I was up in the cold (zero degrees!) and dark, ready to catch a 7.30am bus to Qiaotou – at the tiger leaping gorge area.
It was a 3 hour drive around winding roads up into the mountains.
All the roads in this area were once part of the Tea-Horse Road. This is less well known than the Silk Road, but was equally important for trade. This road linked Southwest China (in particular Dali and Lijiang) with India, via Tibet, Burma, Laos and Nepal!
We drove up the huge gorge, following the path of the Yangzi river. After paying the £6.50 (why is everything so expensive here?) entrance fee, we carried along the road cut into the mountain side, driving inches away from certain death! Rock falls are frequent here, and plenty of evidence of recent falls – the road was littered with huge rock debris! It was so pretty!
The mountains of Lijiang on one side and of Shangrila on the other. All dropping down into the huge gorge, the white waters of the Yangze river swirling below.
This is one of the deepest gorges in the world, being 16km long and 3900m high, from the river at the bottom all the way up to the snowcapped mountains of Haba mountain. We stopped at the middle gorge section, near to the paths heading down to the river, where the tiger leaping stone is located. This rock is so called because apparently a tiger was once seen crossing the river by jumping on the stone! So the name stuck – The Tiger Leaping Gorge!
It was a long climb down. Down steep rocky steps, down dry muddy slopes and down metal rungs of ladders! The paths wound round and round and round. I could see the river far below and it always looked a long way away, but getting louder and louder with each strenuous step.
At each turn I thought it might flatten out for a while, but no, constant steep downhill. Being such an elephant I’m not sure how I made it without falling. And I had no idea how I was going to make it back up this sheer rock face again (I was really worried I wouldn’t make it back up – and worried I would miss the bus back!) and was close to turning around many times.
But as the river got closer and closer, I couldn’t turn around, what a waste of effort!
By the time I reached the bottom, I was already pretty knackered. But it was so pretty!! You could climb out onto the rocks and watch the river rush meters away from you.
The view, both ways up and down the gorge was amazing. The mountains either side towering above. It was beautiful. And actually well worth the effort to make it down. Some locals have recently built a wooden suspense bridge out onto a rock in the water. I went across the wobbly bridge, it was just amazing.
Photos can’t really capture the 360 degree views all around, up and down. But then, no other choice but the long way back up.
Looking up, it looked impossible.
The path only visible due to the flags marking the corners – a 90 degree upward climb. Oh no.
At various stations along the path, enterprising locals have set up mini rest areas and shops. These were a welcome sight! I cannot believe they do this walk every single day. They were selling a whole range of goodies, including openly advertising the bags of cannabis they had! I was a bit shocked!
Horses were stationed about half way back up. If you wanted to, you could hire a horse to walk you back. I couldn’t imagine anything worse – for me, being on the back of a horse is bad enough, without doing it up steep, slippery rocks, inches away from the edge of the mountain!! Those poor horses!
After being assured it was just a round trip ‘3 hour walk’, I thought that wouldn’t be too bad. Hardly! More like a 3.5 hour CLIMB!
I made it back up to the road at 2.30pm. The scenery was breathtaking. Literally. I couldn’t breathe!
The bus back to Lijiang left at 3.30pm. Back along the winding road along the side of the gorge. Just as pretty on the return. It was 7pm by the time we reached Lijiang, and I was exhausted!
But it was awesome.