Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cizhong to Dimaluo trek. Part 3: crossing the She-La into the Sewalongba valley

The crossing of the She-La was a heavenly experience that later turned in to one of the worst days of the trek, thanks to my duplicitous guide. The day started well when I woke at daybreak (6.30am) in my tiny tent. I'd had a good night's sleep and the morning wasn't too cold - a light dusting of ice on the flysheet. The views up the valley towards the pass were fantastic - and the sky was completely clear - great weather for  a crossing of the She-La.

I managed to drag myself up and got the stove going in the stone shelter to make a cup of coffee and eat some muesli. Packed up quickly, but it still wasn't fast enough for my guide, who had upped and left about 15 minutes before me, at around 7.30am. This was to be a recurring experience with a hidden agenda that I didn't twig to until too late in the day.

I was annoyed when I set off as the guide had already gone so far ahead I could not see him. This was troubling because the trail was faint in parts where it went over rocks or along the course of a stream, and route-finding was difficult. In the cold of the early morning I had donned my jacket, but soon discarded it as the sun came up and I began to sweat up the trail. I only had one bottle of water (boiled from the fire last night) and I worried this would not be enough to see me over the pass. The scenery was superb as I gradually ascended from the bottom of the ampitheatre valley to the right (north) in a series of zig-zags up towards the ride.

I walked through stands of giant rhododendron trees, and the grey crags that towered overhead were an epic sight in the early morning sun. After an hour or so I had worked my way up to a separate side valley that gave on to a whole series of minor peaks and crags to the north. But the trail did not go into this sanctuary, but carried on up to the west, past another decrepit log cabin and on towards the ridge. At this point I was passed by a dog that appeared out of nowhere and was intent on hurrying up tot he pass.

As I ascended further I gained even better views of the valley below that I had climbed out of - the track went steeply to the right and I lost the trail for a while - very frustrating as I could not see my guide for help, he had gone ahead with the horse (and my bag). I guessed the route upwards and saw what I thought was the pass above me as a cleft between grey rocks. This was a 'false summit' despite a faint track going up there, and I found the main track headed off to the left (south) and appeared to run beneath the main ridge. It then ascended again towards the broken rocks and turned over a major crag that had a few airy exposed sections: nothing to worry about in these clear conditions but it would be a worry if walking on snow and ice.

Once this high crag had been topped, the trail eased out and I could soon see ahead that the pass was close - the track eased up to what looked like a small cleft in the ride - and I paused here to take my final pictures of the Mekong side of the divide before crossing over to the Nujiang side. Once again, the views were awesome and I counted myself extremely fortunate to have perfectly clear weather.

Most of the pictures I'd seen taken by other trekkers have been in cloudy and snowy conditions. I had clear views of all the surrounding peaks. Intriguingly, however, there was no sign of the main peaks such as Miyetzimu or Kawakarpo that Rock claimed in his article that he could see from this point.

And so it was with great satisfaction that I arrived at my first main goal - the She-La pass - or Sila as Rock called it. This is how he described it in 1924:

The actual pass was a small gap in the ridge - perhaps only a couple of metres wide. The track descended steeply on the other side, but nothing like as scary as the Doker La pass further north. It was all quite walkable. The pass provided spectacular views down into the Sewalongba valley below, and also across to the rocky ridge on the other side of the Sewalongba valley.

Much of the opposite slope was forested. And somewhere across there was the second, lesser pass, the Balagong La, that I would have to cross to get to Baihanluo and Dimaluo.

My guide had been waiting for me at the pass, and I paused at the She La for about twenty minutes, taking photos and having a drink and a snack - it was late morning, about 11.30am. My guide didn't wait for me but headed down the zig-zag track into the Sewalangba valley. I followed him about 15 minutes later and was able to catch him up further down the switchback trail. It was here that I saw a group of Chinese trekkers on their way up. I passed them lower down the valley but they barely acknowledged my greeting. Perhaps they were as worn out as I had been during the ascent to the pass.

It took about an hour to reach the valley bottom, during which time I gained great views in both directions, including a small tarn on the opposite side of the valley. Looking back up to the She-La I could barely see the pass - and the track looked a lot steeper than it really was.

At this point I was expecting that we would have a couple of hours more walking before pausing for the day to stay in one of the stone shelters lower down the valley for the night. I began to wonder why my guide had been in such a hurry as we had already completed most of the day's walking by early afternoon.

When we reached the river at the bottom of the valley I expected we would pause for lunch - it was the perfect place to take a break. My guide had other plans, however. As soon as he persuaded the horse to cross a small log bridge he headed straight up the slop on the other side. I tried to call him back, but he ignored my calls. We were still at an altitude of about 3000m and I found it impossible to try catch up with him. When I eventually shouted myself hoarse and got him to halt he was evasive about why we did not stop for lunch. I should have been more suspicious, but maybe the altitude affected my judgement. He told me there was a good place to stop 'just a bit further ahead', and I trusted him. It was now about 1.30pm and I plodded very grumpily up the opposite side of the Sewalongba valley, desperate for a rest and a stop for something to eat and drink. I didn't realise it but I was exhausted and probably dehydrated. After a further 20 minutes  walking up though forest with no sign of a rest stop, I rebelled and shouted for a halt. We paused on a featureless part of the trail while I had a drink and ate a few crackers.

Then it was onwards again, and I dragged myself up the forest trail like a zombie, assuming that there would be a hut around the next corner. Of course there wasn't. This went on for about 90 minutes until we eventually arrived in a clearing with some derelict cabins and a stagnant pond. It didn't look like a pleasant place to stop, and we didn't. It gradually occurred to my altitude-fogged brain that the guide was planning to climb up to the next pass this afternoon. He had no intention of overnighting in the Sewalongba valley and intended all along to turn this pleasant three-day trek into a rushed two-day trip to Baihanluo. I continued upwards, dragging my feet one after another and trying all different breathing 'techniques' (counting breaths, one breath per step, hyperventilating ...) to try keep myself going. The forest thinned out and I realised we were now close to the Bagalong Pass.

In a clearing I gained good views back to the She-La pass, which already seemed a long distance away. I wish I had taken more pictures at this point but I was exhausted, grumpy and also believed  I would gain better views from the Balagong Pass. I had now accepted that we would make the second pass crossing today and descend to Baihanluo. I didn't mind too much as it would give me an extra day in hand to catch up with the trekkers I had intended to link up with further north in Tibet.
The Balagong Pass was an unspectacular high point of the ridge in the midst of fir trees. There were no views in either direction.

At this point my guide grudgingly admitted that we were going to Baihanluo, not the Sewalongba huts, and I was far too exhausted to argue with him. Descending towards Baihanluo we emerged into alpine meadows where a few horses grazed, and gained views of the familiar multiple ridges of the Nujiang valley. There was even a hint of a view of Baihanluo and other Nu settlements far below. They all looked within easy reach.

We walked down across these open grassy areas and my guide suddenly seemed hesitant and unsure of himself. After descending a short way into forest we came across some log cabins that local cattle herders used for shelter. At one of them we paused abruptly 'for tea'. This sudden attention to refreshment breaks was no accident. My guide announced he would not be going any further with me, but was going to return to Cizhong. He was short changing me and wanted his Y1200 fee for getting me from Cizhong to Baihanluo, even though he had done this in two days instead of three. And he had only delivered me within sight of Baihanluo, not to the actual village which was a long way below. The hut was occupied by several of his Tibetan cronies, a really rough-looking bunch and the situation was an obvious shakedown. Pay up or else.

Thoroughly fed up with the situation and uneasy at the tense atmosphere, I handed over the money without comment, and walked off alone shouldering my heavy backpack. The guide called after me that it was "only 20 minutes" down to Baihanluo. It actually took me a hellish three hours. The main problem was that the trail became mixed up with many local farmer's tracks. I soon find myself following dead-end trails and paths that led to wooden log cabins that harboured vicious snarling dogs - and worst of all most of these were unchained. The dogs would hurl themselves along the track towards me and start snapping at my legs. Sometimes they would back off or flinch when I raised a hand holding a stone or wielded a stick at them. But some were fearless and aggressive attackers that could only be fended off by vigorous swinging of the stick and loud shouting. Sometimes their owners would emerge from the cabins to call them off, but often these dogs seemed untended and uncontrolled in their attacks. After the first two or three such dog encounters my nerves were frazzled and this just added to my physical and mental exhaustion. I had been walking almost non-stop since 7.30am over 4000m mountain passes and I was absolutely worn out, not to mention thirsty and hungry. I tumbled down the trail, praying that I would soon get to Baihanluo, but it seemed to never get any nearer.

I continued to lose my way and find myself bush-bashing around farmsteads and log cabins - or turning corners to find the trail blocked by two or three dogs. I was utterly fed up. Then things turned even more surreal when I was chased by a horse down the track. I heard a sound-effects like whinnying and turned to see a large brown horse galloping down the trail towards me with a strange look in its eye. This was no shy creature, but seemed intent on driving me off the trail. I dodged as it went by, hooves flying, and it skidded to a halt and turned to face me, kicking with its fore hoof, as if to challenge me not to pass. I ducked into the trees and tried to crash my way beside the trail away from the horse. Each time I re-emerged onto the track the horse repeated its charges until I had moved on about a hundred metres. I can only imagine I was invading this horses'  territory and it had offspring it was trying to protect.

I stumbled on down the trail for what seemed like hours, dodging more aggressive dogs and also slipping and sliding down some sections where the trail seemed more like a steep dried-up water channel than a walking track. It was a tortuous, endless and tedious descent down towards Baihanluo, which I eventually reached at around 6pm, when the light was failing and my legs could barely support me. Bruised, scratched and filthy, not to mention sweaty, stinking and thirsty, I was greatly looking forward to finding a guesthouse, sitting down  and sipping a cold beer. It was not to be. Once again I was to be deeply disappointed.

My previous visit to Baihanluo had been at Christmas about four years previously, when the Nu, Tibetan and Lisu inhabitants of this Christian village were all out in the square by the church celebrating by imbibing their alcoholic maize-based shuijiu. This time when I stumbled into Baihanluo, the village appeared to be deserted except for a pack of growling dogs that followed and snapped at me. I dumped my pack outside the locked up church and went looking for people. Apart from a couple of young kids who ran away, I could find nobody about the place. It was spooky. I walked up and down the village paths between the wooden houses, calling out "Ni Hao", but there was no-one around.

After about 15 minutes an older woman swayed into the square, obviously drunk, and I asked her where the vilage guesthouse was. She didn't seem to understand basic Mandarin and I had to repeat the question several times before she mumbled that there wasn't a guesthouse, but I could try stay with a household at the top of the village, way up the hill. I was in no state to walk back uphill again, so I asked if I could get a drink of water at her house. She waved me away at first, but later relented and I followed her up the concrete path to a ramshackle wooden house surrounded by hens.

The interior of her house was dark and dirty, the walls covered with soot from the fire in the middle of the room. I collapsed onto a tiny stool and helped myself to a cup of the kaishui (boiled water) from the cauldron over the fire, to which I added a teabag. Within minutes I had guzzled two cups of the smokey-tasting water and began to feel slightly better, if a little queasy.

I then sat there like a zombie, lacking the energy even to get up from the stool as the old women staggered about the house and offered me various dodgy looking items of food such as mushrooms, grit-speckled yak cheese and dirty hunks of cured yak meat jerky. I couldn't understand much of what the women was saying because of her thick dialect and also because she appeared to be quite drunk.

After about half an hour, when it had got dark, a couple with a young girl arrived - her daughter and husband, I presumed, and they spoke passable Mandarin. They told me I could stay at this house for the night and they'd make me some dinner. I was so relieved just to have shelter and something to drink - I didn't mind the poverty of the surroundings or the absolute filth and squalor.

The husband brought in a chicken that he killed and plucked of its feathers, before holding the gutted carcass over the fire to scorch it. He then chopped up the remains and put everything - head, claws and all-  into a pot with a mixture of potatoes, mushrooms and chillies to make a casserole. This took what seemed like an hour to cook and I was ravenously hungry. Unfortunately, when I was eventually ladled out my share of this chicken broth with some rice in a bowl, I only had three bites of the rubbery meat before I was suddenly and violently sick. I rushed to the doorway, where, to my shame and horror, I retched violently on to the floor, bringing back all the tea and what little food I had just consumed. I felt terrible.

My host family seemed unsurprised, and the grandma kept up a refrain of "Don't worry, we are Catholics here ..." After my stomach settled (and I cleaned up the vomit) I managed to swallow and keep down a bit more of rice and potato, accompanied by a few sips of Dali beer from a can. I tried to tell this kind family about how I had walked over from Cizhong, but they seemed uncomprehending and uninterested. They talked among themselves and later pointed me towards a rickety couple of planks in the corner, covered with a stained and flea-ridden blanket. That was my bed for the night, and I actually managed to sleep quite well on it with the help of my Thermarest and my sleeping bag. I still got bitten by fleas though.

Here's a selfie taken by the happy trekker after arriving in Baihanluo:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cizhong to Dimaluo (茨中 - 迪麻洛) hike. Part Two: walking up to the She-La

The morning of Tuesday 30th September was sunny and warm in Cizhong. I'd arranged with a local guy to guide me over the She-La pass to Dimaluo for three days for a fee of Y1200. He told me to be ready to leave at 7.30am, but on the morning he didn't show up. Instead, after an hour of hanging around a sullen guy turned up with a small horse and an attitude. He didn't say much but tied my bag on to the horse and lit up a fag. We set off at 9am, walking down along Cizhong's only street until we reached the valley branching off to the right (west).

After buying a peach drink at the little xiaomaibu (something I was to be grateful for on the thirst-inducing climb) we set off up the hill, past the hydro power station and followed a steep track up alongside a big water pipe. It was hard going and I was soon sweating. The track then opened out to a zig-zagging road with views over the Mekong.  This is how Rock described it:

And this is what it looked like in 2014:

After an hour or so this road twisted into a narrow gully with a huge drop to the valley floor. My guide amused himself by kicking rocks off the road to fall hundreds of meters down into the forest. The track went to the left of a small dam and into deeper forest, where a few locals were felling trees and lugging huge freshly-cut planks on their shoulders. BY the side of the track there was a tree that had been turned into a Christian shrine with a hollowed out 'tabernacle' covered with a plastic window showing some sort of icon.

At about 1pm we emerged into a more open valley and stopped for a brief lunch at a primitive log cabin. I was glad to have brought my camping stove as I was able to brew up some Yorkshire tea to go with my Vitawheat and salami.

Onwards and upwards we hiked up the green and pleasant valley much as described by Joseph Rock.

Within the hour we had come across a very swish mountain hut called Hongxing (Red Star) Lodge that looked recently built. The wooden hut seemed the perfect place to stay for the night, with great views of the valley and also well equipped with beds and cooking equipment. But my guide urged me on, saying we had to stay at another lodge higher up the valley nearer the pass because we would need to make good time tomorrow.

And so it was we continued up the valley, walking alongside a stream and occasionally crossing it by wooden plank bridges or logs. I had earlier drunk from this stream, being reassured that the water was OK to drink - however we later found a dead pig carcass in the river. Too late. I didn't die.

At about 4pm we stopped at a derelict stone shelter with no roof, situated next to a huge square rock. For some reason the guide insisted that we stop and eat dinner there, even though it was early. I made more tea and ate a few Vita Wheat and then continued on upwards to a blue hut in the distance, where the guide said we would stay for the night. It was only about a 20 minute walk, amid beautiful scenery, much as described by Joseph Rock. On the way I saw a troop (?) of large golden brown/grey monkeys scurrying away up the side of the valley about 300 metres away from us.

The 'blue roof hut' had a Catholic/Christian heart/cross emblem on it and characters in Tibetan and Chinese saying it was a "Benevolence Lodge" (San Fang) - it had presumably been built or inspired by the Catholic missionary priests based at Cizhong. We settled in here for the night, with great views of the main divide. The interior, however, was very bleak and unwelcoming. Absolutely bare, with a stone floor and no amenities other than the windows through which a cold wind blew. The guide soon had a fire going in the middle of the room and I prepared one of my dehydrated dinners and made more tea. The fire filled the stone hut full of smoke, which set me off coughing and spluttering and turned my eyes bloodshot. After half an hour I decided to pitch my tent outside and sleep there instead. It was hard to find a piece of level ground, but I eventually got a slightly sloping plot and stuck my tent there.  It proved to be quite comfortable and at least had breathable air. My guide warned me there would be rats, but I got to sleep OK with no unwelcome visitors.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cizhong to Dimaluo (茨中 - 迪麻洛) hike: Part One

On Friday 26th September 2014 I set out from Sydney with the aim of hiking the pilgrimage route around Mt Kawakarpo (Meili Xueshan, 美丽雪山) in Yunnan and Tibet. However, unlike most people doing the outer kora (circuit or waizhuang, 外转, in Chinese) I would not be doing the east-west crossing from the Mekong (Lancang Jiang) to the Salween (Nu Jiang) via the Doker La Pass. I had already done that crossing two years earlier and I decided instead to cross via the more southerly She-La (蛇拉山口) pass from Cizhong (茨中), home to the now famous French Catholic mission church to Dimaluo (迪麻洛). This route would also take me in the footsteps of the explorer Joseph Rock, who used this way to cross from Cizhong to the mission station of Bahang (Baihanluo, 白汉洛) in the 1920s. According to his account, the crossing would involve crossing two passes: first the She-La at around 4200m and then the Balagong Pass (巴拉贡) at around 4000m.

I flew from Sydney to Guangzhou overnight and transferred to a domestic flight to Lijiang in Yunnan on the morning of Saturday 27th September. The weather in Lijiang was mild and sunny - shirtsleeve weather. I had not been sure what kind of weather to expect and had packed for freezing temperatures on the high passes.

For the completists, here's an incomplete kit list:

Western Mountaineering Ultralite Sleeping Bag
One-man lightweight tent 
Microlight gas stove plus billy cans/cup/bowl
Macpac rain jacket/fleece/rainproof overtrousers
Bandana/neck scarf
Broad brimmed hat
Fleece hat
Macpac 50L backpack 
Head torch + spare batteries
Toiletries bag containing toothpaste etc plus aspirin/paracetamol/sunscreen/Band Aids
Compass with mirror (useful for putting in contact lens)
Plastic A4 folder containing maps, journal and some photos of family/home and photos of locals from previous trips
Cameras: Sony A7 + spare battery. Rolleicord and 30x 120 film
Leitz 8x32 binoculars
Long umbrella (as walking stick)
Food bag:

Five days' supply of dehydrated dinners
Muesli + powdered milk (in ziploc bags, of which I took many)
Vitawheat + salami (lunches)
Muesli bars
Teabags and sachets of Nescafe coffee instant mix (bought in China)
Jelly snakes/mini Snickers bars for energy

My bag weighed about 15kg on check in and proved too heavy for me to carry at altitudes of around 4000m – hence I had to employ a guide (xiangdao) to carry it for me or to bring it on a horse.

Things I didn't take: Thermals, gloves

Things I didn’t use: tent (except for one night), warm hat.

Things I wish I had taken (more of): sunscreen, more books loaded on to Kindle.

In Lijiang I stayed at the Old Town YHA, which cost about 48 yuan a night. On arrival, I went out shopping and got myself a China Mobile SIM card for my iPhone from the local Apple dealer (loaded with 100 kuai credit). I changed about 5000 yuan ($1000) at the  Bank of China, using my Mastercard for about half that amount (there are no foreign exchange facilities in Deqin or beyond).

In Lijiang I also met up with my old Kiwi friend and local tour guide Keith Lyons, who runs  a trekking and guiding agency in the town. From him I picked up a lot of useful local tips, such as that the Weixi-Deqin road was  being rebuilt, and therefore I decided to get to my jumping off point of Deqin via Shangri-La (formely Zhongdian). I was able to buy a bus ticket to Deqin for about 150 kuai for the following morning. I also tried to buy some of the altitude sickness treatment Diamox at the local pharmacies, but none had ever heard of the diuretic, even by its Chinese name. Instead I was offered ‘energy-boosting’ Chinese patent medicines, which I refused.


Lijiang was horrible – the old town now just a maze of gift shops run by Fujian traders and the cobbled streets throng with Chinese tourists taking photos of the gift shops. The old town also has many bars featuring Chinese karaoke showbands. Every year Lijiang seems to have a different souvenir theme – this year it is bongos (tom toms), ukuleles and fake brand-name scarves. I hung out at a place called the 'N Café', which did decent food and also had wifi that worked, just)

On Sunday28th September I took the 8am bus from Lijiang to Deqin. It was a pleasant trip on a good road, with some spectacular scenery. The bus even had wifi. We stopped for lunch somewhere beyond Shangri-LaMany of the passengers were Chinese tourists with similar ideas to mine, to trek in the area of Meili Xueshan. Most of us intended to stay at  the mountain viewing area of Fei Lai Si, about 10km from Deqin and the Chinese tourists persuaded the bus driver to continue on there after Deqin (for a fee of 10 kuai each).

Arriving in Fei Lai Si at about 4pm I checked in to the “Feelings” YHA hostel, where the staff were helpful and friendly (but the hostel was surrounded by half-finished hotels that tower over the ingle-storey Tibetan building) . Perhaps not surprisingly, being unacclimatised to the 3500m altitude I noticed that I was quickly out of breath when walking the 100 metres uphill to the hostel from the road. I also had a bit of an altitude-related dull headache. 

Fei Lai Si is literally a one street town – just a few hostels, restaurants and stores strung along the roadside at a spot where there is a grand view over the Mekong valley and the mountain vista of Meili Xueshan/Kawakarpo. I was the only westerner in town and that night I had dinner at the Chengdu Restaurant, which did some OK Sichuan dishes for about 50 yuan a meal.

On Sunday night I went to bed accompanied by a bottle of water for the inevitable dry mouth and thirst that invariably strikes me at night whenever I stay at high altitudes.

On Monday 29th September I woke at 6am and got up with all the Chinese tourists to see the sunrise on the mountain. On this day there was quite  a lot of mist and cloud, so little of the mountain could be seen at sunrise of around 7am. This didn’t deter the crowds of Chinese tourists (many if not most on 4WD driving tours of the area) from lining up to fire off thousands of photos and selfies.

After  a late breakfast of doujiang + youtiao (dough sticks and soya milk) and a quick walk out to the tiny Fei Lai Si monastery, I hired a minivan to take me to Cizhong. Most of the Chinese tourists were planning to do the short one-two day hikes around Yubeng and the Minyong glacier, for which they would have to pay a park entrance fee of about 150yuan.

My minivan trip to Cizhong cost me 300 yuan and took about two hours. The route took us back through Deqin and down through the ‘new town’ section where massive and new modern government buildings have been erected, including law courts, police HQ, Party offices and a hospital and gymnasium. The road then twisted down towards the Mekong, which flowed brown and dirty through a barren landscape of huge steep and twisting canyons. Much of the road was being rebuilt, but  there was little traffic on it beyond Deqin. 

The road followed the river south along the side of the gorge, though scrappy Tibetan towns like Yanmen. We passed Chalitong, the jumping off point for Yongzhi the traditional start point for pilgrims doing the Kawakarpo kora circuit. Chalitong now has road signs indicating a road to Gongshan – the first road in this area connecting the Mekong and the Nu Jiang rivers. This road seemed to go through the terrible precipitous Lonjdre gorge and over the Biluo Shan pass to Dimaluo. However, the locals said the road had not yet been finished and was not driveable. I would be going the same way on foot.

Cizhong was also quite a bit more developed since my last visit a decade earlier. There were now more buildings and a concrete pillar bridge was under construction over the Mekong. The scary old gravel road above the Mekong had now been obliterated and replaced with a much smoother and safer highway higher up the hillside.

At Cizhong village the old French Catholic church looked unchanged, but it was now obviously seeing more visitors. The church now had a resident Chinese Catholic priest and he treated me as just another annoying tourist when I had a look around. I was offered a glass of the locally-produced wine from the church vineyard, but the priest was otherwise indifferent and seemingly bored by visitors such as me. The church now has a makeshift museum in one room, with many pictures of the old French clergy on display.

I found a much warmer welcome next door at the Cizhong ‘wine centre’. The female head of this friendly family home offered me a clean and airy room for the night, and I was soon settled in to the courtyard where I chatted with the local guys about the prospects of walking over the Si-La or She-La pass to Dimaluo. I had pre-arranged a guide across the mountains with a Tibetan tour operator Aluo, who runs a trekking agency out of Dimaluo.  However, when I arrived at Cizhiong the guide was nowhere to be found, and a phone call to Aluo revealed that he had not set one up for me, despite confirming my request by phone and email. Instead, I turned to the local guys who said they could arrange a local guide for me, no problem.

And so it was that I spent the rest of the day sat in the sunny courtyard talking to the local guys, sharing their Dali beer and Cizhong wine and getting pleasantly tipsy. To clear my head I took a walk down to the Mekong and photographed the local people gathering in and threshing the rice harvest from the fields. 

I also revisited the village square’ where I had taken a photo a decade earlier with some elderly locals. Sadly all of them had died in the intervening years, I was told. I also walked about a mile upriver, where I was surprised to find a newly-built posh guesthouse located next to the Buddhist stupa overlooking the Mekong.

That evening over dinner of pig’s head meat, rice and potatoes (and more Dali beer) I arranged a guide for the three day trip over to Dimaluo, for a price of 400 yuan per day. The whole trip would therefore cost me 1200 yuan for a guide and horse to carry my bag. I was set to go.

Just returned from a crossing of the She-La and Sho-La

Just completed a successful and most excellent hike from the Mekong to the Salween (Nujiang) and back via the She-La pass (East to West) and Sho-La pass (West to East). This meant  I had to sneak into Tibet from Bingzhongluo to Chawalong to join the Kawakarpo kora half way at Abing. I did this by getting a motorbike after dark, when in theory the police checkpoint was closed (it was actually still open, but more of that later).
As you can see from this picture of the She-La, the weather was ideal around the 1 Oct holiday period, and I had the trail to myself. The picture shows the view down to the west into the Sewalongba valley. The route goes down into the valley and then continues up the ridge through the forest to the centre left to the Balagong La pass.

The full route was:

Stage 1 (East-West)

Deqin - Cizhong
Cizhong - pre-SheLa basin
SheLa crossing to Sewalongba valley
Sewalongba - Balagong pass
Balagong pass - Baihanluo - Dimaluo
Dimaluo - Nujiang road - Bingzhongluo

Stage 2 (West - East)

Bingzhongluo - Abing (via Qiunatong)
Abing - Chawalong (checkpoint) - Tangdu La pass
Tangdu La pass - Gebu
Gebu - Dagu La pass
Dagu La pass - Laide
Laide - camp above Laide
Laide high camp - ShoLa pass
ShoLa pass - Meilishi (trail end at Mekong)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Back of Jambeyang, then and now

Just came across this unpublished pic taken by Joseph Rock on his circuit around the Konkaling (Yading) peaks. This was taken round the back of Jambeyang. I know exactly where he took it because we had great difficulty reaching the same spot! It's on the steep sides of the upper Lawatong valley. Looking back at the way we came, you can see the valley on the right from which we descended the Yaka pass. Note how the glacier below Jambeyang as receded in the 'ampitheatre'. Rock obviously had less clear weather than when we did the kora - in my picture you can see Chanadorje in the distance at upper right.

Random picture: Muti Konka

This is the mountain Rock called Muti Konka - now transcribed as Maidi Gangga. Adjacent to the Yalong river, about two day's journey west of Jiulong. The farmhouse where we stayed can be seen bottom centre.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Joseph Rock's Yunnan map of Deqin from 1946

As prepared by US army cartographers based on Rock's surveys and hand-drawn maps. I've checked the details - they're pretty accurate. This covers the area I'll be traversing next week - from Cizhong to Baihanluo. Click to magnify for detail.

Random photo: the lamasery at Ragya, Qinghai

As visited by Rock in 1924-5

Monday, September 15, 2014

Return to Cizhong

I'll be starting my next walk from Cizhong, the village by the Mekong river (Lancang) with the famous Catholic church. Here I am in 2002 with some of the local 'outpatients'  sat outside the village clinic. From Cizhong I plan to walk up to the Sela Pass (overnighting at a log cabin on the way) which is at about 4300m. After that I have to cross a high valley and crest the Balagong Pass before descending to Baihanluo - another "Catholic' village but this time on the banks of the Salween (Nu) river.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Random picture from the Kawa Karpo kora

Day Two: after emerging from the forest you walk up a beautiful open valley to the base of the Doker-La.