China Days 8 and 9: Tiger Leaping Gorge Trek – Mr L’s Story

This blog entry is Mr L’s story of his Tiger Leaping Gorge trek as told by the texts and photos he has sent me.

Trek Day 1:

After an uneventful 2 hour bus journey in mist and drizzle, we reached the starting point. Altitude 1875m and 10.45am.

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The track was fairly straightforward, steep but you would have done ok.

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On the other side of the gorge is a huge construction project, they are building a road and rail  viaduct, impressive but spoils the view.

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At around 12 we reached Naxi guesthouse, a lovely farm. A good lunch of rice and vegetables. Altitude 2200, so a good climb already.

After lunch is was a fairly steep climb up to the start of the 28 bends. It took about 40 minutes

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There was a resting point at the start where we all got our breath before the bends

The bends were very steep, very rocky but with spectacular views. Struggled towards the top and very relieved to get there

At the top! Hard work and very relieved. Altitude 2680 so a big climb. Down hill from here.

Very steep dirt track on the way down but easy after the climb. I did most of the route with the 3 youngsters which was nice. We ended up finishing about 40 minutes in front of the others so not too shabby

Arrived at the guesthouse around 3.40. Amazing setting. Rooms basic but I don’t think I will have a problem sleeping! Altogether an amazing day. Dinner soon here.

Made it! Hard work up the 28 steps but overall feeling good surprisingly. Finished, showered in a freezing cold shower and now enjoying a beer. No way would you have made it.

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Trek Day 2:

A good nights sleep and ready for day 2. A cool morning with the mountains shrouded in mist. A breakfast of fruit yoghurt and muesli and a surprisingly good cup of coffee. 9am and we are off.

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A reasonable trail to start with and spectacular scenery.

The trail soon narrows and we are walking along the side of the gorge. The views just keep getting better and better and with level ground we can really appreciate them

After 1.5 hours we reach the half way house guesthouse for a drink and rest. The guest houses are all attractive and offer a range of refreshments. Snickers has become my regular choice.

Setting off we see farmers bringing the corn up the hill on their mules. Corn does seem to be the staple crop, it is grown everywhere, regardless of the slope. The path gets narrower and the views even more spectacular.

We meet some very tame goats, they don’t get out of the way!

We have to navigate a waterfall which flows over the path

The waterfall

Some of our fellow travellers. We passed a small temple perched on the side of the mountain

 After a couple of hours we had a relatively short ascent, only 8 bends, nothing after yesterday!

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Then came the very steep descent. Fortunately the ground was dry, if it had been wet it would have been treacherous. Not many photos as phone was securely put away and the walk needed full concentration.

So we finally made it to Tina’s guest house, a functional youth hostel which was quite crowded. Surprising as we had seen very few people on the hike. Finished at 12.40 so a short day. Legs and knees sore from the descent but felt pretty good considering.

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2040m, 6700ft was the finishing altitude. I passed on the yak cheese dumplings and made do with a beer and a bacon and egg sandwich from Tina’s.

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Our bus which brought us back to Lijiang. The road back was interesting, hairpin bends and in places narrow because of land slips. Back in Lijiang a definite sense of achievement, which hike next!

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Trekking, Kathakali and Kalarippayattu

We booked a guided mountain trek for this morning, starting from Green Spaces.  Adeed, our guide, met us at 9.45am and off we set.  We went up to our usual view point, as always lots of cloud cover but definitely a clearer view.

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It was reasonably energetic as there is no flat ground anywhere and we were able to walk through the Pallivasal Tea Estate as we had a guide with us and some of those slopes are incredibly steep.  Great respect for the tea pickers who work on these slopes everyday.  Adeed told us that a tea picker works from 08.00-15.30 and gets paid 350IR (£4.31) per day and then earns an extra 1IR for every kilo of leaves picked, they expect to pick 100-150kg per day so daily take home pay  can be 500IR (£6.16).  They are better off than the cardamom workers who get paid a flat rate of 350IR per day and that’s it.  Apparently a lot of the tea pickers come from Bengal as not enough young Keralans available for work as they tend to leave to earn their fortune elsewhere.

We had a brief rest stop to drink water and eat Indian baby bananas which taste very different to our normal bananas. Shortly after we were given long sturdy sticks to act as walking poles – slightly worrying as to what was coming next.  We opted for the ‘less steep’ forest route to get us to the top of our designated mountain, God alone knows what the steep route would have been like!  We definitely needed our sticks, I also needed a helping hand from the guide here and there as the route was very narrow and slippery in places.

The view from the top was impressive, albeit with the persistent cloud cover.  Adeed served us biscuits and cardamom tea, which much to my surprise was delicious with a delicate flavour.  Even Mr L like it, we’ll be buying some of that to bring home.

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After a short rest we started the walk back on a different route, a bit slippy at times but not as steep going down as the up was.  Most of the route home was through cardamom plantations which are all owned by local farmers, unlike the tea estates of which almost all come under the control of Tata.  There are only 2 other small tea plantations here in Kerala which are non-Tata owned.  We had one more rest stop with more cardamom tea and Indian crisps which are thinly sliced banana that has been fried and actually very nice as they don’t taste of banana!

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We got back at 14.00 at the same time as the rain arrived.  We were hot, sticky, sweaty and grubby after our 5.5 mile trek so it was showers and lunch before heading out again at 15.30 with Adeed, this time he was driving his tuk-tuk.

We were off to Punnarjani for some Indian cultural entertainment. The first show at 17.00 was Kathakali and if you arrive early you can watch the make-up being applied to an artist.  Incredibly detailed and takes ages.

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Kathakali is a highly stylised Indian classical dance drama performed by skilled artists.  The artists have to undergo several years of hard core training and the art is a skilful combination of literature, music, costume, elaborate face make-up, acting and dancing.  The idea is (as far as we understand) that each character’s mental quality can be understood by his or hers costume, facial movements, hand movements and body movements. It was very clever, entertaining and amusing.

We had to move into a different theatre area where we were sat in a round looking down into a ‘pit’ where we would watch Kalarippayattu.  Kalarippayattu is an ancient traditional martial art that originated in Kerala, described as the mother of all martial arts.  Many of the techniques of this martial art were later adapted into martial arts like karate, Kung-fu, judo etc.  The Kalarippayattu practitioners are required to undergo several years of rigorous practice to build up the courage, and fitness of mind and body.

We watched martial arts fighting using swords, shields, daggers, sticks.  There were also demonstrations of yoga, acrobatics through flaming hoops, and all manner of highly risky manoeuvres involving fire.  Again, very clever, skilled and entertaining.  Our day was completed with Adeed driving us back, a 40 minute bumpy tuk-tuk ride.  An excellent day.