One of the reasons for our trip to Yunnan was to do the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek, which was part of the ancient Tea Horse Road. You may have seen Michael Palin walk this track in his Himalaya series part 5. Two minutes 48 seconds into part 5, he visits the No 1 Toilet on Heaven and Earth, at the Halfway House, and in his book, he goes into more detail. So, let’s get that one out of the way first – here it is:
To get to the Halfway House from Qiaotou, the starting point for the trek if you’re coming from Lijiang, is a lovely trek. Here’s a map of the route.
Mr Chung drove us to Qiaotou where we were met by Alex, a guide from Diqing Holyland International Travel Services. We hadn’t known about this in advance, but Alex was to be our guide for the next seven days. It was just as well, as it’s easy to take the wrong path at the beginning of the trek, and Alex turned out to be not only an excellent guide with good English, but good company as well.
If you are planning to do the trek, or need a guide for northern Yunnan, make sure you ask for Alex (Hong Ma). She’s very bright, and I’m sure she will do well in the future. At Qiaotou she checked our kit, answered all of our many questions about the Gorge, made sure that we kept to time, and also helped organise our itinerary and accompanied us afterwards to Zhongdian and Deqin.
Lindsey had been reading up on the trek, and the more she read, the more anxious she became, with various bloggers talking about falling rocks, false trails, narrow paths, meeting horses on the trail, knees giving in, precipitous drops, altitude sickness, waterfalls, the need to carry lots of water, and more.
Well, whilst I wouldn’t say that Geoffrey Boycott’s Nan could do the trek without breaking sweat, the route up was only a little more strenuous than doing a Munro, and in fact the altitude gained is about the same (1,000 metres).
We were fortunate in that it was mostly cloudy. In the sun, at that altitude, it would be harder. And you should also take good boots and a stick, and as with any gorge walk, keep an eye out for falling stones.
Lindsey’s anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that we’d no sooner started walking than a horseman spotted her, and proceeded to follow her for three miles as a potential customer in case she decided she wanted to ride his horse up the steeper bits (known as the 28 Bends).
He quoted Yuan 250 for a lift to the top, and pointed out that the price would increase substantially, the nearer we got to the 28 Bends, if she didn’t make a deal at the bottom. It was a bit like having a vulture follow you.
Three Americans passed us on horseback at one bit, and seemed surprised that we intended to do the trek under our own steam. By way of explanation, I told them that we were Scottish, which can cover various scenarios.
We stopped for lunch at the Naxi Family Guest House. I’d heard about the excellent Naxi baba bread, and wasn’t disappointed.
Then it was time for the 28 Bends.
Michael Palin wrote “Trudging upwards in a tight zigzag, I count off each one carefully and still find another 20 left at the end.”
Keeping this in mind, I counted only eight major bends, and then came to a chap at a small stand who was selling access to an outcrop where you could photograph the ‘leaping rock’ (there are three leaping rocks along the gorge) for Yuan 8.
I asked him which Bend we were at, and he said “28!”
“Peace of cake!” I exclaimed.
Alex arrived at this moment, and because she thought I was demanding cake, reached into her rucksack and gave me some precious Swiss chocolate that a previous client had sent her.
“No, Alex. When your next clients come here and are worried about the walk, just tell them that the auld Scotsman said it was a piece of cake, and that he wanted more Bends.”
It’s difficult to get the scale of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is one of the world’s deepest river canyons, into one photo.
The mountains on the other side of the gorge seeem to go upwards, forever.
We still had quite a walk to get to the Halfway House, but it was mostly on the level. At various points, people had left behind their empties.
The next day it was an easier walk down to the Woody Guesthouse at Walnut Grove.
The following day, the sun came out, and on the drive back to Qiaotou along the lower road we were able to photograph the leaping rock.