A 2-day trekking route through cliffs, rivers and lost villages
During my trip to Lijiang I escaped a couple of days of trekking to Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡), which turned out to be the best I have seen from China so far.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge is the name given to the canyons of the Yangtze River. They are located 60km from Lijiang, in the Chinese province of Yunnan. They have the privilege of being the highest river canyons in the world reaching up to 2000 meters of altitude. Legend says that a tiger to escape from a hunter jumped from side to side of the canyon at its narrowest point (25-30m). Hence the name.
How to get to the Tiger Leaping Gorge?
From Lijiang there are two ways to get there. One, the one that all Chinese people do; take a car and go directly to the lowest point of the Tiger Leaping Gorge, take a few pictures and go back.
And another, the one that all foreigners do; take a minivan that leaves you right in the Ticket Office (you have to pay 50 Rmb) and from there walk two days between mountains, cliffs and villages lost in the company of the Yangtze River until you go down to the lowest point of the banks of the river. The second option is undoubtedly the most exciting, the most beautiful and also the most exhausting. The choice was clear!
At any hostel in Lijiang you can sign up for one of the minivans heading for the Tiger Leaping Gorge. From Lijiang to the starting point it will take you approximately 1 hour 30 minutes. Once you pay the entrance ticket the adventure begins. (I know, I don’t understand either why they make you pay for walking on the mountain).
It is easy to follow the hiking route. You will only have to look at the map very occasionally to know more or less where you are and how much you have left. In addition, you will almost always be accompanied by a couple of villagers with their donkeys ready to take you and/or your backpack in case of exhaustion. They are quite useful for older people or for those who travel with a lot of luggage. If you need them, give them some advice, negotiate and bargain as much as you can, although you’ll need someone who speaks Chinese for that.
Tiger Leaping Gorge Trekking
First day of route
As I was travelling alone, I had to make friends and look for companions because I didn’t want to do all the hiking route alone. I began the journey through the Tiger Leaping Gorge accompanying those who were with me in the minivan; an American couple and an Englishman.
In the first part of the road with them the conversations and laughter shone for their absence. The important thing was to go fast and not stop for more than a second to take a picture or enjoy the scenery. We started walking around 10 a.m. and arrived at the first Naxi village before 12 noon. Everyone usually stops there to eat.
My companions decided not to do it so I took the opportunity to stay and try to meet another group. I immediately joined a group of four English guys, an American and his Chinese girlfriend. All were my age. Without a doubt I did well, with them the trip was more enjoyable and fun.
We continued our uphill climb and went to the hardest stretch, the “28 curves”, which consists of climbing the peak of a mountain 2670 meters high. The climb is hard, but once you reach the highest point of the road you realize that just for the views of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山) has been worth the trip.
From there, start the descent to the Half Way Guest House and the countdown to get there before dark. This hostel is the most common place to spend the night to be, as its name suggests, just halfway and to have the most spectacular views.
Tiger Leaping Gorge Trekking
Second day of route
The next day at 9 a.m. we started again. The last stop before arriving is at Tina’s Guest House, about 2 hours away. At Tina’s Guest House, apart from stopping for lunch, you can buy a return ticket to Lijiang or a ticket to Shangrila. Once we have finished eating and bought my return ticket to Lijiang, we start the last descent, the most vertical, towards the throat.
After a rather dizzying descent we finally reached the lowest point of the gorge. Thanks to a mini bridge (not very safe at first sight), you can stand on a giant rock right in the middle of the river rapids.
It’s very impressive to be between those huge mountains and just a few meters from those noisy rapids. However, when you return, you realize that, like many other things, in the end the most important and rewarding thing was not the final destination but the entire journey.
Home is now behind you, the world is ahead.
– J. R. R. Tolkien –