Friday, 10 June 2011

Week 30 Lijiang to Shangrila 310 kms cycled

Highlights: Tiger Leaping Gorge
Low blows: Ridiculous park entry fee, Bit of rain
Music of the week:  Talking John Birch Blues – Bob Dylan

Lijiang    Quest for the Visa office Pt 2.
Had some boulder sized dumplings for bf in resto next door and then set off a few kms up road to visa office. The entry gate was still there, but the grounds inside were just rubble. Asked guard where new building was and he was pointing just behind but I could tell he didn’t know. Went up road a bit and decided to go into posh hotel to ask for help. Disinterested desk staff, despite showing them Whats the address of the PSB? And please call them? from my phrasebook were reluctant to help. A bellboy was called who spoke a bit of English, but it took a lot of persuasion to get them just to pick up the phone and call a police office to ask. Girl handed me the phone and like all Chinese offices Ive dealt with so far the person on the other end just says ‘hello’ and doesn’t tell you where they are. After several variations of me asking ‘is this the PSB office’’ it was clear the person on other ends English was limited. Eventually I got them to call the correct office (number was located on a list within 4cm reach of receptionists hand) they gave me a phone number, but I explained an address would be better written in Chinese, so eventually that was elicited too. This took 30 mins.
Luckily Lijiang is a small town so soon found the office located down an alleyway. Went in and lucky to have a fluent English speaker there. I said I was very happy to meet him and he said ‘the bad news is this isn’t the correct office’. This guy was clever, understood the admin procedure and was helpful so 1st he checked if I was registered on computer – I wasn’t! After he’d called the gh to tell them how to register me, I went there, which fortunately was just around corner. Woman didn’t know how to use computer, so after 20 mins of me trying to log info, she got a young Chinese guy, who brought up another screen for foreign registration and filled in my details for me. Hurrah! Decided to go back round corner and check if details were in computer – they weren’t. Helpful bloke said first Id have to register at police station and get a certificate, than I could go to visa office.
He called ahead to tell them I was coming and using an arial photo in police office I could see it wasn’t far away, 2 blocks from gh in fact. Went there straight away clutching a slip of paper with address on it. The bloke had already typed the required form out for me so all the police station had to do was stamp it, which they did in less than 5 mins. Visa office was another 2 blocks up road but closed for lunch till 3pm. Started to rain so had lunch then back to gh. Visa office empty at 3pm and did all admin with no probs .Told to come back on Wednesday for visa.
Went for a wander around the old town. First went through a large busy market, cobbled streets filthy from downpour and mkt dirt. Had some bananas. Then along more cobbled streets into town, pedestrian sight seeers increasing in number as I neared the main square.  Lots of beautiful ‘old’ buildings (now either gh’s with lovely courtyards or shops selling tourist stuff –tea, cd’s, clothes, handbags, jewelry and charms, restaurants, travel agents), winding narrow cobbled streets and alleyways, narrow irrigation channels carrying fresh water, lined with weaping willow trees, and small stone bridges here and there.  Staff and local people looking a bit frazzled from the sheer volume of tourists although I suspect its quiet at the moment, must be a nightmare during peak time. Asked the prices in a few ghs but all 100Y up, so better off where I am as only 15mins walk into old town and food a lot cheaper too.
Found a Giant bike shop opposite local brand Merida shop, both fully equipped shops near my gh, ironic that the Merida shop has the best selection of clothing Ive seen so far, stocking everything I needed a long time ago!

Where the visa office used to be

Had a wander round the old town in morning. Main streets not so busy. Some dancing by Naxi women in town square. They look a bit like bakers in their trad dress of blue apron and pudding cloth cap, some holidaying Chinese joining in the dance. Wandered up a lovely section from square up main water channel heading towards waterwheels. Lots of weeping willow trees and quaint houses (as are everywhere), now all bars, resto’s, and tea shops - tea sold in cheese-like rounds wrapped in crepe paper. Wedding couples being photographed at various places around the town. Both squares had blokes on horseback in traditional costume for fee paying photo opps, also a few old guys with large birds of prey perched on their gloved hand and forearms.
Hats off to the people who designed built and ran this town, so beautiful and functional, especially the water supply coming from a fresh source from nearby hills and running through town. People still use this water. There are a few well areas in city organized into 3 pools. 1st one used for drinking is separated from other two by a wall, 2nd for washing veg, and third for washing clothes. Dongba people also have their own hieroglyphic writing system. Amusing to see the local firestation full of dinky sized vehicles and small ATVs, the only thing that would fit down the narrow alleyways here.  Some food stalls doing a roaring trade in old town but everything marked up.

Is that a red panda hat?  Bored opportunists in the main square

Naxi hieroglyphics warning against the consumption of too much booze

Builders bums at  local wells number 2 (veg washing) and 3 (clothes etc)

A quiet street in the old town

Naxi ladies having a dance in the town square

Dinky toys at the fire station

Lijiang to Qiaotou  123km cycled
Picked up new visa and set off by 10, heading north out of town. Planned to take the road from Lijiang North to Daju and enter Tiger Leaping Gorge that way. Followed super straight road over barren landscape passing some cheesey tourist attraction billed as a Dongba village, but looks like it had just been built there, as a huge courtyard leading to ticket booth and souvenir people hanging around waiting for coaches to arrive. 19km out of town came to a huge toll booth. Turns out the area to the North is a AAAAA tourist spot and if you want to take this road you have to pay 220Y!! Talked for workers for a while explaining I didn’t want to see any of the ‘sights’ labeled on the ticket and just wanted access on the road. Asked to see supervisor to see if owt could be done but they wouldn’t budge. Didn’t want to pay it plus dark black clouds overhead and all surrounding hillside tops obscured by low cloud, so couldn’t see point of paying this amount esp if I wasn’t going to be able to see anything anyway. Rain starting, so out ran it on downhill back to Lijiang. Now 1pm. Had noodles then set off on ring road through farmland. Soon heading into hills along busy road. Easy enough ride past large lake and planted fields. Sun came out. Nice long downhill, around switchback road, good views of Yangtze river in bottom of valley, which I eventually rode alongside. Some construction going on sections of this road too, so a bit dusty in parts, but mostly easy smooth slight downhill. V hot in this valley, Yangtze is a big river.
Arrived at Qiaotou about 5:30, found a nice gh first try, lovely room 50Y no haggling! Went and ate up the road, bought bananas on way back to gh then indoors as storm from overhead black clouds finally blew in to clear the muggy air.
Distances on my map are wrong cos the ride from Lijiang all the way here is only 72km.

All ye who pass shall pay 22 quid

Qiaotou to Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge  21km cycled
No beeping traffic, no Chinese rapping on doors or shouting into phones = slept like a log. Wandered around mkt, lots of fresh veg for sale including some massive green stretched oval pumpkin/melon type things, maybe force grown as slightly triangular in shape, nectarines and other fruit. Lots of pork being chopped up with axes and other blunt instruments, and funny to see spare space utilized by pool tables with games being played nearby.
Set off 10:30. Entry 50Y then down into valley, stopping at a mechanics house for a bit of oil for the chain. Some snowy peaks, peeping out of clouds. Road followed river but soon started climbing making it hot work in the sun. Lots of busses speeding along to the upper rapids where I arrived at 12ish. Locked bike to some railings away from melee of people then made my way down the flights of stairs to rapids. An impressive sight the river being forced into a raging sea of water as the course narrowed. Water pounding against a massive triangular boulder in middle of river. Gawped for a while then headed back up the long stairs, groups of panting Chinese on every bend, one who looked like he wanted to throw up had even stopped for a cig. Sedan chairs for those who couldn’t be bothered walking also made their way up through the throng.
Back on bike and continued along the valley, road peppered with fallen rocks in parts. Big drop off to right so had to be careful with my gawping around at the beautiful scenery. Seems most of tour buses only go to 1st rapids so road pleasantly quiet. Road going up again. Eventually arrived at 1:30 at middle section of gorge. Found a place to stay with an amazing view from glass walled bedroom straight up the valley. 60Y Bridge Café and GH. Had some lunch, lounged in room for a bit then headed down to the middle section of rapids. Had to pay another 10Y to the people who’d made the path. Path twisted and turned down steep hillside, clung to edges of cliff and and steel ladders down sheer faces in sections, wobbly legs from exertion. Middle rapids thundering away down below, several drink stations along the way manned by old women/blokes. Spurred on beneath a section with warning sign ‘falling rocks, quickly’, through a bamboo wooded bit then down onto boulders and rocks above the river. Wooden ladder gave access to a viewing point on a flattened out rock area. Stood at gawped at the rapids, the river dropping several meters, its course narrowing and the massive force of water churning, slamming, bursting, raging between the walls of rock. An impressive sight. A bit further on the gorge widened and the river calmed down again, flowing between the massive cliff sides. There was also a bridge leading to a large rock in the middle but the gate to it was locked. Turns out some tourists were killed a few years ago when the river was high and they slipped in. Headed back up same way and it was actually easier to go up than down. Washed smelly clothes, showered and ate. A massive storm blew in, the valley below disappearing in a blanket of grey rain. Thunder and lightning too.

Something for everyone at the market

The start of Tiger leaping gorge as the Yangtze river is funnelled between the mountains

Good idea to keep your eyes on the road

The first set of rapids with huge house sized boulder in the middle

Sedan chairs available for hire

A churning mass of energy

THE room with a view

Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge to Baishuitai   68km cycled
Had omelet for bf, then said goodbye and headed off downhill down valley. Walnut grove was an interesting settlement with some fields and several houses. Mustve been a real sanctuary to live here long ago. End of gorge really interesting geology with massive almost vertical slabs of rock. Could see where there used to be a lake at end too, before river cut its way deeper into the gorge. Really hot as soon as out of gorge so changed and put on cream then start of a uphill stretch to km33. Bought some snacks from village then steady gradient winding its way up through farmland and higher up pine trees and shrubs, scent of pine in air from piles of fresh cut wood, a few squirrels running across the road. Irrigation channel water gushing down vertical channels. Lots of butterflies flitting about. Snow topped mtns just visible amidst condensing vapour forming fluffy white clouds. Was hoping the village higher up would have some food, but no shops in sight. Road flattened out so had a rest laid out in shade of a tree, chatted with some Chinese cyclists Id passed earlier and they said another 10km to food.  Flat section for a few kms then the last bit of uphill, passing a gang of cows wandering in the road, mothers looking protective of young calves. Surprised by a downhill section, whizzing by and saying hello to large group of western cyclists on holiday coming up hill. Village in sight, terraces farmland of greens, and yellows as barley rice, veg, corn and potatoes grown on fertile slopes flowing down from mtn.
Stopped in 1st resto I saw, a woman chopping up a leg of lamb. I pointed to it and said yum and she directed me to a pot on the fire– what a treat lamb stew for lunch! This resto decorated by flags of groups who’d been up the nearby 5600mpeak, today shrowded in cloud with increasingly darkening skies. Set off after a good rest, uphill out of village past local garbage dump and a herd of goats munching lazily amongst the pickings, then more downhill, impressive grey rocky peaks in distance. Road then skirted edge of lovely area of farmland, villagers drying out barley on huge wooden frames in the yard. Stopped off for rest overlooking another village further on and pleasantly surprised to have arrived at Baishuitai. Woman in resto had said it was another 60km, but it had been only 28km more (not complaining!).   Found a place to stay, log cabin 20Y for bed and had the place to myself.
Had some food in a less flyblown resto than my place and chatted with a Chinese bloke living in Bejing, then went for a wander round the village with him. Busy Naxi village with locals harvesting golden barley, transporting it to drying racks on their backs, via horseback or with tok toks. Helped a family bring in some new furniture theyd bought in Shangrila, some low shelving for next to TV.

Bottom of Tiger Leaping Gorge

Haba village and Snow mountain in background

Freshly cut barley drying on racks

Baishuitai to Jiligu   55km cycled
Had fried rice for bf, bit of a light rain shower too with sun still out, resto people covered up the long rows of fern tips they were drying out to sell, then a look round the limestone terraces just up from the gh. The old, now grey deposits themselves were quite extensive, but only a smaller area of off-yellow terraces with pools of water existed. Interesting to see people harvesting barley in a nearby field, the bloke going at it with a petrol strimmer, while the women gathered it up into sheaves and put it on the back of horses.
Set off cycling about 10, sun already hot. 15km uphill lots of pretty alpine flowers and blossoming rhododendrons, sky darkened and grey sheet of rain came over mtn and across to where I was. Put on jacket and decided to carry on as waiting here was directly in path whereas the road seemed to be heading out of the way. Passed some Chinese cyclists huddled in a doorway, but Id rather ride then sit freezing, their mates further up road too emerged from a building as rain began to subside. Rain stopped thankfully just as started a short downhill section. Up again through a small village, no food or shop, then another short downhill to Annan village at km25, which did have a shop! Put on dry warm clothes and had pot noodle with an egg in it for lunch.
Sun now hot, so damp clothes back on to dry as I plod on uphill again for rest of day until top of pass at km40, this road has very little traffic, only a few vehicles all day so a really pleasant ride. Storm clouds gathering again and me tired so glad to be nearing end of ride. Some blokes herding goats as I put on warm clothes for good downhill, village in view below. A few women sat at edge of road with the huge black kite like hats as I whizzed by.
The roadside kilometer stone read 48km as I entered village. Asked some women with baskets on their backs where gh was and they pointed up road. A bus pulled up just as I got there and the two girls from the Chinese group got off with their bikes. There were only 5 beds and six of us altogether, ok though cos the couple would share one of the beds. Started to rain. Bagsied a bed, ate a pot noodle, had a basin wash, put on warmer clothes, and drank tea as we waited for rest of group to arrive which they eventually did about 2 hours later. Rain didn’t last long so pleasant to sit in sun chatting.
We all had  dinner together, drank rice wine and chatted huddled around warm stove with owner woman. Bed 10pm. Used sleeping bag cos sheets didn’t look like theyd been changed in a long while. 15Y per person.
Using traditional and modern methods to harvest barley

Limestone terraces at Baishuitai overlook the start of another long uphill

My roomates for the night outside our hotel, Chinese cyclists heading for Lhasa

Jiligu to Shangrila   47km cycled
Had pot noodle and 4 boiled eggs for bf before all setting off together at 10:30. Fairly easy uphill for 9km, chatted with one of group on way up and we waited for others to catch up. Fast downhill for 5kms or so. Stopped to look at 7 vultures/eagles circling around near a herd of Yak before getting higher and higher on thermals. No carcass lying about so maybe trying to poach a calf? Tourist attraction along the way, a large lake, meant loads of traffic from thereafter with the obligatory honking horns, black diesel fumes, and all the things Id so pleasantly missed for last few days. Gradient gradual downhill nearly all way passing huge Tibetan homes, adobe sides and ornately carved eaves on the front with massive supporting pillars.
Arrived Shangrila (ShanGorilla as locals pronounce it) 1:30. Had noodles then found a place to stay in the old town. Room 50Y. Had a long hot shower then went for a wander. Lots of traditional houses along windy lanes, all serving the tourist industry. Met up with cyclists in main square where some dancing was going on, went for drinks, then back to their gh for more drinks. Came back midnight pretty drunk.
Rooftop view of hilltop temple and giant automated spinning gold prayer wheel in Shangrila old town

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