Gorges, lakes and Pandas in Western China…

From Lijiang we travelled to Qiáotóu, where we began our two day trek through the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The trek was a tough two days of incredibly steep trails and walking at altitude, but the scenery was stunning. In places we hiked precariously along narrow rock ledges on the side of the gorge. On the opposite side was a vast wall of snow capped peaks which reached 3900m. Often the drop below us was over 1500m, so we had to be pretty careful as there were no safety barriers! Michael Palin did the same trek as part of his Himalaya series and stayed in the next guest house along from us. If you saw it, you might remember it as the place with a “loo with a view.” The gorge was so deep that it was hard to fit it all into one picture and do justice to the grandeur of the scenery. To get an idea of the scale, just look carefully for Alex in the first picture below! We finished the trek with a few blisters and aching muscles and returned to Lijiang to collect our rucksacks, before taking a 14 hour bus trip to our next destination, Lake Lugu.

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Our journey to Lake Lugu took us through hours of changing scenery and settlements. Rural China is completely different from urban China. The cities are very developed and the people are affluent and westernised, but in the countryside people are much poorer and many live subsistence lifestyles, akin with much of rural Asia. Yunnan Province has the biggest diversity of ethnic minorities in China and we saw many different people in traditional dress on our journey. One of the biggest groups in the area are the Naxi people, where the women wear huge square headdresses and are in charge of matriarchal family structures. The vast countryside is also interspersed with ghost towns. China spent its way through the global economic crisis, through state-led spending on construction. It expanded its extensive transport infrastructure of roads, bridges and railways and built new settlements; many of which are half finished and still waiting for people to move in.

We spent a few days at Lake Lugu, a serene and scenic lake surrounded by pine trees. The water was so still that it reflected the clouds just like a mirror. We stayed right on the edge of the lake and from our window we could watch local ladies walking around a stupa spinning prayer wheels. The village we stayed in was right on the border of Sichuan Province and whilst we were there we had our first taste of Sichuan Pepper. If you haven’t tried it before, it’s a fragrant/ aromatic ingredient, which gives your mouth a numb/ tingling feeling. It’s a little bit like eating popping candy, but the tingling feeling covers your whole mouth and the food it was in was delicious!

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From Lake Lugu, we travelled North to Xichang and then on to Chengdu. The highlight of our trip to Chengdu was visiting the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, which has the largest captive population of Pandas in the world. The Pandas were really interesting to watch and were a lot more active than we were expecting. The base also had a population of Red Pandas, although these aren’t actually related to Giant Pandas.

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Chengdu is a very modern city and we stayed near the centre. Whilst we were there we also visited the Wûhóu Temple, the old alleyways of Jînlî Gûjiē and the People’s Park, which was full of the usual public dancing and boating lakes which seem to be common across Chinese cities. A new sight for us was seeing people feeding fish using babies’ bottles on sticks!

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From Chengdu we had two days of train travel to reach our next destination. We took a sleeper train North through the ever changing landscapes of gritty cities, lush rice paddies, sheer mountains and deep gorges. We awoke to the arid dusty mountains of the North, studded with mud huts and Mosques. We broke our journey in Xining, before taking a second overnight sleeper train towards our next destination, Tibet…

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