Lijiang is a nice place to hang out an enjoy the maze of streets but it's also a bit too touristy. Heading north seems the only option to get away from it all.
Leaving Lijiang behind I began the climb over the mountain to Shangri-La. Nearing the top I met a Chinese cyclist heading for Lhasa in Tibet. Speaking no English at all he communicated his incredulity at the small amount of luggage I was carrying. I looked in bemusement at his luggage carrying layout. A huge rucksack tied onto a rear pannier rack, with a tent strapped on top and a sponge sleeping roll strapped atop of that. Instead of a hand pump he was carrying a track pump that was shoved under a couple of straps. I had to stop him straight away as two of the rucksack straps were dangling dangerously close to his rear derailleur. With those tucked up safely we carried on. Reaching the top of the climb he pulled over to rearrange his luggage and to jettison some weight. Opening his rucksack he produced a carrier bag full of chocolate and sweets, a toiletry bag, a pair of trousers, a hat and a selection of items that I think came from a chemist including a bag of pampers nappies which he proceeded to open up and layer onto the top of his saddle. He didn’t have any padded cycling shorts and was obviously feeling the pain. The rest of the items listed above were discarded and passed on to a car driver. My guess was that he had just started his journey in Lijiang and had overestimated the amount of weight he could comfortably carry. I later found out that this was correct. Only by climbing your first hill do you appreciate the amount of stuff that you don’t need to carry.

As we began the descent we hit a bumpy section causing his rucksack to sag over to one side of his rack with him trying to right it while braking on a downhill bend. I must admit that I felt a bit apprehensive behind him so I pulled out and overtook him just to be safe. Luckily nothing drastic happened, but at the bottom of the hill we he wanted to turn left to Shangri-La instead of right. He didn’t believe me even though I showed him the map on my phone, preferring to check with an old man sitting on the side of the road. Only when the old man pointed to the right did he concede that the map was correct. His phone did not have a map application, nor did he carry a paper map. Luckily there are very few turnings along these valleys so hopefully he will be okay. Stopping for dinner I was treated to a proper meal once again. Instead of miming eating food, my new friend was able to order a proper meal.  The treat was seconded when he paid the bill and refused to split it or even tell me how much it was. Using his phone to translate he told me that I had come to China and therefore I was his guest. A bit strange as we had only met about thirty minutes before. This is becoming a bit of a habit. Maybe I should find a Chinese cyclist every time I feel hungry. Not far up the road we met a group of 8 other Chinese cyclists all heading for Lhasa too. My journey that day was going to end at Tiger Leaping gorge, about 20kms further on, so I felt better knowing that my dinner partner would have some company as he didn’t seem too well prepared for such a journey.

As we approached my turn off for Tiger leaping gorge the clouds began to shake themselves free of some of the water that they were holding. It didn’t bode well for a trekking route that is an arduous 24kms long. Starting the climb up a farm track the trekking route didn’t seem too inspiring to start with, although that soon changed when the clouds parted again and bathed the mountainside with sunlight. The path gains height quickly as it winds its way along the gorge. If you thought that the Grand Canyon is deep you should see this gorge. From its highest point to the water level it is about three times the depth of the Grand Canyon. And some of the mountains have snow on them all year round. In fact this is the first Himalayan snow that I have seen so far. Nearing dusk I stopped for the night in a guest house conveniently placed on the trekking route. As with most of the houses here it is based around a courtyard giving it a homely feel. The food was delicious and the sunset spectacular.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of a Cuckoo, a common sound in China. Throughout the rest of Asia it has been Cockerels that have been waking me, mostly in the middle of the night. The rest of the day went without hitch although it was an arduous trek to say the least. Luckily there was plenty of opportunity to stop and take photographs, even to stop and just admire the view for five minutes or so. By the end of the day my feet were aching enough for me to decide to stay the night at the end of the gorge where I had left my bike the night before. After a good nights rest I continued up the valley meeting quite a few cyclists along the way. First was a guy from Hong Kong and two Taiwanese, heading north. Next were six Chinese heading to Lhasa who I rode with for a couple of hours. Thankfully they were overloaded with food and water. I had half expected there to be a variety of eating places along the route as in most of Asia, but they were few and far between today. After a couple of climbs I had to press on though as I was waiting almost as long at the top for tail-enders as I had spent on the climb itself. With a round of handshakes and waves I set off again.

Not long after I met another seven Chinese cyclists about ten kms from Shangri-La, again heading for Lhasa. Riding into town with them we ended up at a cheap hotel which was almost full, but the owner decided she would let me stay for free as I was sharing the room with two of the guys and using my airbed on the floor. Collecting the identity cards of the Chinese cyclists she declined my passport, which was unusual as she is supposed to register my presence with the police. Maybe she just couldn’t be bothered but it was to cause a lot of problems later.

One of my first jobs the next day was to renew my visa. I came into China with a thirty day visa which can be extended twice for a further thirty days each time. First to the police station where I told them the hotel I was staying at and was given a piece of paper to take to the PSB, the Public Security Bureau. Here I had to fill in a form, hand over a photo and was told to come back the next day to collect my passport, unusually fast for a PSB office. On return to the hotel I was met at the front door by the mother of the owner who was not happy. Luckily the one person who could translate for me had accompanied me to the police station. It turns out that the owner is going to be fined 2000 Yuan for failing to register me with the police when I arrived. The police had contacted the hotel after I had left them to ask why I had not been registered with them when I arrived. If she doesn’t pay she will be closed down for three months. The mood amongst the cycling group was not happy as the owner was blaming me. On the other hand they also feel emotionally for her which I can understand. They say that they need to find a solution to this problem and that we should pay the fine or at least a part of it. It’s the equivalent of about £220.
The owner then came back and continued where her mother left off. Listening but understanding none of it I was left on the side-lines until she had left. I didn’t get a full explanation; instead I was told that they feel they are in the wrong as she was being kind-hearted enough to let me stay for nothing. I, on the other hand, felt that she neglected to fulfil her legal requirement and that the fault lay entirely with her regardless of how little or how much I was paying. After all I had offered her my passport but it had been declined. Everywhere else in Asia my passport has been the first thing that has been asked for when I stayed overnight.

With half of the group out for dinner we discussed what to do and where to lay the blame. It was unanimous that the hotel owner was at fault but everyone including myself felt sorry for her and for the situation. As all of the group were students they could not afford to pay the fine. No matter how much I told them that it was not their fine to pay they still felt that we should do something to help. I was in two minds as their suggestion was that they as a group should pay a third, I should pay a third and the hotel owner should pay a third, about £75 each way. In the end we contributed a smaller amount but the situation had definitely soured the good feeling within the group, despite being none of their fault or responsibility. Early the next morning we set off for a ride to the first hill where I left them at the view point to continue to Lhasa before turning back and doing a circuit of the lake and grasslands surrounding Shangri-La. The good feeling of the group had returned by this point and it was with good hearts and hugs that we parted.


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