It only took a couple of days to realize that I didn't want to stay in Lijang for very long. While I took some great photos of a beautiful town, it is ashame that the character of what was really there is so very different from the moments in time the photos themselves captured. I decided that heading North towards the Himalayas would be the best option as there was a place called Tiger Leaping Gorge not too far away. I had been hearing about Tiger Leaping Gorge ever since I reached Asia and had even looked it up online a few times but never really saw a photo that impressed me very much. Every traveler who had been there said it was an incredible place and trekking through the gorge was an unforgettable experience. Skeptical as I always am about what to expect, I set out on a bus early in the morning on an unfortunately not so beautiful day.
After following a winding mountain road up down and all around with the headwaters of the Yangtze river always by my side, the bus dropped me off in a small town at the entrance to the gorge. Though the sky was cloudy, I did manage to get a peak down the gorge on the way into town and I have to say that it looked pretty damn impressive. It was hard to tell much about it as all the mountains disappeared into the clouds so I wasn't sure how high and how steep the sides of the Gorge actually were. It is reputed to be one of the steepest gorges in the world with the distance from mountain peaks to the Yangtze River down below being about 3,900 meters or almost 13,000 feet!
I dropped off my big backpack at a small cafe and packed a few necessities in my small pack for the trek ahead of me. While I think you could actually do the entire 30 something kilometer trek in one day, I was getting a late start and was looking forward to spending a night at one of the guest houses along the trail. The trail itself wasn't too difficult and was relatively easy to follow. It stayed high up on the hillside above the river at times with nothing more than a sheer drop to a few thousand feet below. The scenery became more and more striking every minute until I came around a turn and there it was. A view down the entire gorge revealing one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. The sky was still gray but through the thinning misty clouds that hovered around the mountain tops I could see the jagged snow capped peaks dropping straight down to the river below. I was in awe of the sight before me on one hand while on the other I was disappointed for it to be such a sullen and gray day. It was then that I had a wonderful revelation. Today may be gray, but who knows what tomorrow or the next day would hold. I don't have anywhere to be and while most people finish the trek and take a bus from the other end of the gorge back to town I decided that I could just walk it back in reverse. Ahh! Not a bad idea!
The first days trek ended in rain as I approached the Tea Horse Guest house where I spent the evening eating wonderful local food, drinking lots of hot chocolate along with a few beers and hoping that the sky would clear for tomorrows journey down to the river. After a good nights sleep on a very uncomfortable bed, I awoke to find the skies yet again to be gray. Not surprising for this time of year but I not only had all day for the sky to clear but the next day also on the trek back to the beginning.
It didn't take long for the clouds to begin to open revealing the first patches of blue sky that would be prevalent for the next two days. As the day warmed up, the clouds gradually lifted off the mountain tops transforming what was a depressing and cloudy morning into one of the most beautiful days I have ever seen. With all the rain they get this time of year, when the clouds are gone, the skies is the deepest color of blue you can imagine. Decorated with small villages on the green hillsides, snow capped mountains, and sheer granite cliffs everywhere you looked, this was one of the most breathtaking places I have ever seen. I mentioned earlier that I have never seen a photograph of this place that ever impressed me and now I can clearly see why. No photo could ever do it justice including the hundred or so that I took while there. To capture the striking qualities of Tiger Leaping Gorge on film appears to be an impossible task. I can only hope that one of my shots will help me recall the striking character of the gorge but I think the memories I will carry with me will serve to do it much much more justice.