Stone marker for Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri-La, Yunnan
Day 2 on the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail and our bodies were still kinda tired from the previous day.
Ippy woke up at dawn when she heard some activity outside. She went out to the courtyard to take photos. It wasn't the best sunrise, seeing as there was an entire mountain blocking the sun but there were some nice colours:
She went back to bed and it wasn't until around 9:30 am when we both got up. We had slept in a bit due to fatigue. Ippy was a little sore. All the other groups had left already and we were alone. Ippy had a banana for breakfast and we set off.
Continuing the hike
The trail was a breeze from this point on. It was mostly flat but the scenery was stunning. The trail varied so much as we crossed through villages, waterfall sections and rocky outcrops. There were many more villages and farms here than earlier on the trail.
At 12:30 pm we reached Halfway guesthouse, which wasn't exactly located at the halfway point. We opted to have lunch here and the Korean group appeared out of nowhere! They were getting ready to leave. Turns out they've finished their journey at Tiger Leaping gorge and were going to get driven to the next leg of their hiking tour in Shangri-La somewhere. I thought it was a bit strange as they didn't even get to see the gorge at water level. We were still really high up the side of Haba mountain.
For lunch we ordered “chilli chicken”, vegetables and rice (CNY 53) which was again a bit of a disappointment.
We passed the official halfway point and soldiered on. Again, this part of the trail was quite easy but it looked really narrow. It was definitely a good thing we were tackling this section in good weather conditions because it looks like there was potential for a landslide during rain. Overall, the quality of the path varied a lot in quality. It was either decent and flat, or really rocky.
On the way, we came across the helpful girl from the day before! She too had stayed at the Tea Horse Guesthouse the night before. Today she was with a toddler. We had passed a couple before coming across them, and I think they were the toddler's parents. Apart from these people, we encountered one solo white tourist and no one else.
Eventually we encountered a giant herd of goats along the path and more and more farmland started appearing. We started descending in altitude rather rapidly from this point as we were reaching the end of the high trail.
At the end of the high trail lay Tina's Guest House, which was actually quite a large guesthouse; it had large multistory buildings. The bus back to Lijiang departed from this location at about 3:30 pm every day and there were lots of young foreigners outside no doubt waiting for the bus. Where had all these people come from?? I didn't recall seeing this many people, ever.
The Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge
After a quick break, we set off to explore more of the gorge. We were going to continue past Tina's guesthouse to get down close to the river then onwards to a town further north called hetao yuan (核桃園, Walnut Garden). Here, I intended for us to stay at a place called Tibet Guesthouse. Being 3:30 pm, we had to get going before it got too dark.
At Tina's, they had an expensive and creepy option of using the sky ladder, which was a 100m+ long ladder that decends directly down into the gorge. We were on the hunt for the free or cheaper option and used the Maps.Me app to help us get there.
We decended down the road and bought some overpriced water at Teacher Zhang's Guesthouse then tried to find the way down to the gorge. Unfortunately there didn't seem to be any clear way down except via one of the paid ways. The lower section of the gorge is not exactly government owned and is actually mostly maintained by the families living in the area.
We paid some old ladies 15 yuan each to use Zhang's staircase to the gorge. The path here was amongst thick shrubs and trees and it was probably maintained better than the high trail itself. It actually had bins everywhere on the trail and the trail wasn't rough. There were lots of ropes were provided to hold onto whilst descending down the crude and steep stairs. It was very impressive for something a bunch of locals made. It probably wouldn't pass any building standards in the first world (steps were not of uniform and ergonomic height!) but it was very useful!
Eventually the path took us alongside a cliff, the locals must've literally cut into the cliff face to build this path. We were not far from the water now and you could see the rock that the Tiger allegedly leaped from. Here, we passed a couple of locals on the way up. We also saw a manmade platform that jutted out into the gorge, which was clearly built by the enterprising locals. Using this platform would yield some good pictures of the gorge and the famous rock below. Honestly, this too was an impressive effort. And what else was impressive was that they had taken a lot of effort to secure it from passersby from utilising it when it was unmanned! There was barbed wire and pointed metal spikes, no doubt copying security fences. Ippy was convinced she could squeeze by the barbed wire but I was able to convince her not to. We weren't sure whether the platform was structurally sound.
Further along the path was an amazing view of Middle TIger Leaping Gorge:
In the middle of the river there is the famous rock. There is another rock, towards the bottom of the picture. Both rocks were connected to the shore via man made bridges. Here is a close up:
At the river
It was about 5pm by the time we got to river and the sun was going to set soon so we had to go check out the area fast. It was absolutely phenomenal down there. The water was roaring through and it wasn't even rainy season yet.
We reached a shack, which you had to walk through to access a bridge that would take you on to one of two large rocks in the river. The man in charge of the bridge actually let us on for free. There's not much down here, but I suspect he may actually live there. We had passed many locked up huts along the way (some with refridgerators, so drink sellers?) so I think the locals trek back up to town for the night. This would explain the two locals we met on the way down. I was actually expecting to pay more tolls to cross various paths. But I think because we headed down at 4 pm, everyone had gone home. Yet another China travel hack!
The bridge was quite solid and didn't swing too much. The rock was quite big and tall, so you were able to stand high above the river but there were some stairs that led to another rock which allowed you to stand close to the water. We took many photos before retreating back to the shore.
(Best viewed on desktop and in full screen mode)
We were in a hurry so we continued on and later, Ippy realised we had walked past the other large rock, which was THE legendary “Tiger Leaping Rock” where the Tiger leaped from. From here, there were two paths - straight up the cliff would take you back to Tina's Guesthouse or onwards (heading North), which we took to take us to Walnut Garden. This path was an easy ascent and led us to the Ray of Sunshine trail, another trail that was created by cutting into a cliff, made by the locals living here. I noticed there was a lone tourist (a young fellow dressed in activeware) taking the path back to Tina's. Apart from him, we had seen no other tourists at all.
Ray of Sunshine Trail
There were lots of signs in Chinese and bad English implying there was a toll to be paid but we saw no one around. There was actually a gate that could've been locked but fortunately for us it was open, so we continued on. The Ray of Sunshine trail had rudimentary directions painted on rocks showing the direction and distance to the various Guesthouses.
Continuing ahead took you north and away from Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge. We were now in the man made path that was built into the cliff. This path allowed us to gain elevation but meant we were getting away from the roaring river again.
There was one final wooden platform where if you looked back the way you came, you would get a nice view of the gorge and the Tiger Leaping rock. This is the last glimpse you will get of Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge. Overall, the view along the Ray of Sunshine trail was pretty good however the sun was disappearing and we needed to move faster.
Hiking along the Ray of Sunshine trail was a good idea because it took us further down the gorge. If you recall the crude map from Teacher Zhang, his guesthouse (also the location of Tina's), whilst located at the end of the upper trail, only took you to Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge. We were now able to actually SEE the end of the gorge!!
Eventually the Ray of Sunshine trail took us away from the river, heading inland. The trail was not very obvious at all and looked like it disappeared in some parts. It was clearly not a well used path and I wondered how people coming from Walnut Garden would find their way to the river. Maps.Me was exceptionally useful here and we eventually arrrived at Tibet Guesthouse, tired, sweaty and hungry.
As the name suggests, the guesthouse was run by a Tibetan family. The guesthouse had awesome views of Yulong Mountain across from it. We got a private room with bathroom and arranged our exit back to Lijiang. We got bus tickets for the 3:30 pm bus tomorrow leaving from Tina's Guesthouse.
For dinner we ordered Gong Bao chicken, potato stir fry and rice. We also treated ourselves to soft drink haha! This meal continued the trend of average food on the Tiger Leaping trail. The Gong Bao chicken wasn't really done that well (it's probable that you cannot get legit Gong Bao chicken outside of Sichuan province, despite it being one of those “staple” foods in China). The potato wasn't too bad though. There was plentiful rice in that bucket, which we tried not to think too much about as to not freak ourselves out. (hint: hygiene) :\
Our room was cheap and cosy but not the cleanest. The bathroom was also a little lacking, the showerhead was not that good. In the evening, Ippy tried to take some night shots without a tripod and failed miserably.