Our last stop on our Chinese adventure was Yunnan province. Tiger Leaping Gorge was our first stop on our visit to Yunnan. We had decided that we wanted to do the hike from Qiotou to the middle gorge and that we were not going to rush it so that we could take our time to soak up the scenery.
Day 1: Qiaotou to Tea Horse Guesthouse
Our bus from Lijiang dropped us off at around 10am and we headed off towards the trail in one big informal group. Unfortunately the entrance to the trail is currently blocked off due to construction work so a detour was required up and down a big hill on a path that wasn’t particularly obvious. Fortunately we were flanked by the horsemen who are keen to relieve you of the effort of either carrying your bag or even you own body weight by putting it on their horse (for a fee of course!). They very helpfully guided us through this detour until we rejoined the main trail.
Come lunch time we stopped at the Naxi Family Guesthouse to refuel ready for the 28 bends that still lay ahead of us. At this point our informal group shed a few people who were keen to push onto Tina’s Guesthouse by the end of the day.
After a very satisfying lunch Alan and I teamed up with two lovely Canadian sisters (have you ever noticed it is impossible to find a Canadian who isn’t really nice?!?) and we pushed on to the 28 bends together.
The 28 bends is the most challenging part of the walk as it is the steepest part taking you up to the highest point on the walk. Just before the 28 bends commenced we came across a drinks stall where we were assured there was no more water for 3 hours after her stall. We didn’t quite believe her but restocked just in case. We weren’t however as interested in some of the other products she was selling!:
Apparently she smokes it every day and it gives her strength!
After a very sweaty climb to the top we were rewarded with spectacular views.
Once over the top we were mercifully granted some shade for the rest of the afternoon. All four of us were starting to look a little pink despite wearing sun cream, it was far hotter than I had imagined it would be in November!
We descended carefully along the path until we reached Tea Horse Guesthouse. Alan and I called it a day at this point, the guesthouse looked nice and it had a terrace offering amazing views of the gorge. We didn’t fancy carrying on any further as we were in no hurry to finish walking through this spectacular countryside.
Day 2: Tea Horse Guesthouse to Tibet Guesthouse via the Bamboo Forest
The next day we were woken by the sun coming up giving us a great view of the gorge at sunrise from the comfort of our bed. The sisters had carried on further the night before to cover more ground so it was just Alan and I for day 2.
The second day would have been a very short one if we had walked to Tina’s via the main route, so we opted to go via the Bamboo Forest to make it a bit longer.
Before we reached the turning for the Bamboo Forest we were treated to more spectacular views and a much easier walk compared to the previous day.
Just before the path descends down the hill to rejoin the road to take you to Tina’s, there is another path marked up with freshly marked green arrows which takes you along the top of the hill and into a smaller gorge (not sure if that is the correct name…) off of the main gorge. These green arrows assist you the whole way through the Bamboo Forest making sure you stay on the right path.
To begin with this path was nice and wide with no steep drops. A bit further on a few sheer drops started to appear next to the path, but that didn’t worry us too much as we had seen similar on the main path. A bit further still I walked through a rather large spider web crossing the path complete with a rather large spider sitting in the middle of it. It was at this point we realised we were the first people to walk through there that day.
Eventually the path spat us out next to the water edge. We could see a bridge to cross the rapidly flowing water, but it was above us.
We scrambled up the bank to the bridge. It didn’t look too healthy to be honest. This is probably the point that we should have turned back… But we didn’t. I went first across the bridge, crawling on all fours in case a bit of wood gave way beneath me so at least I would have three more points of contact on the bridge. Alan followed in a similar manner. Having made it safely across with no mishaps we both agreed there was no going back now. Neither of us fancied crossing that bridge again!
We now had the problem of going up. Sounds easy, right? Well, the ground wasn’t very solid. It was a sort of sandy surface that meant you slipped around a lot as you lost your footing. After a few zig zags up the hill we agreed that now there was definitely no going back now. Going down could well have been lethal. At least if we fell going up we wouldn’t have the momentum to give gravity all it needed to take us down to the bottom in a sticky mess.
After what seemed like hundreds of turns, although I’m sure it wasn’t that many, and a few pant wettingly scary moments when the path did give way beneath us, we made it to the top. At this point we finally admitted truthfully to each other how scared we had been. Definitely no going back now!
We followed the path past herds of bemused goats who looked surprised to see us until it reached an irrigation channel.
The path then followed the irrigation channel which took us to a small village. We went past a farmhouse with a psychotic dog literally hurling itself against the chain holding it back in an attempt to come savage us. I was relieved it was chained up and also silently praying that the chain was of a good standard so that it would remain so!
We then had a quick refuel at the Walnut Garden Guesthouse and a planning session on how to get down to the main road as we were at this point much higher up than we had anticipated. From the map we had we could see that there was a road down the mountain that would take us to the main road. Perfect!
We headed past the other side of the farmhouse with the psychotic dog. It tried once more to get at us, but the chain was holding fast thankfully. It gave up barking and we carried on. The scenery was beautiful, the fields to our left were staggered terraces and coming up on our right there was a cow sitting next to the road sedately chewing grass. It was all picture perfect.
As we drew closer to the cow it clambered to its feet. And then it charged at us! Naturally we both turned round and ran for it, much to the delight of the dog who started chucking itself against its chain again barking and making the most awful noise at us.
The good news was that the cow was tethered by its nose to a rope which restricted its range and brought it to a halt. The bad news was that it transpired that the cow was not a cow, but a rather irate bull. The other bad news was that the rope was long enough for the bull to block off the width of the path.
This presented us with a problem. There was no way we were going to go back through the Bamboo Forest. We were stupid enough to have done it once, there was no way we were going to tempt fate by going back. We scoped out the terraced field below us to see if we could get past the bull through the field. Although we could get down into the field there was no way to get back out at the other side so that wasn’t an option. We toyed with the idea of going back to the irrigation channel and seeing if we could cut across somehow. This didn’t seem too clever either though as it would take us off of marked paths and who knows what peril we would have been faced with next.
So we stood there for ages trying to work out what to do. The dog continued to bark, growl and thrash on its chain. The bull continued to stare at us blocking our path. Stalemate.
We decided to turn our back on the bull and creep slowly away to see what it would do. Eventually it lost interest in us and returned to the grassy patch on the right hand side. A plan was hatched by us. We would one by one creep past it in a calm manner and hope not to draw its attention. The path wasn’t wide enough for us to go side by side, and if we went at the same time and needed to run for it we needed space to be able to sprint without getting in each other’s way. We would have to go one by one and we would start this creeping past when it wasn’t looking.
I went first. After a deep breath to steady my nerves I crept past it without looking directly at it, keeping sight of it in my peripheral vision. I kept it together until I had just got past it and then broke into a sprint. The bull gave chase and once more the path was blocked with me on one side of the bull and Alan on the other. That was fine, it was kind of what we had expected to happen. We just had to wait for it to get bored again so Alan could pass.
Except the bull wouldn’t take its eyes off of me and get off the path. It was clearly miffed that I had managed to get past it. I kept walking further and further away hoping it would lose interest leaving Alan further away trapped behind the bull. Eventually when it lost sight of me due to the bend in the road it decided to go back to grazing. Now it was Alan’s turn. Like me, he crept past initially before breaking into a sprint for safety. Weirdly though the bull didn’t bat an eyelid and just carried on grazing and didn’t give chase!
We carried on down the hill after this and drank in the views relieved to be on a sensible road and not being threatened any more by the local animal population!
Once we made it safely down to the road, we walked in the opposite direction to Tina’s towards Walnut Garden village. As we passed by the Tibet Guesthouse they beckoned us in to have a look. We are very glad we did! The accommodation was so clean and comfortable with amazing views across the gorge. We were the only guests there so we were treated to their full attention as well as some incredible home cooked meals. We sat on their terrace with a few beers that evening taking in the peace and quiet after what had turned out to be a much more eventful day than the one we had planned!
Day 3: Middle Gorge
After a delicious breakfast of steamed buns for Alan and honey baba for me we headed back along the road towards Tina’s guesthouse. We booked our ticket back to Lijiang before heading down into the middle gorge.
The walk down took about 40 minutes. The views on the way were nowhere near as spectacular as the previous 2 days, but once we reached the bottom we had sight of the raging water we had been able to hear for so long but had not been able to see properly until now.
Then it was time to head back up the way we came (we didn’t fancy the “shortcut” ladder that looked a bit steep and treacherous, we had made it this far unscathed, no need to threaten that accomplishment at this late stage!). Once at the top it was time for lunch at Tina’s before boarding the bus back to Lijiang.
What we have learnt/would do differently/general advice:
1) If attempting this walk, don’t do it in anything less than perfect weather and certainly not after it has rained recently. The path can, and does, give way. To attempt it after/during rain would be incredibly stupid and verging on the suicidal. We were fortunate to have gone when it was bone dry and under optimum conditions.
2) Bamboo Forest doesn’t seem like a particularly well trodden path. We wouldn’t do it again after our experience and personally we would advise others not to attempt it. If you were particularly desperate to do it then definitely check with someone local, like a guesthouse, if it is safe to do so or maybe do it with a guide. If something untoward had happened to us then I very much doubt anyone would have found us that day. It was stupid of us not to check if it was ok, but it was in the guidebook so it sounded ok. Lesson learnt for anything like this we attempt in the future.
3) Wear suncream! And bring a sun hat (which I didn’t do, so had to steal Alan’s when the top of my head started burning).
4) Take plenty of water. We were getting through 3 litres a day between us while walking, and November isn’t the hottest time to be doing this walk.
5) Don’t over load yourself with stuff. We left most of our luggage in our hostel in Kunming taking smaller backpacks with us for the walk. This made it easier. One guy in our initial group on the first day had a ginormous backpack and not much water. I was concerned he was going to keel over in the heat.
6) Wear sensible walking shoes/boots. Good grip on our boots kept us safe on the slippery bits and we would have been lost without them.
7) The maps the guest houses provide are very rough, don’t expect anything that is even approaching Ordnance Survey standard! Times they provide on them to get between distances should be taken with a pinch of salt, after all they are encouraging you to come to their particular guesthouse so might downplay or overplay times accordingly to encourage you to their place over a rivals.
8) Take your time. Enjoy the scenery and don’t rush!