Saturday, April 23, 2005

A Busy Day in Paradise

Jiuzhaigou, the 'Paradise of China', where people all across the country dream of visiting. And apparently, it's more than just a dream, as they arrive by the busloads. Indeed, it is a beautiful place, known for its lakes and pools of clear, blue waters, where long tree logs float on the surface like lily pads and waterfalls cascade down rocky cliffs.

But it is not a place to escape the crowds of China and get out into nature -- a rather impossible task, I'm beginning to believe. Fighting the altitude-induced headache, I took the bus ride into the park to the top of the road and walked all the way back, partly with a couple Chinese girls I met, mostly by myself. Occasional wooden plank walkways took me off the road and around to the far side of the lakes, but I sure wasn't alone. Some paths, largely the most inviting ones, were blocked off to the public and my frustration of having to walk among the throes of people, men in suits and women in heels!, led me to go beyond them and enjoy some solitude. If the entrance fee was only about $10, how much could a fine be?

It was a good decision, and I had a brief encounter with a couple young monks as I got back on the 'legal' paths before heading back through the main gate to the hotel. That night, I walked outside into the small night market and dined on my favorite food in all of Sichuan -- street food, carts full of meat and vegetable skewers cooked on a small grill while you wait. Some people will always tell you to stay away from street food when traveling -- I seek it out right away. Stuffed, I crashed that night in a freezing yet comfy hotel room.

I was impressed by Jiuzhaigou, but I find it hard to believe it's the most beautiful place in China. There must be someplace more magnificent, but I can also be a hard guy to please. I've spoiled myself, and I know it. :) But it was beautiful, nonetheless.

The next day I tried to get to nearby Huang Long mountain (Yellow Dragon), but a snowstorm made the road impassable, and after allowing the passengers a few moments of throwing snowballs at each other, we headed back to the airport after a brief stop in nearby Songpan. The plane was late leaving because of weather, and I missed my connecting flight out of Chengdu to Li Jiang and had to spend one more enjoyable yet unexciting day in Chengdu. That afternoon, I went back to People's Park for some tea. I ended up sitting next to three guys who couldn't peel their eyes off of me. I'd had enough, and I thought I'd try my usual trick: a smile. But that didn't work, and it took another force that can be even more powerful.

A beautiful woman.

Joining the three men, one of whom was her husband, she was quick with a hello and I soon found out that they were local Tibetans originally from Kangding and Litang in western Sichuan, in the foothills of Tibet. Once again, an uncomfortable situation was turned around and we enjoyed some tea together before I left Sichuan for Li Jiang in northwest Yunnan where I would spend a day or two before embarking on a three-day trek through one of the deepest gorges in the world -- the Tiger Leaping Gorge.


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