Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tiger Leaping Gorge 虎跳峡

Tiger Leap Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge, a wonder of Mother Earth. It was told in legend that at one point of the gorge, it was so narrow that a tiger was spotted leaping over to the other side of the gorge, hence the name.

Jinsha river flows in the gorge, fast and furious. It is easy to understand that falling into the river means death.

The Gorge

We came to Tiger Leaping Gorge after Lijiang, which is only about 60km away. Lucky for us, we did not come here only to stop at the tourist vantage point but we actually planned a night's stay.

We first checked into our home stay, a lovely hut over-looking the gorges called 山白脸客栈 (Chateau de Woodie Guesthouse). One step to live up to the ideal of backpacking, we chose the RMB60 per bed dormitory. There were no other people in this off-season, we basically had the whole building to ourselves but at night it sure was a little creepy. Turning off lights means total darkness and starry sky!

Wasting not a minute more, we started the hike at the trail right beside our home stay. Hiking trails in Tiger Leaping Gorge proves to be very popular among the Westerners, with the local villagers even able to speak English while not necessary Mandarin!

The trail is called Middle Leaping Tiger, or 中虎跳. It seemed easy enough at first, with path laid out nicely by the local villagers. The sun was high and we even felt hot in this supposedly breezy place.

Beginning of Hike

Terraces

Hike view

Soon the path turned slightly difficult and path becomes narrower.

Into grassy hills

As we moved, our bodies heated up and we all felt warm and welcome the cooling breeze.

Shangri-La Travelmates

We came to the Tiger Leaping Stone after just a short hike, which is called 一线天 that means a straight line to heaven. There, we met a group of Guangdong hikers, that we joined dinner with later.

一线天下

When it was time to go back, as it was getting late, we came to this ladder which is called 天梯 or sky ladder. It was very long but our quickest way to get to the top, so we decided to try.

天梯

As the sun set, the surrounding temperature dropped and we felt cold. Gilbert caught a cold here most likely, as he started feeling unwell after got back to the hostel. We continued to climb and climb as the sky turned magenta and we finally reached the 天梯客栈 or Sky Ladder Home Stay, who built the freakishly long ladder. The group of Guangdong hikers were already resting there.

Dusk of Tiger Leaping Gorge

We were all starving and cold, and the friendly hikers invited us into the home stay for dinner and tea. They were even sharing the farm chicken they ordered. We sat together and exchanged talks with each other, indulged in the wonderful dinner. Finally, we had to bid farewell to each other as we had to go back to our own home stay which is some distance away. We got our home stay host worried as we were away for a long time.

热情的广东朋友们

One thing I disliked about this place or the government of China, we were charged two times of toll by local villagers in this short stretch of trail. I understand that the villagers are actually the people that maintain this scenic place, and they were complaining that the government only imposed the national park entrance fee but did not do anything. The entrance fee itself was not cheap at all which felt like a rip-off of visitors, but that is the sad truth in everywhere of China.

Though, I wish we could have stayed here for one additional day as there are still so much to explore in this valley.

鸡啼

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Shangri-La County


Grassland, with Riders

What's your definition of Shangri-La? Does a grassland in the highland with horses grazing the grass, surrounded by rolling mountains, suits what Shangri-La should look like?

We came to this county designated by Chinese state government of Yunnan as Shangri-La, after a few hours from Tiger Leap Gorge. It was however, not a place I imagined it to be. Gilbert was down with AMS, feeling uncomfortable upon getting down from the van that we took. Instead of only a night here, we stayed an additional day just to let him get better in this altitude.

After checking into 红石头客栈 (Gesang Garden Inn), we took him to the hospital, and the rest of our first day here was slow and relax. In the afternoon, we played mahjong with the inn staff, Xiao He, who was very friendly and cooked medicine 红景天 that supposed to relieve AMS. The inn is furnished in Tibetan style, which I like very much.

We settled into a Yak steamboat shop down the street after the recommendation of Xiao He. The steamboat was a god-send. Somehow, the lady boss sat beside us to chat with us while she was not so busy, as we also chat with a nice Chinese lady that was on her own here. We did not go out to explore the streets but indulge ourselves in warmth beside the stove accompanied by the scents of Yak and spices. It was a nice encounter, as we chatted into late of the night and even took a picture together with the lady boss and the nice lady. We even went to her boutique hotel for sightseeing.

The next morning, as usual, I woke up as dawn light stole into the slits of the window sill. The two of them were still asleep, and so I picked up my X100s and walked outside to explore the sleepy morning of Shangri-La. There were frosts on the plant, and on the soil. The late autumn happened earlier at such high altitude.

Dawn, Shangri La

The Golden Belltower

Black pigs roaming freely, munching on rubbish and basically anything they see.

Black Pigs

Then, as I climbed the hill, I met a man stretching while facing the city. The view was so... awesome.

Morning Exercise

I chanced upon a local temple which I brought them both to visit later. I worried that they might be looking for me, so I went back but only to find them waking up in the late morning.

After breakfast, Gilbert was still not well, so we decided to stay in the town for sight-seeing and that was when I suggested them to visit the temple. It was a very small temple, but I was glad there were no tourists here. The slope that leads to the temple from the city had Yaks grazing the grass, which we had some fun taking picture with as they were so tame!

经幡

Yaks and the Civilisation beyond

After lunch, we decided to rent bicycles to cycle to the nearby plains. Initially we were worried that Gilbert was unable to go far but he was like back to life the moment he put his feet on the pedals! We cycled to the outside the city, stumbled upon some random plains and decided to go into the plains. That was where we met an artist there taking inspiration from the scenery around us.

The light and shadow play of the nature was amazing, creating beautiful lights around the clouds, mountains and on the plains.

Rolling Shadow

Lane

Riders of the Grassland

Red Grass

Tibetan Grassland

Yellow Field

The clouds move so fast that in a few minutes time, shadow cast all over the plains. Then, I was surprised to encounter horses roaming on their own here. White horse too! It was like a utopia, when the fast moving clouds let out rays of light that shone on the horse. I got excited and ran to the horse while leaving my bicycle behind.

Grassland

Oblivious to my existence, they continued to graze while I snapped happily. I even got to pet the white horse before it galloped away.

Shangri-La Horses

White Horse

As sun set behind the mountain range, we made our own way back to the city for dinner, taking detour. We slept after viewing the starry sky from the roof top.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Yading: 央迈勇、牛奶海

亚丁

This has to be the highlight of the whole China Yading trip. We had been travelling from Lijiang > Tiger Leap Gorge > Shangri-La town > Dao Cheng and finally Yading village, just to get to the main highlight here.

We woke up early in the morning before daybreak, and paid our host Nima to bring us to the entrance as the bus started only at 8am. With very slight hint of daylight, we moved slowly towards the Chong Gu farm with path illuminated by torch light. We had to keep moving to generate body heat to keep ourselves warm, the morning air was so chilly! However, walking at such high altitude was like jogging, the breathing became heavier as we moved faster. My lung was begging for more oxygen, while I dragged my legs slowly uphill with Uncle Wang. Wang He and Hans, already went much ahead than us, I wondered whether they have some kind of genes that let them adapt to high altitudes which I don't. I conjured up images of paradise in my brain, with the sound of flowing river beneath the platforms we stepped on, to keep me moving.

The day slowly brightened up, and it became clear to me that not so far in the distance, Yangmaiyong sacred mountain loomed. The peaks of the mountain was illuminated by the magic hour.

Sacred Mountain's Reflection

Nose running and my bladder felt like overflowing, just after we stopped for photographing the sacred mountain. Then, as we walked, we passed by another sacred mountain, Xianuoduoji with sublimation against the light.

夏诺多吉雪山

The sublimation was a sight so beautiful to behold of.

Rise

Then, not far from Xianuoduoji, the Yangmaiyong sacred mountain, presented Herself in this magical morning light fully in front of us.

央迈勇雪山

Then there is this yak farm, so surreal, at the end of the walkway, with majestic view of Yangmaiyong. This valley is shielded from civilisation and pollution, that suits every definition of heaven.

洛绒牛场

Paradise on Earth

Yaks of the Highlands

Yaks and Yangmaiyong Sacred Mountain

Though this view did not make the trip easier. I dragged my feet and continue to move uphill, like the Tibetan pilgrims do. Tibetans are so good at this that with minimal protection but a will as strong as steel, they traverse the mountain ranges with ease. We reached a point, where network of prayer flags erected, and strong wind rushing at such speed that I would be blown away if I was any lighter.

垭口

We knew we were almost there, the milky blue lake. I picked up my pace, to get to the lake. I thought we were supposed to be one of the earliest to be there but other hikers who took the first bus caught up and even surpassed us.

Farewell Milky Lake

Uncle Wang

Finally, the glacier lake...

牛奶海

Giant Turquoise

It was indeed awesome, and a sacred lake by all means. Seems to be formed by water melted from the glacier and snow. It's refreshing just by looking at the pictures from where I am now, where it is humid and hot. This is a glacier lake that all Tibetans respect.

The other lake, the Five Colours Lake is just around the corner. Perhaps the sun was already too high in the sky, I did not see the five colours in the lake.

玛尼堆

After the lake, we started making our descend, with my stomach still empty except two sausages that I bought from the store outside the guest house. The descend felt so much easier than ascend, albeit a bit hard on the knee. While on the way down, we met another group of girls from Guangzhou and we chatted and went down together.

When we got down, it was already quite late into the afternoon. Uncle Wang and me did not take the easy way with electric car back to the entrance of the park, instead we continued to walk the same path back and see the park in different light. However, most of the path were shielded from the sun as we walked into the valley.

Autumn

Took a last look at the Yangmaiyong mountain, before I bid Her goodbye.

央迈勇

Feeling exhausted from the hike, it was about time for the last bus to leave Yading to meet up with AMS-stricken Gilbert and Pan who accompanied him, and then we went back to Daocheng.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Yading (亚丁), The Shangri-La: 仙乃日

Highland Farm

We finally got into Yading after giving ourselves some time to settle into the altitude of 3000+ meter at Daocheng. Yading has an average elevation of more than 4000m, and that is probably why it is regarded by the Chinese as paradise.

Yading Village

There was no other way to travel around in the Yading area, only the tourist bus was allowed, which was one of the effort by the government to limit pollution and overcrowding. After we checked into the homestay, we immediately went out to wait for the tourist bus and went to the main attraction in Yading which housed all the three sacred mountains. Once at Yading park, we were all in awe of what lied in front of us.

I didn't know how paradise should look like until I encounter this sight right next to Chonggu temple (贡嘎冲古寺). The turquoise river flowed between us and the farm where the Yaks grazed the yellow grass. Snow mountain in the not-so-far distance, trees that turned to yellow, the air that is basically zero pollution.

Yaks Farm

Yaks

One hint here, the last bus to go back to the village is 5.30pm. We could not afford to spend too much time at the farm, otherwise we would miss out the scene we so dying to see. So we continued to hiked uphill, hoping to see the sacred 仙乃日 in her best light.

Prayer Flags

仙乃日

Gilbert had difficulty in high altitude, so has to take slower strides as the uphill climb was kind of strenuous. According to him, his heart was pumping so fast that he had to take a short break once a while. We could only encourage him to go further, while racing with time. We finally arrived at the 珍珠海 lake with 仙乃日 in the background. I wished I had a ultra wide angle lens here... Though I managed some shots while the lake was still before rushing back down hill to catch the last bus.

仙乃日深山

Before we left the park, the evening sun casted her magic on the Yak farm.

Yading Sunset

Since it was still bright outside, we wandered near our homestay while Gilbert went back to rest. We saw some mules also wandered around the village and we followed one of them into the house. That was when an old lady came out with food to feed her pet mule. The villagers here were so nice that she even invited us to stroke the mule. A guy, which I assume is the old lady's son, even invited us to go in and sit beside the fire to get ourselves warmer. It was quite awkward, as he did not seem to understand mandarin at all and we just sat there in silence while he smoked. After few minutes, we bid goodbye and thanked him for his hospitality and went back to the guest house.

亚丁村民

We met Chi-zhen, the boy from the family that managed our homestay and we chatted with him. This was when I asked if I could take a picture with him and his mother.

we all looked worn out

We later went upstairs and Chi-zhen came to chat with us about his school life, and a little bit about his life in the village, while the view outside the windows changed from golden to dusk. The boy was very mature at his age, he helped out in cooking our dinner with his father later and the dinner was great!!

夏诺多吉: 日照金山
夏诺多吉

Chi-Zhen

The day ended with filled stomach and anxiety for the next day. We asked the homestay owner to fetch us to the park in early morning and start hiking before everyone else!