Monday, August 4, 2008

Tiger Leaping Gorge & Shangri-La

I've just returned back to Lijiang from my trek to Tiger Leaping Gorge, home of the Jinsha River (tributary to the Yangtze river), the "mother" of Naxi culture. What an amazing couple of days.

I've wanted to see Tiger Leaping Gorge for a long time, both for the amazing views, significance of water to the area, and the threat of a dam being constructed in a few years. I have always been mystified by the famous brush paintings of historic China. The deep black ink against the thin rice paper, of rough, rugged, yet still delicate mountains. Further, my childhood fascination with the Monkey King story (of Journey to the West, and ancient Chinese favorite) resonated with this exciting climb through the hills. In fact, Journey to the West itself is a reflection of the transfer of Buddhism between India and China: the transmission of ideas flowing through these very mountains... just like Lijiang's own history.

I met Nafsika, Nancy from Greece, at a cafe I typically frequent (quiet, delicious tea, great place to work; in fact, people know I come here so often they leave me messages at the counter, knowing that the note will get to me). Nancy was heading out to Tiger Leaping Gorge alone, and I seized the opportunity to go with her. I really am so lucky so have met her-- she even invited me to her birthday celebration the following day. Little did I know that meeting Nancy introduced me to the world of the "Lonely Planet Backpacker," the clump of friendly yet diverse travelers that make the Chinese landscape their romping playground. At first I was skeptical of hanging out with "foreigners"--but I'm so glad I made the decision to go.

Shani, Liat, and Yarden from Israel, Nancy from Greece, Lincoln from Australia, and Moira, Martin, Guillame, Charline, and Gwennole from France became instant friends. What I love about being abroad is all the different people you meet, who are also out of their own context. All are eager to laugh, share, and learn. We took a minibus from Lijiang to Qiaotou, the entrance to the gorge. Early in the afternoon, we started our hike in the sun, up hills, along fields, across rocky surfaces, to the top of a mountain. 3 hours later, we were looking down: the entrance of the green gorge. The next 5 hours were blissful. Careening rocky surfaces, little waterfalls, beautiful flowers, villages & crickets here and there. Along the rocky cliffs, I could even catch a glimpse of their water system here. Look, canals! We stayed at Halfway House, a lovely guesthouse along the gorge (and famous for the best views of a toilet anywhere in the world-- I'm serious. You see this picture of the mountains? You could see this from the stall!) After waking up to the sun peaking behind the jagged snow mountains, we enjoyed another day of hiking. In the afternoon, we commemorated the end of our trip by gorging ourselves on infamous Yunnan potatoes, local mushrooms, and a mixture of tomatoes & egg.

After the trek, I followed the crowd and took a chance quick trip to Shangri-la, a Tibetan town made famous by James Hilton's "Lost Horizon." (Its real name is Zhongdian; it changed its name to Shangri-la for the tourist appeal.) Everything looked different here. The higher elevation changed the landscape, turning cows into yak, Naxi-designed houses into Tibetan-designed buildings, illustrative Dongba characters to fluid Tibetan script. Shangri-la is similar to Lijiang, in that it had an old city with cobblestoned streets, surrounded by a larger, newer Town. A monastery overlooks the town from is perch along the mountain side. It's interesting to be so close to Tibetan culture, while still being so far--so far that is because of the current tourist ban. It was great, too, to see the mix of other ethnicities that reside together in this little (though definitely still touristy) town. And of note, as well: Yak meat is yummy.

Despite getting to explore this new distinct yet similar town to Lijiang, my favorite part about the trip was the people I met. In the course of 4 days, I had made 10 wonderful new friends, from all over the world. More specifically, I had an amazing experience with my new friends from Israel, on their own long adventures through Asia. Imagine that. Here I am on my engineering research adventure in China, and I'm learning about Shabbat, the kibbutz, what it's like to be in the Israeli army, and the inspiring Jewish views on life. On Friday, we celebrated Shabbat dinner with Liat & Yarden (from Israel, on a 10-month excursion through Southeast Asia after leaving the army), Shani (on a relaxing yet exploratory vacation from her art therapy work in Tel Aviv), and Nancy (on a long adventure though Asia before she moves home to cozy Crete from busy Athens). I was overwhelmed by the takes on life I learned from these people. The giving, sense of humility, love of life, love of people, love of calm and enjoyment. It was overwhelming, fascinating, comforting. For our special dinner, after a day at the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, we bargained for vegetables at the market, used broken Mandarin to buy our bread at a local bakery, sang Hebrew songs to the background of a Chinese war movie, and gleefully ate our food together with chopsticks, just us in an empty Chinese restaurant. All in celebration of Shabbat, the day of rest.

Sababa! (Cool!) L'chayim! (To life!)

Now, it's time to get back to work... more relaxed, refreshed, and eager to learn & meet new people!

1 comment:

ליאת said...

Liz! It was so lovely reading what you wrote and remembering what a good time we had :) hope you are well, keep on writing:) Liat.