10 April 2017

 

The bus to Baishuitai doesn’t leave for a few hours, so we decided to walk up to the to of the ridge line. We missed it yesterday as we went straight to Tina’s (Not Sean’s, but it could be better, we don’t know).

The high path comes down to the guesthouse, so it is easy to go in the opposite direction. The path is very steep and goes up the mountain. We wanted to make our way across to the top of the waterfall but although this is possible, it meant making our own path. Normally this would be fine, but as we are under time constraints (we have to be back in time to catch the bus on to Baishuitai) we were not willing to try striking out on our own. We will just follow the path.

The path took us up hill. A long way up hill. After an hour or so, Anna decided to turn back, as the walk was not that interesting, and Andrew continued on.

Past old water canals that have been dug into the hillside to divert spring water and rain water from streams to abandoned crop lands, some in original chiseled condition, some now made from cement or stone, past valleys and ever upwards. I started passing groups of people that were doing the descent after staying somewhere up top last night. The mountain kept climbing. At each turn I said I would see what the next corner brings, at each turn it was the same thing. The mountain kept going. I did divert to explore a valley full of scree. Hard to climb and reaching the cliff wall, there was nowhere else to go but back down. Another section I scrambled up to a cave, but without a torch, there was not much i could see.

Reaching a point where I could see that the path just continued on upwards, I too gave up and turned around and headed back. We never did make it to the top of the mountain range. A pity, but then again, other things await us.

Back at the guesthouse we waited for the bus. It eventually came, and turned out to be a mini van. There were a couple of people in already, so we piled in and set off. The scenery was spectacular. We followed the canyon through to the other side, where the area opens up. The river doesn’t get any wider, as it is already carving deep sections out of an ancient flood plain. The plain is now totally irrigated, and starting to be built up with a few small towns spread out over it. Then the mountains rising up above it. Mostly untouched, but a few trails through it.

Our path took us over the northern mountains, and we wound our way up. The snow that we had seen on the peaks got closer and closer, to the extent that it was only a couple of hundred feet above us in (very) small patches. Mostly in shadowy places as it was starting to get warmer.

As we wound up we could see the development in between the mountains. Mostly the inverted Y’s of valleys. Larger terraces getting smaller and smaller as the two mountain sides joined up to block any further agriculture. Higher still and fences started appearing. We have not seen many fences at all in Yunan before now, but here entire fields were being fenced off with brambles, cacti or wooden railing. There were not many animals in sight, so we were not sure if the fences were made to keep stock in or wild animals out. There was the occasional person around with a few goats, but these were few and far between.

After a few hours the driver stopped the van and we could stretch our legs for a bit. This was the top of the main pass over the mountains. You would expect wide open vistas looking down on the rolling countryside as the mountains stretched away into the distance. You would see a few pine trees blocking any attempt at a view, and a road that goes around a bend and disappears. There were goats.

A lot later still a massive plateau came into view. This was all developed and a major town. The town was at the top and fields worked their way along the plateau and then down the mountain side. A stunning view from the road. Driving through we went a bit further on, and then were greeted at a building on the side of the road.

Apparently it had been all worked out, and we were to stay here. I like that this was done (sometimes) but it would have been nice if they had let us know.

Anyway, we had a lovely lady taking us under her wing. The room was substandard to say the least, but it was better than the Frenchmans dorm room (even if no one else was staying there, and we were all paying the same price per person). It was that much better that he ended up using our bathroom, as his was outside, around the buildings and not working anyway!

The lady we were staying with was a school teacher, and taught the children Naxi culture and language. Her father was also a respected shaman but we never got to meet him.

We had a great time going through a side room with her that contained all sorts of goodies from Naxi divinity cards to weaving equipment as well as photos of her father meeting important people and performing ceremonies. The twin Yak skulls decorating the doorway were very impressive.

After we had settled in and gotten to know each other, she took us up to the terraces. The conversation had been a bit confusing about it being free tomorrow, and dawn is the best time to see it, so we thought we would just be shown where it was. Apparently we were expected to do the site today, and then use the ticket again in the morning. As said, the conversation was a bit confusing, but we got there.

The ticket wasn’t too bad at 60 yuan. This was due to it only being a AAA site. They didn’t have enough tourist stalls, toilets and other crap to warrant a AAAA or AAAAA rating (Chinese style: A – Nothing is there but we may charge entry. E.G a patch of Grass. AA – There was something there, but it has been taken away or is being rebuilt, again may charge entry. E.G. A pagoda. AAA – There is something there, but it hasn’t been rebuilt yet, or the tourist infrastructure is not in place. E.G Here or a temple. AAAA – Has been mostly rebuilt. Entrance building, toilets and at least 5 tourist shops. May contain Pandas. E.G. Monastery or Mountain. AAAAA – Entrance Hall, Side buildings, many tourist shops, multiple toilets, some old things and a lot of rebuilt period buildings over a larger area with lots of shopping opportunities)

The front complex was still under construction, and we walked around the side to the path that would take us up. Here we could get a donkey ride to the top if we wanted to. We didn’t.

The terraces are a large area of limestone pools. As the water runs down the hill, the limestone separates out forming small ridges. These ridges hold the water causing more limestone to accrete around the edges making the pools to grow. Over time they can become massive dams of multi tiered water. Think rice terraces made out of stone. There are a few examples around the world. New Zealand has some (That are being slowly rebuilt after they were destroyed), Turkey has the best example that we know of, and China has two lots. There is the famous one, and there is this one. There are probably lots more of them around, we just haven’t been there.

The first thing you see (after the entrance construction site) is a massive concrete wall in the shape of the terraces. They are also trying to artificially grow them. Walking up the side it became clear that this was being done on a huge scale and half the hill was now this concrete monstrosity. To be fair, if you come back in about 200 years you may not be able to tell they are fake, but at the moment, nearly all the pools are empty. The ones that aren’t are filled with garbage and only one or two have water in them. I hope we have not come all this way just to see this.

The path continues on though, so we continued as well. Mumbling about destroying the things people have come to see to replace them with inferior copies. Higher up there were natural pools. They had water in them, and from some angles it looked quite extensive. The water disappears over the edge like an infinity pool, and small sections are very impressive. Unfortunately they are playing too much with the water systems. Any limestone formation dies if it dries out, and there are sections here filled with dust and dirt that haven’t seen water for years. The entire top area has canals and concrete barriers carved into and on it to control the water directions. Mainly to keep these few pools running. Higher still, you can see where the water gushes out of a hole in the ground. It is a great spot that has been turned into a well, with the water being funneled straight off and most of it going directly into channels down the side of the hill. This area was also one massive constructions site. With the boardwalk being finished, they were now putting in the picnic grounds and sections for your fires. We wont complain about this, as it is a nice touch, and needs to be done, as there is evidence of camp fires all over the area, with people carving out huge slabs of limestone to use as their cook tops or fire pits.

The top section had a pool of water so stagnant it was growing gunk. This is very interesting for us, as the rich mineral water grows some interesting algae. There were yellows, greens, some red and black, but mostly yellow. The tadpoles loved it as well, as they were there in large numbers. Some of our best photos came from that! It was either take photos of the algae, or the Chinese tourists clambering all over the few remaining pools to get their selfies as they jumped up and down on the ridges.

In all it was very disappointing that there was more money and effort being put into building buildings around the site as well as the fake section than looking after the site itself. These white terraces wont last long if this keeps up. Heading down the other side of the hill we did come across another beautiful section. The sky was reflected so well that the pools were a vivid turquoise colour and these pools made it worth while.

There was just enough time to explore some of the alleys around town before it was time for dinner. Our hostess cooked a lovely meal for us, and then it was time for bed. Given that there was no power in the town tonight there was not much else to do. We did walk up to see if we could find an open shop to get some water, and saw that everyone had their oil lanterns and candles out, so it must be a fairly regular thing around these parts.

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09 April 2017

We were up before dawn to catch the bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge. This is supposed to be one of the best bush walking areas in China (we withhold judgement on this!) and it is possible to do multiple day hikes through the gorge. We have opted to skip on this as we don’t know what to do with our luggage, and are cheating by catching the bus to the middle of the gorge. At least from here we can walk a few different parts.

The bus arrived at the stop and was already fairly full, so there are places to buy the tickets  other than the hostel, but we have no idea where. Then we were off. The trip is not that far. Only about 40km and on the other side of the Jade Snow Mountain, yet it took a long time to get there. The road winds around the sides of steep mountains and in and out of valleys. It was a very scenic drive. At some point we reached the entrance to the park where we forked out our dosh to keep driving. Everyone else got off here. Even the Chinese people that we had expected to do what we were doing got off. Apparently you do this if you are serious walkers. Not people like us!

When the bus moved on, it was only Anna and I that were still on the bus. We found out that it was possible to have your luggage transported on to Tina’s Guest House, and they would store it free of charge until you turned up! If we had known about that, we probably would have done the full walk as well. Still, we are starting to get short of time, and this is still the best option for us.

The driver was pretty good, and stopped for a few minutes for us to get off and have a look at one of the scenic points. The national park is building a walkway around the edge of the cliffs for day trippers to walk around. While this is under construction, a fair amount has already been completed, and we could see the work that was being done. The river in this section is a broiling mess of water as it goes around one of the first bends of the Yangtze river. A sight to behold at the moment, and it would be truly ferocious when the river is in flood.

Luckily for us, and hopefully many others, the plans to damn this section of the Yangtze fell through and the canyon is still here. It is apparently one of the deepest gorges in the world, and as the cliffs rear up on either side we could believe it.

Tina’s Guest house is about half way along the gorge, and marks the point that the two day hike finishes. The hike follows the ridge line of the gorge and there is a walk up to the top, then along the ridge before descending steeply to Tina’s. From here you can continue the walk for at least another day through the gorge to the other end, or do different routs down to the river.

After we checked in, we decided to do the river walk. It was why we were here after all.

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We got a free ride! It was to the far side of the narrowest point in the Gorge, and we could walk back from there. This seems to be because of a bit of rivalry between Sean’s Guest House and Tina’s. There is advertising everywhere about both. It is X distance from this, and painted over with Y distance to that. Outside Tina’s is a sign saying that Sean’s is a further couple of kilometres and you should stay there (In graffiti over it is something going on about how the manager is sleazy and single women shouldn’t stay there), whatever the rivalry is, we are at Tina’s as it was the most convenient, although there are guesthouses all over the place with more being built.

So we got to the point where we were able to go down to the river. We had to pay 10 yuan each to go down.

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There was a little old lady here making sure we paid our fees. There was also a big sign up saying that the path had been created by a local family in 2008 and had no government assistance in building or maintaining it. OK, so we paid and started our descent.

There was no maintenance on the path, but as it was a path down a somewhat steep hillside there was not much need for maintenance. The path itself is easy to follow and in pretty good condition. You can see the remains of ancient terraces where the hill side has been used to cultivate crops in the past (a lot longer ago than 2008). It is a very steep drop and you keep zig-zagging down. Almost at the river there are a few shacks being built that serve refreshments and probably food if you are after it. Then the idea is that you walk back along the river.

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It was not long before we were stopped by a big iron gate over the path. A girl with an Iphone 7 draped over her neck sauntered over to us demanding payment to pass. WTF? We had payed to come down already. Apparently we had descended the path of one family, and this section of path was created by a different family. The phone bugged me. If they could afford this for a 15 year old girl they didn’t need to charge for a path that had obviously been created before her great grandfather had been born. Yet there was another sign saying the path had been created in 2008 and without government assistance. Blah Blah Blah. (Read up on the region. Back in the day (pre 1900’s) a number of Europeans have done this hike. The paths existed then, and there were only a few farming families spread out along the entire area. Now there are 20 odd families charging admission to each section that they “recently built and maintain”) We had the choice: Pay the money or go back the way we had come. If we went back there was no guarantee that we wouldn’t be charged again to go up. *Deep Sigh* we paid. There was an argument over it though, and we didn’t pay the full amount as we were still walking on wards.

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This was one of the narrowest sections of the canyon. There is also a rock sticking up in the river that these enterprising people have built a rope ladder out to. It costs extra to climb out to this rock.

I suppose this is where you should get the story of Tiger Leaping Gorge. The short version is that a tiger was being hunted. It got cornered down here and leaped onto the rock. From the rock it leaped to the other side of the gorge and managed to escape from the hunter. Looking at the other side of the gorge, we wondered where the hell it went to from there. Yes, I suppose the leaps could have been possible, but it would have been stuck. There was nowhere for it to go.
The hunter may have given up though, as there was probably no way for him to get the carcass back to the other side and may have admired the tenacity and determination of the tiger. Don’t know. At the moment, don’t care.

Either way there is a rock out into the middle of the river that we didn’t pay to cross. There is also the option to pay for the ascent here. It is the sky ladder as it is a series of very long ladders that will take you up the cliff face. We continued on. Now the path gets really bad, and we wished that some of the maintenance that we were paying for was happening. There were a few bridges that consisted of rotten planks being held together by scraps of rope and mold.

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After a couple of these scrappy bridges that you wouldn’t trust your donkey to cross there was another section. We had to pay again. This is getting very frustrating. Every little thing here is pay per use. It is not as if we hadn’t already payed a rather large fee to enter into this area, now we are being charged every 250m or so. There was another rock with bridge that we didn’t opt for and another “family built path” that would take us on. Taking the family path we continued along the river. More very un-maintained paths and bridges. This section also had a section of text saying that they looked after the environment and cleaned up after all the tourists. Not that I agree with dumping your rubbish on the side of a cliff in the middle of nowhere, but others apparently have no issue with dumping their water bottles or other garbage (china does like its packaging though) on the path as they no longer need it. That said, and the sign, we were seriously wondering what we were paying for, as there was garbage everywhere. No one had emptied the bins along the path in a long time, and every nook and cranny was filled with empty water bottles and chip packets. Hummm, iphone shopping or collecting garbage? Which would you prefer?

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So now we were basically at the end of the walk though the narrowest point of the gorge. It had cost us close to 50 yuan with each section, and would have been double that if we had accepted every little extortion attempt. We don’t even know how much they would have charged us for a water or any other kind of drink. To be fair, they do have to lug all those drinks down here (and in theory take the garbage back up). To be honest, the shacks that they are building down here to house those drinks shouldn’t be allowed. They are monstrous eyesores on the natural beauty of the area with their neon blue corrugated plastic roofs and half arsed building attempts with more left abandoned on the sides of the path than are actually being used.

On our way up the hill we found an old government plaque. This described the region. Apparently over the years there have been a number of gold mining periods with a lot of small caves dug following seams of quartz/gold. This explains the old pathways that we have been following, as well as the odd holes carved into the cliff faces on both sides of the gorge. So much for them being built in 2008. There are old gold mines here, as well as old terraces and both of these needed access. These families that are here now may or may not have been related to the traditional people in the region, but the bullshit they are sprouting about needing to charge tourists is exactly that. Bullshit. The paths are not maintained. The bridges are definitely cross at your own risk. The garbage is not being collected, and we are paying for their iphones and internet access down here. Then there is the environmental vandalism of the huts they are building and discarding down here to have their path side stalls is appalling. On top of all that is the attitude.

*Another deep Sigh* Having written all that I realised I have not described the beauty of the region at all. It is beautiful. It is worth coming here. It is even worth paying the fees all the way along. The river is churning its way between two massive cliffs that you cannot appreciate the height of. If you look up, you have to look up again. It is truly stunning. I hope the photos do justice to the walk.

On a last note: The walk back up the hill. I could go on about how steep and long it was. How many breaks we had to have. The heart attack I almost had half way up, and then realised I was still less than half way and had to continue on, the steps. The climb, how at each bend the river opened up a different view going from brown to blue to virulent green (You know, that green when you cough up phlem that is definitely not healthy!)

At one of the sections we came across a viewing platform. This had been closed off. Not surprising. It was two railway sleepers stuck into the wall with dubious cement and glass/perspex floor and sides. It seemed to be held in place by two supporting rusty steel ropes. Even if it had been open there was no way that either Anna or myself would have been coaxed out onto it. As it was it looked as if a strong breeze would send it crashing the hundreds of feet down to the river.

Past that and we eventually made it back to the road. Now we just had to zig-zag up that and back to Tina’s. It was a good walk, and we are just sorry to have missed the counterpart of walking along the ridge line.

Back at Tina’s we walked over the bridge. This bridge spans a very steep gully. Gully is an understatement, but the road around had been destroyed by a landslide some time in the past and the bridge had been made. On the other side of the bridge you could follow the old road back around the hillside to a massive waterfall. This was actually quite pretty, and well worth the time it takes to get there (not long). The road has been washed away as there was no need to look after it since the bridge was built, but you can jump over the rocks and rubble of the road to get closer to where the water is streaming down the hill side. If we lived in the area it would be a favorite pick-nick spot as it is such a nice place to hang out.

In the evening we met a Frenchman. He had been on the bus with us this morning, and was asking how to get to Baishuitai. This is where we also wanted to go tomorrow. We had already organised transport so decided to help him out.

His story was that he had walked the 2 day track in a single day, and wanted to go to the end of the gorge, but the guides couldn’t keep up with him and wanted to charge a fortune. He wanted to walk to Baishuitai through the mountains but had basically he had given up on the idea. We were going there and invited him along (OK, it was a bus, and not a private vehicle, but the principle was the same.). Turns out he is a really nice guy and we spent time talking to him during our over priced dinner (well, we are in a captive environment here).

08 April 2017

Lijiang Old Town, Getting Lost and not finding anything on the map

The title says it all.

All day we wandered around old town. There are all sorts of different things to see in town from temples to important houses and a few other things in between. We couldn’t find any of them! The map we were using is the free one provided when you buy your tickets. It is completely useless. Worse than useless as the streets don’t exist, you can’t align yourself with landmarks and when you are in the right place you don’t have the attraction listed! It was very frustrating. There are street signs that guide you in the direction you want, but they are only a guide, as they disappear the closer you get to where you are going! Seriously, 10 streets away they are on every corner, 5 streets away they start to thin out, and the last couple of streets there is nothing indicating the thing you want to see (but they all list things 10 streets away!)

It was with this frustrating the hell out of us as we walked around. We did find some of the places. The overlook of the old town (that has now been turned into a restaurant that you have to pay to go and have a look from the balcony). A teachers residence, apparently from an important family that dedicated his life to education and betterment of people (from what we could tell, ethics played an important role in his curriculum), and a few other places.

Naxi Hieroglyphs

The Naxi people are the main minority group of this region

Our moods improved dramatically when we decided not to look for specific things and just wander around the old town picking different streets that we hadn’t done. There was a fantastic coffee house on one of the canals that did great coffee with these amazing coated roasted almonds (we found these almonds for sale in a different town later on, and discovered that we probably ate more almonds than the cost of the coffee!), and just generally enjoyed the place.

Travel called though, and at some point we decided to get our tickets to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge. Online there appeared to be only one place to buy the tickets and that was from an International Youth Hostel, so we walked over to that side of the city and went in search. It was easy to find, and the woman inside was fantastic. Within a short time we had our tickets, then we started talking. It was quiet there at the time, and she was happy to talk to us. On talking about the town and map we had, she burst out laughing. She knew the map and agreed that it was pathetic. She provided us with her map that was a lot more detailed and accurate (a bit late, as we leave first thing in the morning and it is late afternoon now, but a nice gesture) as well as ideas on the countryside. I love the people we are staying with, as they are the kindest and friendliest people with a great place to stay, but this also seemed as if it would be a good place to stay as well!

On saying goodbye, we headed out. A quick walk around new town to get a feel for it, as well as seeing where we had to go to catch the bus in the morning and back to the hotel. New town is basically indistinguishable to any other part of China, although the food is cheaper and better than old town.

We also stopped by an exhibit

With images of Lijiang at different points in time

All in all a frustrating morning followed by a pleasant afternoon.

07 April 2017

 

I will try to keep it brief today, as although we did lots of walking, we didn’t see very much.

Starting out in Lijiang Old town, we very quickly were intercepted by the Lijiang tourist police. We didn’t have a ticket! Apparently the old town is UNESCO listed (well, we knew that) and as a tourist, you need to buy a pass to enable you to walk around the city. There are checkpoints everywhere, and, as such, we ran into one just up from the hotel. Arriving at dark yesterday meant that there was nobody manning the booths to sell or check tickets, and we had walked straight in. Today, we needed to buy a ticket. 80 yuan each. Still, that is easier than trying to avoid all the road blocks and checks. Tickets in hand we walked further into the old town. It is very similar to Dali, to the extent that there are all the same tourist shops selling the same things. If you took the two towns and put them together you would be hard pressed to spot anything that would separate them from each other.  Lijiang has a series of canals that run through old town with bridges linking the different sections together, this is the main difference.

Having said that, it is a winding series of low buildings and courtyards. Yes, it was overflowing with tourists and the shops were the same repeating pattern of drum shop (all playing the same music and some people halfheartedly playing on a set of bongos), jewelry shop, travel agency selling tours, scarf shop, tea shop, kids toy shop and back to drum shop. The architecture is very different to normal Chinese towns and cities now, as the latter usually is anything from a 4 story building to unending series of 35 story buildings. This is low, at two stories maximum, very little advertising by Chinese standards, and car free. Yes, there were bikes still whizzing around and people everywhere, but you can move on the streets.

In this fashion we came to the large central square (after a few more checkpoints). There was tourist information here, but it was useless, another pointless exercise in trying to get information on what to see and do in a region. A large waterwheel had also been set up on the stream to show how things were done back in the day.

As this was the northern part of old town, we decided to walk to the black dragon pools. This park area is almost due north, and an easy stroll. Paying for entry (It is China after all) and heading in. The first thing you see is a very beautiful lake with bridge and pavilion on it with the sacred Jade Dragon Snow Mountain as its backdrop. It is a beautiful sight, and the clouds were forming up and streaming off the peak. If the eternal haze of Chinese construction ever cleared up it would be a great place to sit, relax and compose poetry as they had done back in the day. As it was, the mountain barely 25km away had a haze over it that softened the outline against the sky.

The walk around the Black Dragon Pool is a pleasure on a bright sunny day. There are a few shops selling drinks and ice creams, and others doing food, but it is not overdone at all. Pavilions and buildings dot the park and some even have small exhibitions in them. Most however were closed or empty.

Back to town, we caught the traditional dancing in the main square. This is put on for tourists every evening and is an entertaining way to pass the time. We didn’t stay for all of it as the sound levels were atrocious. We were being deafened by the screeching of annoyed cats and fingernails being run down blackboards, whilst being crowded out by people taking incessant photos of themselves with the dancers somewhere in the background.

The dancing was good, the singing may have been ok if the audio equipment had been set up properly, and when the old “shaman” came out it was great to watch the energy in his dancing. We don’t think we missed much, but it was a pity that we just couldn’t stay there. As it is my ears are still ringing.

06 April 2017

 

We were determined to do the Lion Mountain today. Walking around after we had gotten back last night we had seen a road sign with it on there, so we had an idea where to go now. Following that lead led to another road sign and another. It was in this way we came to a large park. The signs had stopped so we thought this may be it. Entering in, we realised quickly that it wasn’t, but it was still a nice place to walk around with an ancient pagoda to one side and a small temple at the back.

Having looked around it was time to move on.

Following the only other road, we meandered around a hill, and off into a small valley. The start of the walk was here. I don’t know where the other blog had gotten their details, but it was our fault for not confirming them with locals.

A big open space after getting your tickets leads you to the first steps. They are a whole new staircase. There is an older path up the hill, but this is the most direct, so we started our assent and count 1, 2, 3, 4…. 22, 23, 24, 25 and stop. Phew. These steps are steep.

Here as well was a god look back down showing how little distance we had covered. Only 974 steps to go. As we climbed the mountain different lions became visible, there were solitary lions, lions with their mates and entire families of lions.

After a few hundred steps there was a pavilion, flanked by lions It also marked a break in the steps for a while. We walked along the shady path and then started climbing again. Following a stream now with a few small ponds. The cliffs came in and we had to go under some large fallen boulders to continue. By now we were at almost 900 steps, so it shouldn’t be that much further.

How the hanging temples hang on

Another three hundred steps later we were at the base of a temple complex. As far as we were concerned this was it. We had done over 1200 steps and now we would explore the area. We could finally stop counting. Only the main part of the temple was in this section of the valley, as there were also a series of hanging shrines. These also involved a lot of steps up to explore them.

Most were easy to get to, but the very top one was difficult. The steps were very shallow niches carved into the cliff. There was a handrail, but you wouldn’t trust it as far as it wobbled. Some sections were no longer attached,, and the rest was completely overgrown with weeds. Very cautiously we made it to the top. This did give us a great view down and around, with a small statue situated at the very top to receive blessings.

 

 

Having made it all this way it was time to go back down, although we didn’t try to count the steps or the lions. This different perspective did make a few more lions appear out of the rocks that we had missed on the way up.

Then back to catch our bus to Lijiang. The walk back didn’t take nearly as long, and we made it back with plenty of time to spare.

The bus to Lijiang was uneventful, and then we were winding through the streets of Lijiang. The new town surrounds the old town, and luckily the bus station is just south of the old town (when it finally gets there after taking some very weird, narrow streets to avoid one way streets and doing u-turns.

The walk from the station to old town was helped by a friendly Chinese guy that pointed us in the right direction, and even walked part of the way with us. This was great, and we always appreciate the help. There have been few times where we wished we spoke Chinese (well, lots really) and this was one of them, as the guy was very nice.

On entering the old town, we needed to find accommodation. It was getting on dark, and we walked past a small market place that was closing up for the night. We tried a few of the more obvious hotels, and they were too expensive or wouldn’t accept us. Trying the smaller ones we struck success first go. The place was a small courtyard building off a main street, and very nicely decked out. There was a small upstairs terrace and the rooms were on the ground floor looking into the courtyard.
The people here were also very nice and helpful as we settled in. Then off to walk around the sites of town.

Lijiang is a beautiful town to walk around at night, as it is all lit up and bustling, but not too many people were around. We didn’t go too far as we have plenty of time to explore tomorrow, just enough to get our bearings and see the few streets around us.

05 April 2017

 

A bus out to Shibaoshan, this is supposed to be a beautiful scenic walk through the hills seeing the only hanging temple in the province.

The bus was easy to get, and it even dropped us at the entrance. We were not expecting this, as it was a little mini van going to Shaxi Valley, and the entrance was a good couple of kilometres after the turn off. A nice touch.

Paying for our ticket we had to wait for the internal bus to take us to the first temple complex. A nice guy invited us to join in with a young Chinese tour group, where we had to participate in the team building exercises. It was not as if they knew each other either. They were just waiting for the bus as well. But we had to remember names, throw things into the centre of a circle and indicate others to get it. A bit strange and uncomfortable, but weirdly fun. They were a good group. The bus was finally ready to go, so on we piled. Driving up into the mountains was nice, we were following a small stream with the hills rising on either side, and climbing steadily. Glad we were not walking.

At the first stop, we all got out. There is an old style water wheel set up for decoration, and a lot of vendors trying to sell you lunch. A staircase leads up from here to the temple. Of course.

Following that, we managed to keep up with the group, past a few monkeys (!) that followed us looking for hand outs. They would sit and watch us pass before running ahead to sit and watch again.

At the temple we started diverging paths with the group. They were very nice, and even gave us some information in English, but they had their own things to do, and we were slow.
Exploring the temple complex we walked up the cliff sides to the hanging shrines, going up very steep dilapidated carved steps, and rotten handrails to look out over the valley. Down to follow another path, and see what it had to offer. Then circling around the hill to try and make it to the summit. This was the most interesting. There were a couple of very old graves. Probably from the first abbots of the area, and lots of monkeys. The troupe was heading down the hill to the monastery tucked around the corner. We stood and waited for them to pass. And waited. And waited. The monkeys kept coming. There were old ones that sedately walked past, stopping to glance at us, to young mothers keeping a protective eye on their young. Then there were the young ones frolicking around. Running, falling, tripping over themselves and jumping in shock when they finally noticed us.

With the monkeys gone we continued walking. Then there were even more monkeys. There must have been over 200 of them. We were trying to make our way along this narrow path with streams of monkeys going past. At first we were a bit worried as we had been warned that they could be aggressive, but most were wary, or timid, but not all that worried about us. We did keep our movements slow though, just in case.

Deciding after this to not go all the way up, we headed back. Back at the base of the hill we tried to get on the next bus, but were not allowed. We don’t know why, we just had to sit for about 20 minutes waiting for the next bus. The vendors tried to sell us lunch again but quickly gave up and retreated to the shade waiting for less stingy or more hungry tourists.

The next section is where the grottoes are. These are supposed to be famous examples of Buddhist rock carvings. Skipping the temple complex to start, we walked around a separate path that would hopefully loop back to where we started. Down hill, then across and we reached the first grotto. This had been cut away from the rock face and enclosed in a building. It was locked. Yet we still managed to get a glimpse of the “Persian”. Badly weathered and you can just make out that it is human shaped. Then onto the next one This was carved up on the cliff and was still in place. There was a gate to get into it as well, but this one was open. There was a way past here but it has been walled up. Going back out and following the path we came to the other side of the wall, so it used to be connected. Then it was a steep climb uphill to the dragon bridge. This turned out to be a small section that is under fallen stone, and not that impressive, but the last grotto was the kings family. Again it has been removed from its wall, but is in a lot better condition. You also get a very good view of the temple complex on the opposite hill from here.

The walk back to the road is a bit of a climb in sections, and its only saving grace is the plants in flower. There wasn’t much else to be seen. Very few lizards, and fewer birds. Still, it is a nice walk, and well recommended if you have the time.
Then it was back down the other side to the temple. This temple has been built up around the other grotto carvings. Walking to it we met a very spry 85 year old that was having a great, if slow, time walking down. He was an American guy that was here with his wife, and loving every second of it. If only we can be doing this well into our 80’s!

The temple is pretty standard, but the carvings that it has been built around are much better. There is Buddha of course, and a few others, but the most intriguing and baffling is the carved vulva. Nobody is sure why this has been carved, let alone what it represents (other than the obvious fact that monks get horny as well as any one else, they just carve it better). We were not allowed to take photos, and they had a guy standing guard pretty intently so we couldn’t sneak much.

I have no idea why this would be an issue, as the carvings have been exposed to people for generations, and a photo isn’t going to make it crumble, but that is just the way it is. I suppose you cant sell the post cards if people can take photos.

Then it was on to the walk to Shaxi Valley. I wish they had signposted this properly, as we took a number of false paths before deciding to go to the one properly marked trail. The last path would have taken us where we wanted to go, but we were not going to risk a hike down the hill to have to return if it was wrong. We only worked it out after walking the proper trail for an hour or two.

So this walk was a very long walk around the side of the hill. Slowly descending into the valley. Along the way there were a few more grottos. These were completely closed off with wooden structures, but we could still catch glimpses of them. Almost all of the way across we ran into a Chinese couple coming the other way, and we stopped for a talk with them. They spoke english, so we compared walks and let each other know what was coming up. For us it was a steep descent into the valley, and for them it was a long walk to the temple, and even further if they wanted to go to the first complex.

Down. And Down again. Steep steps carved into the mountain side before popping out beside a small stream. Following the stream took us out to the valley, and then it was another couple of kilometres to the main road and we were in Shaxi Valley proper. Then it was just a walk along until we found a mini van that was willing to take us back to town. As it was getting late we were worried that there may not be any vans, and it did take a while for one to go past. Luckily for us, the price was not outrageous, and we hopped in. Turns out we were his only takers, and we had a nice easy ride all the way back to town.