Startled awake by a voice in broken Mandarin. Squinted eyes. Instant noodles? Reality slowly setting in, the image on our retinas solidifying. We stare right into Sunday’s friendly face as he wishes us good morning, lights the stove and sticks the kettle on. He points the packages of instant noodles with beef flavour and announces with an apologetic gesture that he’s got to go. We gather our stuff and thoughts as he shuffles out. The lawn outside the building is covered in brittle frost. Our breath forms woolly clouds in the morning chill. We munch pensively on our noodles before re-arranging the monk’s living quarters and, failing to find him, buying 100 RMB worth of karma through the monastery’s donation box.

Hotel Monk
Hotel Monk

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We wake to the sound of a dozen Chinese voices preparing for the big ride. Some of them have rolled in at 10 last night but are the first to get up. At their rate, they’ll need it. Only the Hunan group is still around when we finally make it down the stairs. Of our plans to get up at the crack of dawn is not much left.

We put our sweaty and dirty riding gear back on, wipe the sleep grime off our faces and stumble into the kitchen where we’re supposed to get breakfast. And breakfast there is: the owner’s lovely wife (who could really be his daughter) serves us two large helpings of noodles and wraps up a large, freshly-baked baba (a dry wheat cake) for our trip. The neighbouring shop complements our supplies with some drinks and a smile wide enough to allow a small truck to pass.

Pete enjoying breakfast in the inn's kitchen
Pete enjoying breakfast in the inn’s kitchen

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Having rested for a full day, we make another early start into what is now really unknown terrain. A cartload of steamed buns (包子 baozi) and soy sauce eggs (卤蛋 ludan) fill our stomachs and what doesn’t fit goes into a lunch bag. Skies are clear, air is crisp, perfect day for a bike ride.

Leaving Shangri-La in the morning
Leaving Shangri-La in the morning

As we’re climbing out of the messy outskirts of Shangri-La, we’re accompanied by a cloud of ominous buzzards, lazily circling above our heads. Traffic’s relatively busy and we’re hoping to hit the actual old road to Deqin soon. We’re not too sure whether it still exists. On one hand, constructing a new second-class road requires making much more level roads, an ice-free surface and there are certain requirements as to how sharp curves are allowed to be. (more…)

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Morning bliss at the Dulong river

This is the account of a trekking journey I recently undertook in the Dulong river valley, Yunnan’s remotest corner in between Myanmar and Tibet. Part one of this story was originally published on GoKunming.com.

We stretch our stiff legs when we alight the green and white jeep. For the past three days, we’ve done nothing but sit in ever smaller vehicles: big comfy bus from Kunming to Liuku 六库, a smaller regional bus from Liuku to Gongshan 贡山, and finally a small jeep loaded with eight people bouncing their heads off the padded bodywork that took us across a high mountain pass from Gongshan to Kongdang 孔当.

We’ve arrived in Yunnan’s most secluded valley, home to the Dulong river 独龙江 which rages from its headwaters in Tibet through a mere 100 km of Yunnan, shedding over 1000 metres in altitude before flowing into Myanmar’s Irawaddy river. Locals consist of the Dulong 独龙族 and Lisu minorities 傈僳族 , but there are some Nu people 怒族 to be found as well.

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