TIGER LEAPING GORGE

The "Tiger Leaping Gorge" is one of the deepest canyons in the world, located in the upper course of the Yangtze River at around 2000 metres above sea level. The river flows in a deep gorge between the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the Haba Xueshan, 5600 and 5400 metres high, respectively. A natural wonder, thankfully not (yet) fully exploited for touristic purposes.

On the bus from Lijiang I meet a couple of young Danish architects and a young Canadian entrepreneur: we'll do the trekking together. Halfway a Chinese gets on the bus, offers a cigarette to the bus driver and takes a seat. The Danish architect who, by living and working in Beijing, has gained a good understanding of how things work here, says "That's the ticket", shaking his head.

As soon as we arrive to the village of Qiatou we make the ticket for the trekking (a useless ticket: noone will ever check it, and it does not give you anything: just walk on a trail for a couple of days). »Before starting the trek I am just in time to see the sign-board "Gorged Tiger Cafe", a linguistic virtuosity which may be considered daring, but it's no doubt ingenious.
Our first challenge is finding the trail. Those many diversions make the task hard, but in the end we find the school mentioned in the travel book:

and from there the trail. The first section of the walk offers sights on the river and crops:

later on the trail rises higher on the river, with vertical sights down on the gorge:

You may run into small villages and farms from time to time:

These houses are so remote that they are not reached by electric energy and gas networks. They have solar cells for water and electric energy, which, with the aid of small electrical generators, make them autonomous.

The view on the Yulong Xueshan, on the other side of the gorge, is breathtaking, if clouds allow:

At the highest point of the trail, at the end of the "24 bends", there is a short diversion going down towards a hanging stone, from where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the Gorge, with the Yangtze (here called Jinsha) sheer under your feet. A guy in his sixties has placed a stick across, among two trees, so as to block the access to the trail diversion. He is camping nearby and says to every visitor "If you want to go past here you have to pay me 5 Yuan for each picture you take. If you just have a look, then it's free".
What!! In a country where the land is owned by the state, including the farmland which supports hundreds of millions of peasants, a guy (who, at least, can't be blamed for lack of initiative) can take the liberty of taking to himself a piece of land along a public trail (which is subject to an entrance fee, by the way) and ask you money for each picture you take? And this happens without any of the 1.3 billion Chinese saying anything? One of the many mysteries of this country.

The gorge is named after a tiger who, allegedly, escaped from hunters by leaping from one bank to the other with two jumps, taking advantage of a huge stone emerging from the water in the middle of the river. In that point the gorge is 25 metres wide and, unless doping was common practise then too , a tiger is unlikely to have leaped (assuming, of course, that tigers ever lived here). Nonetheless, this legend permeates all the way: for instance, there is a sign near the stone, saying authoritatively: "This is where the tiger leaped to the other bank". And on the trail leading to it: "This is the trail along which the tiger...". Along the way we meet a local guide carrying two flemish women with horses. One of them is fairly fat and the horse carrying her bears a sorrow expression, as if to say "Next time I deserve an anorexic model". We go together for some time, until the guide says to us "Let's go where the tiger leaped to the other bank". I look at him as if to say: "Hey, we both know that no tiger ever leaped anywhere, isn't it time to stop with bullshit?". He returns my glance, and my thought: "Look, I make a living out of this bullshit, so please don't be a bore and pretend, for a couple of days, that you believe to it. That doesn't cost you anything, does it?".
He was right, after all.

We stop for the night in a simple lodge along the way, with a great view on the gorge:

»Here in the South rice is the staple, whereas in the North noodles are more common. Rice here is like bread in Italy: a bowl of rice always accompanies dishes of meat, fish or vegetables. Prices for food are curious though: a bowl of rice can be 1 or 2 Yuan, whereas an Espresso (which sometimes bears more the name than the flavour) is at an average of 30 Yuan: also considering that they grow the rice in-house and they have to import coffee, the disproportion is too big. Even more so since Vietnam, one of the largest producers of coffee, is just across the border.

On the next day the trail still offers amazing views:

but the way is shorter and easier, mostly downwards, so we can spend some time taking pictures of flowers:

and looking at "advanced engineering solutions":

We go back to Qiantou by minibus along the unpaved road behind the trail. We pass through a waterfall whose water drops right on the road; the driver warns us to pull the windows up, then he stops under the waterfall for a few seconds (meanwhile we hear the deafening noise of the water on the car roof). Then he goes.
The fastest, cheapest and most environmentally-friendly car wash I have ever seen.