Tiger Leaping Gorge is truly one of China’s most impressive natural landscapes. With stunning panoramas, snow-capped mountains, quaint villages and hills of green rice paddies dotted along Tiger Leaping Gorge, there’s no wonder that so many visitors trek through in order to enjoy the scenic views.
Many guidebooks and maps recommend completing the trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge in two days. The trail isn’t long, only around 22 kilometers (14 miles) and many trekkers do finish within two days, some even in less time! Matt and I, however, are rather lazy.
Wait, I take that back. Maybe “lazy” isn’t the right word to use. Perhaps “unhurried” or “relaxed” is more appropriate. In any case, Matt and I found absolutely no reason to hurry along the trail through the magnificent landscape. We meandered along Tiger Leaping Gorge for four days, literally soaking up the breath-taking scenery around us.
Day 1: Lijiang to Qiaotou
Wanting to put our laziness aside, especially for the first day of the trek, Matt and I planned to wake up early. We set the alarm for 7:30 but I ended up snoozing the alarm (a bad habit, I know) for over an hour and a half! Whoops! There goes our early morning start! Add in the packing I didn’t do the night before and a leisurely-paced breakfast, and it was 1 in the afternoon by the time we caught the bus from Lijiang, a beautifully restored “Old Town,” two hours to Qiaotou, where most trekkers start their journey into Tiger Leaping Gorge. We arrived to Qiaotou in the late afternoon, too late to start the trek. What’s a lazy trekker to do? Enjoy hot tea and a lovely dinner at Jane’s Tibetan Guesthouse until the cold drives you indoors. Matt and I went to bed soon after and resolved to start early the next day.
Day 2: Start of Tiger Leaping Gorge
9:30 is still early, isn’t it? Take into account another leisurely-paced (and delicious) breakfast at Jane’s and it was after 11 by the time Matt and I set out for the trek. It ended up being an even slower start as the beginning of the path wasn’t all that clearly marked. Once we found the correct path (how we could have possibly missed it is beyond me), the hike went surprisingly smooth. The trail wasn’t too strenuous at this point, though the sun was at its strongest (it was mid-day after all) and the heat will have no mercy on you. We briefly escaped from the scorching sun at the squat toilets along the trail that have, quite possibly, the best views of any squat toilet EVER. I wish I had taken a picture…
Matt and I maintained a leisurely stroll and stopped often to take photographs of the stunning mountains and the jaw-dropping views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain holding court over the Gorge. We stopped at the Naxi Family Guesthouse for a nice lunch with views of the mountainside.
The next part of the trail is rather steep and just the beginning of the most difficult part of the trek, called the 28 Bends. Out of breath and sweat-drenched, we came up on a hill to a house that sells refreshments, proud to have mastered the Bends, even if it was halfway. We were aghast to discover that we hadn’t even STARTED the 28 Bends yet! Someone mentioned they are so-called because of the 28 steep switchbacks that lead up the steep mountain though I will tell you it certainly felt like a lot more than 28 and by the end, instead of bending, I was practically falling over.While the other trekkers ate a quick lunch and headed straight back to the trail, Matt and I lingered awhile to enjoy our hard-earned rest. We sat and drank an extra cup (okay, maybe it was more like four!) before starting again.
Once we passed the Bends, it was pretty easy going downhill into Tea Horse Guesthouse, where we rested for the night. The food was quite disappointing at Tea Horse Guesthouse and I wouldn’t want to stay there again, though the views of the mountains overlooking Tiger Leaping Gorge were amazing.
Day 3: End of Tiger Leaping Gorge
Waking up at 9 the next morning, Matt and I ate a slow and unremarkable breakfast at Tea Horse Guesthouse and headed off back on the trail with the goal of reaching Tina’s Guesthouse and the bus back to Lijiang by that evening. As the hardest part of Tiger Leaping Gorge was left behind at 28 Bends, the day’s walking was pretty easy. Thinking we had it made in terms of tough hiking, Matt and I had a two hour lunch at Halfway Guesthouse. I can’t really justify the two hour lunch, but it’s what we did.
Unfortunately, we made it to Tina’s Guesthouse after the last bus had already left, which was at 3 in the afternoon. Not fussed, we settled into the night after a tasty dinner (beef and potatoes dish was a stand-out) with a warm bed, thanks to the electric blankets that Tina provides all her guests. It was the perfect way to bliss out and rejuvenate my legs after two days of trekking.
Day 4: Middle Gorge and Tiger Leaping Stone
As the bus didn’t leave Tina’s Guesthouse until 3 in the afternoon, Matt and I decided after breakfast to trek down to Middle Gorge and the Tiger Leaping Stone. Apparently there are two paths to take down to Middle Gorge, but Matt and I didn’t have the choice since we only found the steeper and more difficult path to take. I’m actually glad we took this route because it was exciting at times as the path required some steep descents (and subsequent ascents) on really dangerous looking ladders precariously dangling off the side of the cliff.
Surviving the downward journey to Middle Gorge and Tiger Leaping Stone, Matt and I marveled at the gushing rapids in front of us for some time. Finally, it was nearing the time that our bus was to leave so we headed back up along the trail. Climbing up the ladders was easier than going down, but it was still scary!
We arrived with time to spare so we relaxed in the warm sunshine. Most of the bus ride back to Lijiang, I slept off the exhaustion from the incredible four days at Tiger Leaping Gorge.
So what’s your verdict? Are Matt and I lazy trekkers for taking twice as long to complete the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek?
© Connie Hum 2011