The bus was supposed to leave at 9.10, it was 9.00. The ticket lady said sales were closed, the lady at the gate said the bus had left. Out in the middle of the three lane street a suspicious looking bus was waiting at lights, "Baishutai?", the door is ripped open and we're in. Our good fortune amuses everyone and gives us a good buzz for the day. The ride to Baishutai, a silica pool sort of tourist attraction, is about 4 hours. The road rises and curves over more of China's endless hills, Penny sits biting her lips!
Arriving in Baishutai we prepare to be underwhelmed. For the first time in China touts ruin the experience, there are not enough tourists here. The attraction is pleasant but its management is shoddy. Water from a nearby stream is water-raced in to spill-over the silica and then halfway down the formation is whisked away to irrigate drops, leaving the bottom half dry and weedy. The tourist infrastructure; giant boardwalks and handrails, is broken down. People walk where they want, all over the formation. They say it is an important part of Naxi Dongba culture...so where is the respect? That said there are parts of it you can take pretty photos of.
We got out of there as quick as we could, which took us about 2 hours in a cafe eating yummy instant noodles and 2 hours sitting on the side of the road getting sold walnuts by insistent old ladies. Eventually when a van came it took us 20km down the road to the little village of Haba where we were surprised and happy to find a very nice little guesthouse called Haba Snow Mountain Inn with photos of trekking and mountaineering in the local area all over the walls. The hostess took us down to Naxi dancing that night at the village square. The big circular group dance with a verry happy feel. We had seen the dance at Shangri-La but this convinced us that it wasn't just a tourist set-up. Awesome thing to watch and see these people celebrating their lives and community
We arranged to join up with a German family that was there to hire a guide for the next day to show us up the hill. They would then all go back leaving us to explore and try and climb the mountain (they also hire ice axes and crampons...we took advantage of the former). It worked a charm. The climb up the next day with the guide and Germans took us from Haba at 2500odd to an amazingly beautiful little lake at 4100 and took us above the bushline.
On the way up one of the highlights was going past a small log cabin where a man was milking his cows, we took the opportunity to check out his pad and some of his tools.
Freed of the larger group we took off up the mountain, rising first then sidling when we could see the obvious route up a vast grey slab. We dumped Pennys pack at a group of rough and wrecked shelters which we presumed was basecamp, only to find just over a minor ridge a new basecamp with a newly completed guesthouse! Wilderness experience blown we made a bid for the top in what would be record time.
It was quick up the slab but things started to slow down when we hit ice, we were running out of time fast. The view kept beckoning out north. All the way back to Meili Snow Mountain we could see, the ridges then dropped as we panned around to the east until the sacred peaks of the Yading raised their snowy heads and the mighty 8000m Gonga Shan thrust itself into the distant skyline.
We gave up just below the big snow dome, nothing more than a plod to the summit, but it would have taken us 90minutes to the top, and broke into the bag of ginger we had saved for a special occasion since Thailand.
We then got the hell out of there, one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.
Camp that night after we had rejected the advances of the new guesthouse owners was near the ruined huts of the ghost town.
Next day was porridge for breakfast at sunrise.
We had skipped past some of the scenic highlights of the area the previous day, so decided to go back a similar way, checking out a few viewpoints and saddles and of course the gorgeous lake before descending again to Haba Snow Mountain Inn for lunch.
The ladies didn't quite know what to think when we told them we planned on walking to Tiger Leaping Gorge that day (we were either very strong or naive or both as it turned out). I was convinced we got on the right track, it was sidling around Haba Snow Mountain just where I would make it if I was making a track to sidle Haba Snow Mountain into Tiger Leaping Gorge. Then the damn thing stopped, we tried 3 dead ends having to walk numerous times past a vicious looking dog on a small fragile looking leash, which gave Penny the heebie jeebies. Daylight running out again we bolted for the road, 45 minutes down the hill and from a distance we hadn't seen a car all afternoon. 5 minutes later we were safely enconsed with some wealthy Chinese out on a tiki tour who couriered us all the way to our accomodation. Pennys chinese was impressive, there was at least a 10 line exchange, which given our lack of language learning motivation was awesome.
We completed the day by having a nice long yarn to a young couple Matt and Mary, biking from England to Australia, to begin a new life there and build their own dream backpackers on a small piece of coastal land there. And Chinese beer, particularly Dali, continues to impress with its tasty, refreshing and alcoholic qualities.