Touring China (September 16th - October 5th)

(Kunming, Lijian, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri-La, Dali, Kunming)

Distance biked so far: (19,087 km)

I have been using the City of Kunming as a base to get around China and have kept my bike in the storage room of a youth hostel. When I returned I brought my bike to a local store to have them put it in a box for my flight out of China. Little things like asking them to put my bike in a box for travel can be a challenge here. I went into the store with my bike and asked if anyone spoke English and when I was told no, asked one guy to come with me. I rolled my bike to an empty bike box in the corner and pointed to my bike, then the box to show him what I wanted. He scratched his head and searched for another employee to help. To both eager workers I then lifted my bike up and mimicked putting it in the box and they both laughed but still shook their heads and wondered why some foreign guy would try to put a bike in an empty box. I couldn't explain what I wanted so went back to my hostel and asked one of the employees to write out in Chinese that I wanted my bike in a box and that I will be back in 10 days to pick it up. When I showed them the note they laughed and went to work with a look that seemed to ask why I didn't just say that in the first place.

My first stop on my tour of Yunnan Province was the Old Town of Lijiang, a UN World Heritage Site. The Old Town gets around 5 million tourists a year, about 1 million more annually than the entire country of the Philippines, but Lijiang has only 40,000 residents. The problem is that the entire City is geared towards the visitors and when you walk around the Historic City, every single building is either a hotel, restaurant or one selling goods for tourists. The redeeming factor is that the Chinese tourist groups all walk down the same street, eat at the same restaurants and visit the same sights so it is fairly easy to avoid the hordes. The cobblestone streets with rivers running through and old buildings along with the natural setting make up for the crowded walkways. Here are some pictures of the Old City of Lijiang.
And here is one with the Japanese flag.
The town is full of colorful flowers and old buildings and the town looks like a cross between Venice and a villa in Switzerland.
It is very difficult outside of Beijing or Shanghai to find an English newspaper. The Communist Party controls the media and it is quite amusing to read the editorials in The China Daily News. China is currently in a dispute with Japan over a group of islands in the East China Sea and also with the Philippines and other countries over islands in the South China Sea. I was reading an editorial in reference to the dispute with Japan and if you read it you would think China is the most reasonable country in the world. They would write something like "China believes that open and honest dialog is the only way to reach a harmonious agreement that allows both sides to win and enhance friendship and mutual trust and respect." They would write a similar argument for the dispute with the Philippines but never mention the fact that they send warships to the islands to enforce their "peaceful" demands. The fight with Japan has a long history and there are strong feelings here, many of which really relate to the invasion by Japan into China back in 1937. Those old feelings of hate and mistrust are showing themselves here with the recent flare-ups and there were a few signs of this in Lijiang. Here is one poster that sums up the feeling of this storeowner.
Once at the bottom I had thought about returning back to the start but a small group had arranged a ride to the next town and I decided to go along. We had to walk part of the way because a landslide that occurred 2 months earlier blocked the road. They have been working on clearing it up but it will take another month. There were some big rocks still on the road and the workers were preparing to dynamite them into smaller pieces.
I hiked with 2 girls from Germany and then met up with a couple from Israel at the Halfway House hostel. The hostel had fantastic views of the mountain range and we all had a nice dinner with the moon lighting up the top of the peaks.
The Jinsha River has some very big rapids in places. A number of years ago a group thought it might be fun to try and run a raft through this Gorge. Two of the paddlers died and the others were lucky to escape with their lives. Here is a view of the rapids from a few hundred feet above.
The way up to the halfway point was fairly steep with a section labeled "28 Bends" that tested the legs and lungs of everyone. Here I am at the top.
The next day was downhill and we passed under a waterfall as we headed down.
It's not a good time to be a Japanese tourist in China.

There were some amusing signs in Lijiang advising the people how to live a more civilized life and some general pointers on life.
Then for good measure they added a note about shopping.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world and is the setting for some beautiful hiking. The Jinsha River cuts through it and the top of Haba Mountain rises 3,900 meters above the water level. I caught a bus from Lijiang to the start of the hike, stored some luggage and then proceeded on the 6-hour hike to the halfway point. The day was perfect for a hike with blue sky and great scenery.
In 1933 James Hilton wrote Lost Horizon which told the story of 4 travellers who were hijacked and crashed in a mountain utopia. The book describes the place as being southwest from Peking (now Beijing) for many months until you get to a market town near Tibet. The town of Zhongdian claimed that the City in question was theirs and started a tourist campaign resulting in renaming the City Shangri-La. There are a number of other Cities in the area claiming the book referenced their City so it is in dispute but I visited what is at least partially accepted now as Shangri-La.

On my first night I went out to a Tibet style restaurant and had a hot pot consisting of spices with yak meat. You then add mushrooms, leafy greens and tofu. It was delicious.
It appears that the television show Friends is popular here as they also have a Central Perk in Shangri-La.
The Tibetan influence is unmistakable with the prayer wheel in the center of the Old Town.
Shangri-La is home to the world's largest prayer wheel. The wheel had straps on the base that were spaced about 5 feet apart. All day people would grab hold and spin the wheel 3 times in a clockwise manner. It was very heavy and required at least 10 people to get the wheel moving. The designs on the wheel were interesting as they included swastikas around the base. The origins of the symbol go back over 5,000 years and have been used in Indian religions including Hinduism and Buddhism. The word in the original text means, "to be good" which is ironic considering it was adopted as a symbol of the Aryan race by the Nazis in Germany.
Here is a typical street in Shangri-La with the prayer flags raised overhead.
I heard this place had good yak soup but I decided to pass.
I had hoped to continue north to get right on the Tibet border but was running out of time on my visa. The first week of October is a National holiday in China and with hundreds of millions on the move it was not easy getting buses so when I found one to go south to Dali I decided to take it.

The City of Dali is blessed with a stunning location, sandwiched between the 4,000-meter high Green Mountains and Erhai Lake. The main inhabitants of the region are Bai who number about 1.5 million and are thought to have settled in the area about 3,000 years ago. It is another one of the must see cities so popular with the Chinese and once again the tour groups were out in full force.

Dali is best known for the Three Pagodas, some of the oldest standing structures in southwest China. The Pagodas are made of brick and covered with white mud and are rare examples of ancient Buddhist architecture. The Three Pagodas were originally built to deter dragons that were believed to inhabit the local swamp. In 1925, a severe earthquake in the Dali area destroyed all but one building in Dali but the Three Pagodas survived undamaged.

Here are the Three Pagodas.
The Pagodas form the entranceway to the Chongsheng Temple. There are a series of temples connected by steps and gardens and make for a nice walk.
I am now back in Kunming and on October 5th will fly to Bangkok. I plan to go skydiving for a day and then on October 13th fly to Nepal to do a series of hikes. I hope to start with the famous Annapurna Circuit that will take 3 weeks and then after some rest in Kathmandu will tackle the Everest Base Camp hike that will take me to 16,000 feet and provide a view of Mount Everest. That will be a spectacular way to end my trip.