Sunday, 9 March 2014

Further Up and Further In

As I said, keeping to form, I nearly missed the bus to Lijiang. Leaving the hostel only a few minutes later than intended, one taxi refused my fare, three buses passed by without stopping, and a second taxi. Finally, one taxi stopped for me, and was sufficiently willing to understand me. Fortunately, I knew where the bus station I needed was and was able to direct him with gestures when he asked (similarly with gestures, thankfully!), as I couldn’t pronounce the Chinese required to tell him the name.

Arriving at the bus station, with only minutes before my one-per-day, 24 hour long bus journey, I had not expected to be confronted by security to equal that of any airport. People were standing over emptied suitcases, all belongings scattered in piles on the floor, hastily repacking. It was a great relief when the security guards simply glared at me a bit for being late, and allowed me through.

The journey was uneventful, save for serving as my introduction to Chinese public toilets. Service stations do not really exist in China. There are simply laybys with two or three houses - each serving dual duty as either a corner shop or a noodle bar - and a public toilet. I can’t speak for the gents, but the ladies’ is simply a single trough in a concrete floor. If you’re lucky, there will be four or five small walls built across the trough that you can squat behind to preserve a modicum of modesty, but this is not always the case. There is no water – whether running or, as would be the case in southeast asia, in a bucket – with which to flush the trough. Instead, the waste simply piles up throughout the day, and can become truly vile with travel sickness, sanitary products and everything else you can imagine gathering in small piles. Flies are everywhere. A clue to the cleaning method is given on the way in, as this usually involves passing by a pig pen of noisy, hairy, filthy hogs, grunting and snorting – possibly in anticipation of, or even thanks for, their dinner.

Otherwise, I find the sleeper buses of Asia quite comfortable. I slept well, except for the more dicey mountain roads when a short sharp lightning storm made for some fun swaying along narrow twisting roads. We pulled in to a truck stop at around 3am, and judging by the panicked alacrity with which the driver rose from his bed and resumed his seat at 7am (the time we were meant to arrive in Lijiang), this was the only cause for delay to the journey.
When I next woke at about 8.30, I was greeted by my first view of the Himalayas.

I spent 4 nights in Lijiang while I decided where to go next, and tried to find someone else who would be trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge. For a few days, everyone I met was coming south having completed it already, so while they were able to reassure me that the gear I had with me would be sufficient, it wasn’t much help for having company on the trail. Even with the reassurance, I didn’t fancy heading out on my own, just in case.
Finally, I decided to do it anyway, and that evening in a bar with people from my hostel met Scott – a Scotsman who’d been working in Shanghai for a few years, and was now travelling China before returning to near-Aberdeen (I forget exactly where – sorry Scott). He wasn’t sure if he’d be going, but we swapped numbers, and agreed to walk it together if he did go. The next day he called to confirm he’d be going, and we arranged to meet at the hostel at the start of the trail.

Four days in Lijiang was otherwise spent wandering around the historical areas of the city, taking photos of oddly-dressed dogs, looking at things I couldn’t afford, and drinking coffee because the tea was far too expensive. As the pu’er producing region, Yunnan tea houses all charge about ten dollars for a cup of tea, and nearly $20 for a pot. Even if it isn’t the really good tea. That’s extra.

Have some photos

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