing the path, my head is spinning just from looking at it, how am I supposed to cross it? I focus on each step on the wet stones, as if I am aiming my foot in a kick. And I pace myself. It works.

Lesson Three. Focus.

Another hour or so passes uneventfully, then the treacherous descent starts. Treacherous, because I start skidding… my flat soles are perfect for climb (grabbing the ground with each step) but not the best ones for the descent. I am scared again and this lasts for agonising 40-45 minutes, the end is near - I can see the road – but the more I hurry up the more unstable my steps are. So I pace myself.

Finally, I am there. I did make it in 2.5 hours against the expected 3 (and never truly learnt Lesson Two). I hire a ride back to Jane’s and eat another lunch before continuing on a bus to Lijiang.

PS.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is a popular trek in Yunnan, but I was lucky not to meet many people on the path (or, rather, successfully avoided them). You have Haba Snow Mountain accompanying you all the way on your right, and the river running at the very bottom of the gorge (which you hear occasionally). Sometimes a noise comes from the mountain, I imagine it is snow falling from the top. There are few villages that lay on the path, each surrounded by farmland.

I find walking there a great way to get away from distractions of the city life, to clear the mind. The following day, I am back in Hong Kong, on a bus from the China border going to Wan Chai; looking at the buildings in Central while my mind is still back there on that path. And I am thinking, people spend so much effort to get comfortable - air-conditioned buildings, shops selling all kinds of food and toys, media and entertainment to distract the mind, to take the attention away from the chaos that is inside it, from the pain of unfulfilled desires. Life is so comfortable (and yet so complicated) in Hong Kong, but I doubt people are happier here than those in the tiny village houses of the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
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