Monday, October 31, 2016

So near yet so far ...

Just come back from my attempt to reach the western glaciers of Kawakarpo. Didn't get there because of bad weather and an inability to find a guide who would risk entering Tibet illicitly without a permit.
However the main thing I learnt from this trip is that the area around Kawakarpo is becoming increasingly spoilt by overdevelopment, pollution and also by increasing restriction on western tourists. What used to be a relatively unexplored and neglected "Shangri La" area around Meili Xueshan is now being widely tramped and driven over by Chinese visitors. At the same time there are now more police checkpoints and restrictions on western visitors.
I managed to get to Deqin without too much trouble, but found that Fei Lai Si was even more built up and touristy than ever. There were more guesthouses and top end hotels, although many seemed empty or neglected. A lot of Chinese visitors were driving through and most were on their way to Yubeng. Strangely there were hardly any western visistors, except for Israelis, who were there in huge numbers. Pretty much every 'westerner' I saw in Fei Lai Si was  Israeli.
I hired a guide at Meili Shi, about 50km up the Mekong, and I walked up to the Shola Pass over two days. However the weather was terrible, but a lot of rain and cloud over the pass. I continued on into Tibet, but my guide was reluctant to go further because of a new PSB checkpoint at the lower village of Laide. Because of this I turned back after a day on the Tibetan side and returned to Deqin. There I tried to wait out the bad weather by visiting other nearby places of interest such as Cizhong. This once tranquil village  I found to be in a state of ongoing construction, complete with jackhammers and concrete mixers. There is a huge new bridge being built over the Mekong at Cizhong, a project of the company building a hydro dam that will swamp the lower-lying villages and the current bridge. The people of Cizhong are unhappy about their village becoming the place where may dam refugees will be relocated. Cizhing is a multifaith' community of Tibetan Catholics and Buddhists but the dsiplaced villagers who will be resettled there are mostly conservative Buddisists from near Yanmen. Their relocation to Cizhong will profoundly alter the local mix of minorities and faiths - and the locals are not happy.
Disillusioned with Cizhong, I tried to cross to the Nujiang by the new Gongshan-Dilamluo road that starts at a place on the Mekong called Chaliding (the start point for the Kawakarpo Kora). However I was again disappointed to find that the road is not yet finished and locals would not even think about trying to get me though on a motorbike (they said it would require the bike to be pushed over sandy/muddy sections). So in short I would say the area is fast losing its off-the-beaten-path charm, so get there quick if you want to see 'unspoiled' Yunnan. My worst impression was of the amount of litter along the walking trails. This despite the local authorities having put bins and many warning signs advisories about litter at regular intervals along the trail.


travellingkiwi said...

Eager to see your photos - I was in the area and did the trek from Binzhongluo to the Mekong on foot back in was pretty much unspoilt then! Deqin and Felaisi were quite quiet places...the relentless pace of progress in China I guess. It's sad!

Michael Woodhead said...

I did the Nujiang to Mekong trek in great weather 3 years go (see earlier in the blog for many photos This time the weather was cloudy and I wasn't bothered to repeat the trek with no views. But as I said, much of the Nujiang road is now being upgraded - terrible pollution from concrete mixers etc.

MG said...

Hi Michael,

I'm sorry to hear you had bad weather. Also sorry I could not join you. My trip to Yubeng the fist week of October went fairly well. It was crowded but as a put in perspective by a wise friend, much less so than the Alps in the summer. I did take a liking to the area and I'm keen to go back. I'm locally based and would love to plan another trip to the area. Let me know when you start planning again and need some partners.

Michael Woodhead said...

Thanks MG - will do if there's a next time. I'm a bit over Tibet now.

John Holmes said...

Easier access to the upper Nujiang will surely stuff that up too..a pity.

Michael Woodhead said...

True John and it ll begins in 2017 when the road opens. The upper Nujiang road is already very busy with Chinese tourist (4WD) traffic up to Chawalong and many go on, north and west to Chayu on the Indian border.

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