After a night in the smoky torture chamber next to the Mahjong-loving photographer crew from Henan, we’re feeling surprisingly fresh. The sun’s out and it promises to be a lovely day. Whatever remains of our headache and grudge towards the rowdy neighbours is quickly fixed by a large bowl of noodles. We get the owner to boil us some eggs for the road and will rely on Dali bars 达力粑 for the rest of the day.

'morning!
‘morning!

Asking for water, I’m directed to a few taps in the courtyard, and informed that it’s the cleanest mountain spring water. Peter doesn’t trust it much: drinking tap water is a big no-no in China, but I’ve had good experiences with it in mountain areas such as Dali and Lijiang. The pipes usually run from a high-up source and while they’re not sealed everywhere, a bit of goat poop and yak pat probably just adds to the flavour. I fill my Camelbak with three litres of the ice-cold liquid.

Our mission today: get across the Yangtze in what is, by some standards, the world’s deepest gorge. Then climb up from the 1500m ferryway onto the other side of the gorge, across two 2900m passes and then down to the cradle of Naxi culture: Baishuitai 白水台 (White water terrace) at 2500m. I’m fairly familiar with the part after the ferry, but getting across the Yangtze may still prove a little bit tricky.

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Wheat

All we know at this moment is that there is a ferry and that it should be running all year round. On blogs and from other cyclists’ accounts, we anticipate a pretty nasty climb. There are horror stories of people carrying their bikes down to the ferry down precarious paths along the extremely steep cliff face. Some said it took them up to thirty minutes because they could not bring bike and luggage down at the same time.

However, our first challenge is finding it. In Daju, we learn that we should ask for the 老渡口 (‘Old ferry port’). After zigzagging through beautiful barley and wheat fields for a while, we finally get to the edge of the cliff and the road that presumably should take us there. It’s an unpaved and dangerously steep trail, but at the end of it there is indeed a boat bobbing around in the miraculously blue waters of the Yangtze 长江 or Jinshajiang 金沙江, as it is known in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

Not the right ferry
Not the right ferry

As we’re about to board, we learn that this boat is going up the river but not across. In order to cross, we have to take “the other ferry”. We stare in the direction of where the woman is pointing, then up to see if there’s a path. A scrawny line meanders down the cliff from the point where we started descending.

We sweat at the idea of going all the way back up and then carrying our bikes down, but fortunately a little sandy path half-way the trail more or less allows us to ride all the way to the ferry. Why the ferry doesn’t moor at the more accessible place, is beyond us. Locals assure us that next year, when the new bridge is finished, it will all become more convenient for us. As far as we’re concerned, we’re happy to have done and seen all of this beauty before Daju, too, becomes connected to the tourist trail.

Aye aye
Aye aye

The ferry is manned by two kids and a beardy engineer, who receives 20 RMB per person and 5 per bicycle before he orders his offspring to cast off and fires up the nasty diesel engine. The ride takes about five minutes and is followed by a scramble back to the path. We’re barely able to ride the next 100 altitude metres on a gravel track and frequently get off to push. Sweat is dripping off my forehead and right into my eyes and I curse myself for forgetting my cap.

When we reach the top of the cliff, however, we’re greeted with fantastic rural scenery: dark yellow wheat fields backdropped by the mighty Tiger Leaping Gorge and its defining dark blue Jade Dragon and Haba mountains.

Towards the gorge. Left: Jade Dragon 玉龙雪山; and right: Haba 哈巴雪山
Towards the gorge. Left: Jade Dragon 玉龙雪山; and right: Haba 哈巴雪山

From here on, it’s all familiar. Three years ago, I found myself close to finishing my very first Asian bike trip. I had been rained to a mush in the Tiger Leaping Gorge and was riding up this very same road towards Haba village 哈巴村, my clothes finally drying in the bright Yunnan sun. I also know that our plight starts here: getting up to 2800m on a 20km and seemingly never-ending climb.

Fortunately, the scenery keeps the climb interesting. Somewhere half-way we take a break to munch on some Salami, Dali bars, peanuts, eggs and other chewy snacks we picked up on the way. Dark and heavy clouds coat the mountain tops as the skies threaten with rain, but we’re not too worried. One top away from Haba, the sleepy village where I started my climb to its 5396m summit three years ago.

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One of Haba’s proud peaks

We pass the Yak meadow, level the last hill and plunge down into Haba, which, thanks to the peculiar lighting, looks like a large slab of green goo flowing towards the abyss. Some other anonymous snow-capped mountains ornate the background as I listen to the sound of my knobby tyres howling on the asphalt.

Haba village always had a bunch of fruit loops hanging out. Last time there was a barely clad androgynous person who just stared dark stares at everyone. This time around, it’s an older fella with a plastic toy gun who came to perform while we ate our noodles. For all its mountaineering opportunities, Haba is actually dramatically underdeveloped. A newly built climbers’ hostel was unmanned as we tried to seek bed and another is still in as shabby a condition as it was three years ago.

Haba, on its slab of pure green.
Haba, on its slab of pure green.

The noodles (and the prospect of having a longer next ride) have given us the courage to move on to Baishuitai. Peter feels winded, though, and gratefully accepts a ride from two guys and a bunch of PVC piping in a converted tractor. The deal is that we will stay at their hostel in Baishuitai.

Now alone on the ride, I get a little tunnel vision and want to race the tractor to our goal. I’m given a headstart and am convinced I can make it, until strong headwinds force me to abandon all hope. Still, after a sweaty 30km, I arrive a mere 10-15 minutes after they have.

Local fruit loop
Local fruit loop

The hostel (三斤, “Three kilos” and the owner’s name, maybe he was a foundling?) has been on a CCTV4 programme about China’s border areas. Proud posters featuring the hostel’s owner and the journalist adorn the walls, but the bathroom is a little on the disgusting side, with the toilet not flushing and the seat completely broken.

We head out to the white water terraces of Baishuitai (the actual town is called Sanbaxiang 三坝乡 (Three dams town). According to lore, this is where the goddess of the Naxi 纳西 people was born and with her the entire Naxi culture. The basins are natural creations from limestone deposits and look a bit like small rice terraces. Constantly overflowing with the clearest of mountain waters, they reflect whatever colour the sky is, possibly slightly altered by any algae content or other plant life. Observed from the side, they look a little like miniature infinity pools in a stunning mountain setting.

Infinity pool
Infinity pool

We wait until sundown to take pretty pictures and then head back to our hostel for food. Fried yak jerky with mint, Chinese hashbrowns, some wild vegetables, rice, and loads of local highland barley wine: a smooth and fragrant spirit that tastes divine after a long and hard day. The owner is able to read and write Dongba scripture, which really looks like someone’s been drawing cartoons. His wife is complaining that it’s something that is only taught to the men, so she is left out. Strange, because Naxi culture is of old strongly matriarchal. Perhaps scripture is something reserved for the Dongba shamans who can only be men.

Earplugs in. Lights out.

Naxi Dongba scripture
Naxi Dongba scripture

 

2 thoughts on “Acrophobia Pt2: Big Tool 大具 to White Water Terrace 白水台”

  1. The first ferry goes “up the river”?
    As in, it goes up into Tiger Leaping Gorge? Really? How far? Why? Where does it let people off?
    Isn’t the Yangtze in Tiger Leaping Gorge one of the least navigable places on earth?

  2. The first ferry was not a ferry, just a boat going up the river, as in, direction headwaters rather than alluvial. Questions questions, and I have no answer. It’s not a regular service so I didn’t bother to ask too much, they were busy. I’m sure it didn’t actually go all the way into the gorge, just a bit. Remember that Daju is already quite a bit out into the navigable part of the river.

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