Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I'm Goin' Out West Where the Wind Blows Tall...

Next week is the National Day Golden Week here in China, and we have an entire week off school. October 1st, 1949 was the founding of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong, making It the equivalent of our 4th of July. As typical in China though, they go all out for it! Everyone gets October 1st to 7th off of work and school, and can use that time to travel. Many people make the long trip to Beijing, where in Tiananmen Square they have a fireworks and military demonstration that dwarfs all others. As great as that would be to experience, we are headed out to Western China to do a little wandering.

Seven of us are headed out to Yunnan Province, which lies on the mountainous borderland between the massive Tibetan Plateau and the southern lowlands, which I live in now. We will take a 25 hour overnight train ride to the city of Kunming, which sits over 6,000 feet above sea level…higher than Denver. A large and historic city of 5 million people, we will actually spend very little time there, as our goal lies further west. I wish we had more time to explore this city. Kunming has a very unique history and beautiful landscape. It also has the distinction of being the location of exile of political dissidents during Mao’s later years, as well as the #1 city for drug smuggling in China given its proximity to Southeast Asia.

From there we will head to our base, the city of Lijiang. Lijiang’s old city is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will see much historic architecture, and many ethnic minority groups not found elsewhere in China. We will then spend 2-3 days hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

The Tiger Leaping Gorge

The Tiger Leaping Gorge is a massive river gorge that is over 6,000 feet deep…arguably the deepest in the world depending on what the definition of “gorge” truly is. At the bottom is the mighty Yangtze River, which flows all the way to Shanghai on the eastern coast. The river is incredibly rough and powerful here, and many people have died trying to raft it. Up from the river are the massive cliff sides, in some places nearly sheer. We will hike the trail that winds through the gorge, staying in small guesthouses that are tucked into the cliff sides along the way.

…that is assuming we make our train in the first place. The problem with traveling on a national holiday in a country of 1.4 billion people is that they are all wanting to do the same thing! The trains will be packed for sure.

So, if something goes wrong, we will be spending the week in Guangzhou, Shenzhen’s neighbor and the 3rd largest city in China. That still beats working and would be a lot of fun, but I can hear that gorge calling my name…

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