Tiger Leaping Gorge, Balagezong, and Shangri-La

The next few days were a long travel days. The distance as the crow flies is not too far, but Yunnan’s mountainous terrain with its many hairpin turns slowed us down a lot.  The trip from Baisha to Tiger leaping gorge (虎跳峡) was about 2:30 hours, followed by another 3:30 hours to Balagezong (巴拉格宗) which is best described as Yunnan’s grand canyon. From Balagezong it was another 2:30 hours to Shangri-la (香格里拉), so we had lots of car time.

Our first stop on this part of the journey was Tiger leaping gorge. Tiger leaping gorge is a narrow canyon where the main tributary to the mighty Yangze river (长江), the Jinsha river (金沙江), forces itself through a narrow fissure. It’s an overwhelming spectacle with a torrent of water coming through the canyon. In the middle there is a boulder and according to the legend a tiger used that to jump over the gorge. That’s highly unlikely though.

Jinsha river view.

The road to tiger leaping gorge is, in places, cut into the rock face with sheer drops on the side. At the visitor center, about 500 meters above the gorge is my guess, there are two options to go down into the canyon. One is by foot, another is by escalator. We decided, in the interest of preserving our energy, to walk down and take the escalators back up. With almost 83F (~28c) and the sun beating on our head that was a wise move. At the bottom of the canyon there is a boardwalk that goes right by the gorge itself. It offers a spectacular view of the fast-flowing river next to it.  It is surprising that you can walk only a few meters away from a raging torrent of water.

Jingsha (or Yangtze) River is a raging torrent while its water is busy finding a way through this Canyon.

After our visit to Tiger leaping gorge we headed for Balagezong. Balagezong is a park based around a deep canyon on the Tibetan plateau. You enter by car at the canyon floor and follow the river. After the park entrance the road starts to meander up into the mountains. Our hotel was in the middle of the park, perched just below a Tibetan temple complex. We arrived quite late, after 7pm, and were immediately ushered into the dining hall to have dinner. The dinner was just general Chinese food, unfortunately nothing specific to the region. I wanted to sample some of the local alcohol but Yuwen (my guide) strongly discouraged that because of the high altitude.

Welcome to Balagezhong. Our hotel is right behind the temple.

The next morning I got an early phone call from Yuwen urging me to look outside the window. We both had separate rooms but we looked out over the same patch of forest. When I looked outside I stared straight at an adult male monkey that was grooming himself and who was probably waiting for hand outs from the hotel guests. It was a gorgeous and unexpected sight.

In the morning I was welcomed by this male monkey.

After breakfast we took the guided tour-bus from the hotel up the mountain to a Tibetan place place of worship called Gezong holy mountain. After many hairpin corners we crossed a mountain pass and reached the plateau’s summit. The top of one of the mountains looks, with some imagination, like a natural pagoda and its considered a sacred place. Its part of a set of peaks that includes Balagezong snow mountain, which at 5545 meters is the highest peak in Shangri-La. These mountain peaks are flanked by 40 stupa’s which are covered in prayer flags with Tibetan script on them.

On the way down we were dropped off at a scenic site with a great overview of the river that was working its way through the canyon below. The site also included a zip line over a deep canyon, but that was not for me. I can’t stand heights when I’m support by only a thin wire. Closed cable carts are already a challenge, let alone dangling in a flimsy harness on a wire hurdling over a canyon. No thanks!

Majestic canyon views.

We then continued to visit a restored Tibetan village. After that we had a quick look at another sight, the hand of Buddha, a large tree which has a small set of roots that look like a hand embedded in the rock, afterwards we travelled to Shangri-La. Another 2.5 hour ride.

In Shangri-La we stayed in a relatively modern hotel about 1.5km outside the old city. We walked to the old city to get some miles in. With all the walking over the last few days we had not met our move goals that day yet.

Shangri-La after dark.

Shangri-La old town was a surprisingly nice place. It too was burned down recently after a major fire (2014) and fully restored. I was surprised about the number of westerners I saw walking around. Not just young couples, but also families with kids. I suspect these folks were all living in China already because otherwise its hard to get here. Probably because of these foreigners, Shangri-La had a decent share of pubs and local microbreweries which I obviously had to sample. After a nice local dinner we visited the temple complex that was downtown near its central square.

Impressions from our hike in modern and old Shangri-La.

So far we had stuck to our original plan and COVID, while a threat, had not impacted our trip. The next day everything would be different.

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