Tiger Leaping Gorge
Well, we've temporarily lost our friend and guide Ian to the lack of reliable anti-malarial drugs in this part of China (he's currently in Thailand sorting that out), but we did get to spend a few days together in and around Kunming. We stayed with his friend Lexi in her Kunming apartment while we explored the city and discovered the wonder of Y20 (about $2.50) hour-long massages, and haircuts where they spend almost half an hour massaging and shampooing your scalp before they even reach for the scissors. (I just got the shampoo, but Ben and Ian came out looking quite sharp.) We also took an overnight trip down to the Stone Forest, a geological anomaly two hours south of the city that's been encompassed in a lovely park.
Though sad to lose Ian, it did give us the chance to travel up to the northern part of the Yunnan Province and hike Tiger Leaping Gorge, a stretch of the Yangzi River that's one of the deepest gorges in the world. It was one of the most wonderful things we've ever done. The gorge is just indescribably beautiful, and we got to spend three whole days hiking the high trail along one side of the mountains, stopping to sleep and eat at the lovely guest houses along the way. We also descended the steep path down to the river, where a spry little old lady led us out over a rickety bridge to the rock where a mythical tiger supposedly leapt the gorge.
Not only is the natural scenery of the gorge spectacular, but the human endeavors there are also quite amazing. Tiny farming villages dot the steep hillsides, and the terraces of crops are both impressive and beautiful. Even the infrastructural elements like telephone wires and water pipes that would normally seem to be a blight are such feats of engineering that they're more of a sight than an eyesore. Though the camera is a vastly inadequate tool for capturing the grandeur of the scenery, we did take a bazillion pictures and, sadly, unless you plan to visit China in the next couple years, that may be the most you'll ever see of the gorge. Despite international protest, China seems to be moving ahead with plans to dam the Yangzi, and that may spell the doom of this place. However, there's a flurry of new construction going on in the gorge, and tourism is booming, so we'll see if perhaps it will be saved in the end.
Right now we're in Zhongdian, a city very close to the Tibetan border. It's really cold, and really beautiful. Today we will visit a large Tibetan Buddhist monastery, and tomorrow we fly south to the lowland tropical city of Jinghong in the region of Xishuangbanna to reacquaint ourselves with heat and humidity. Then the current plan is to cross the border into Laos to meet up with Ian again before we scoot over to Thailand to chatch their new year's festival. Not sure when we'll next be able to update, so be well, everyone!