I like meeting people on my solo trips and often stay in touch with them after the trip ends. Facebook became popular at the right time for me to stay connected with people across the globe with whom I might have spent just a day or a few days travelling. Some of these people have caught up with me in Singapore or Hong Kong while I have visited others in their places of stay. On rare occasion, I have made friends with people who lived in the same place. I met a few people with whom I stayed connected on my trip to Yunnan in China. I have already written about my experience of Lijiang.
On a Christmas morning I boarded a bus from Lijiang to Tiger Leaping Gorge. We were a bunch of sleepy passengers. We drove through areas covered in a thin film of snow that melted away quickly as the sun blazed down on it. We were on a riverside road, high above the river. Most of the passengers got off at the start of the trail to do a multi-day trek. I got off at the 14 Km point to do a day trek. The jagged peaks rose very vertically up into the skies. The start of the trek was through a winding road that took us to a local village. There were parts of the climb where strong winds buffeted us when the mountainside did not protect us from them.
After about half an hour, I saw a village. Not long after I moved from the paved road to a track. Eventually it became the mountain path that I’d been looking for. The path was carved out of rock in some places. On one spot I crossed a waterfall. Eventually I started seeing more signs to Tina’s Guesthouse – the de facto end of the Upper Gorge Trek.
I did the trek in about 2 1/2 hours. Part of the reason I was making good speed (I was fast) was that I wanted to squeeze one more trek into the day prior to my departure. It was about 1 PM when I arrived at Tina’s. My bus departed to Lijiang at 3.30 PM. I was told that a Middle Gorge trek could be done in two hours. I came upon a trio of Hong Kong – based students who were finishing their lunch and wanted to do the same. They set off ahead of me.
I left at 1.24 PM, found the path downward and set off. A girl I met close to the top advised me that it took her 45 minutes to get there from the bottom, with no breaks. It sounded workable. The path downward was steep, with 30 cm-high steps in some places. I met Manmitha, an MBA student, on her way back; she had decided it was too risky to head all the way down. Further down I saw many spots where it would have been rather easy to slip up and take a plunge. I continued. Jan, an exchange student, had stopped, his knees shot. I hoped to catch up with Shimpei, the third of the trio, another MBA student. I found him at the end of the trek, metres above the river.
I stood around for a few minutes taking in the rushing waters. If a tiger had leapt over these waters, it would have hit a wall of rock at this point, if it somehow cleared a 20 metre jump. More likely it would have been carried away by the rapid waters.
I started the ascent; Shimpei hung around. I could still see him at the same place for a few more minutes, but when I’d glanced down ten minutes on, he was no longer there. The ascent was steep and painful, but with firm footholds. At one point I took a break at a wooden shack. The woman at the shack pointed me to a ladder for a quicker ascent. I looked at it – a 20 metre vertical ascent, high up in the gorge with no harness of any sort. I put my feet on it and started up. I looked down at the start of the climb; it was scary. I did not look down again. I made it up; stood at a safe place and tried to look at the ladder. I would have needed to come close to the edge to see more than the top rung; I did not.
The rest of the climb was predictably painful but otherwise unremarkable. I waited for Shimpei to catch up, but he did not. I had trekked up for fifty minutes from the bottom when I arrived at the place where I had talked to the girl. Twenty steps from the top, my left thigh cramped, but I made it to the top with about ten minutes to spare. I took another five minutes to get to the restaurant. Back at Tina’s I met Manmitha and told her that I did not think Shimpei would make it in time for the bus. Then I saw that he had already arrived ahead of me, somehow.
Shimpei and I chatted through the 3-hour bus ride back to Lijiang about travel, life and work. He was heading off that night but he and his friends had stayed at the same guesthouse at which I had put up in Lijiang. It turned out that Manmitha had seen me at a blockchain event in Hong Kong the previous week. I spent the walk from the bus back to the guesthouse talking blockchain with her. The bunch of us had dinner together.
About two weeks later, Shimpei messaged me on Facebook, asking to catch up. He told me that he would appreciate it if I shared my knowledge with an MBA classmate of his – an Indian girl who wanted to take a scuba diving license. I recalled that I had shown Shimpei pictures from my scuba diving trips while on the bus to Lijiang. I agreed. “Always a pleasure to meet up with travel buddies again!… Travellers and scuba divers are fun people.”, I had said.
On the day itself, Shimpei informed me that there were five people. As we sat down for dinner, there were eight of us, including myself. Imagine my surprise when the MBA group actually wanted to pick my brains on blockchain. Not that that was objectionable; I’m always happy to “share my knowledge”. I brought up the subject of scuba diving with the girl. “Well, I had been thinking about it”, she said. It was clear that she was some time away from going to a dive centre and getting into the water. In any case, we had a fun evening talking about blockchain and careers but not so much about travel.
I have another story of my adventures (travel adventures, no more blockchain) with Shimpei. Wait for the next post!