Tiger Leaping Gorge

On our way from Liming to Shangri-La, we were able to stop at Tiger Leaping Gorge because of the extremely pleasant weather. The day before we had visited the First Bend of the Yangtze River, where the river takes an almost 180 degree turn, from south to north. At the bend the river spreads out over hundreds of yards, providing us with a stark contrast to the narrow passage of the gorge (82 ft at its smallest). This section of the river gained its name from a local legend which states that a tiger jumped over the narrowest part of the gorge to escape hunters.

To set the scene, the river lies in a deep ravine with steep cliff faces and looming mountains on either side. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain can be seen from the bottom of the ravine, with a peak of 18,360 feet. The river lies at just under 6,000 feet in elevation, which provides an idea of how impressively deep the gorge is. Not only does this disparity in elevation make you feel tiny at the bottom, but it also provides for a wide array of biodiversity from river to mountain top.

Upon arrival we could hear the roar of the river. The view from the top was spectacular, but it didn’t do the power of the river justice. Below (top) is a picture looking up the gorge, (bottom) shows you the fierceness of the river in comparison to the people standing on the platform (where we were headed).

 

 

 

We purchased our tickets, and began the decent towards the angriest flow of chocolate milk (as one of my peers put it) any of us had ever seen. With every stair, the thundering of unfathomable amounts of water smashing into rock got louder and louder. At the bottom, we finally gained some perspective on how terrifying  this section of river actually was. On the scale of international ratings of whitewater from Class I – Class VI (flat water to risking death), I would rate it somewhere around a Class VII. The only people known to have attempted rafting this section of the Yangtze, unsurprisingly, were never seen again.

In the middle of the first photo below, the water plummets into a hole seemingly 20+ feet deep and then periodically erupts in a plume of water droplets. The second photo below, looking downriver, is of Alex (left) and Lucas (right). The platform they are standing on is the one the tiny people are standing on depicted earlier.

 

 

 

The hike back up on wobbly knees proved to be slightly challenging, but was a good way to wrap up this side excursion to a pinch point of the Jinsha River, one of the main tributaries of the Yangtze River.

The river’s immense power tantalizes those who want to harness its energy. With a hydroelectric dam, energy could be provided cheaply for countless people throughout the Yunnan Province. However, the introduction of a dam would displace thousands of local minority people (Naxi) who live along the river. Fortunately, plans for dams have been written off in recent years due to a large portion of the river being protected as a World Heritage Site. This issue raises many questions, posing economical reasons against the ethical. Having been exposed to Naxi culture during our trip, it does not seem right to destroy culture, homes, families, and lives in general, for economic gain.

Shangri-La’s Lamasery Bastion

Today is our last day in Shangri-La, and we wake up at our hotel eager to explore through our last hours in Western China. Our hotel, decorated with elaborately crafted mats and traditional Tibetan architecture, provide a mixed aura of warmth and exoticism. We gather for breakfast downstairs and discuss our day ahead while feasting on some freshly made rice noodles and warm yak tea. Belongings packed and hunger quelled, we march towards the bus stop cruising through the old town and its quaint family stores. Our final destination: Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery.

It is a brisk, lightly clouded day in Shangri-La. At the back of the bus, my classmates and I chat about our memories of Yunnan while playing chess to pass the time. To get to the monastery, we are told, we first need to check into a local tourist center that vets entrance into the region. From there we have arranged tourist transportation that will take us to the entrance of the lamasery. As an enthusiast of Buddhism, I am eager to explore the most renowned monastery in Southwestern China. Even if I identify with the Rinzai Zen school more than the Tibetan line of Buddhism (I find the mysticism surrounding Tibetan practice overwhelming and far-fetched), my interest was peaked by the historical significance of the spot, its importance to the surrounding region, and the fact that a few hundred lamas trained there. We arrive at the tourist center and aided by our friendly Tibetan guide make our way into the reserved bus. Interestingly, one of the members in our group was told her shorts were too short and she would need to purchase pants in order to be admitted. It remained a place of serious religious observance, after all, despite its touristy allure. As the bus sways through the twisting, hilly roads we catch a glimpse of the grandeur of this monastery.

We arrive and gather outside its gates. As we are in high altitude (11,090 ft) we are told to decide rather or not to ascend its many steps — I see a couple of Chinese men going up with oxygen bottles. Most of us feel fine and we agree that seemed exaggerated. Still, to err on safety, the more tired of us remained downstairs. The willing gather their belongings and head upwards. As you can see in the picture, the actual monastery stands towering alongside the complex of surrounding buildings. The other houses, we are explained, serve as homes to the lamas that practice in the temple. We slowly progress upwards and eventually reach the top steps. We take a short break before exploring the main hall.

There are three main adjacent halls filled with paintings of traditional Tibetan Buddhist mysticism and tales. We are not allowed to take pictures inside, and the halls constantly receive followers for prayers. Many kneel and revere the idols portrayed. In the second and third hall (from left to right) there were lamas inside chanting and meditating. In the third one, there was a lama chanting with a microphone — his peaceful mutterings echoed throughout the chambers setting a deeply spiritual feel to our presence. We are told that the Sumtseling monastery was established by the Fifth Dalai Lama several centuries ago. However, original parts of the monastery were partially destroyed in the 1950s in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Since the 1980s, thankfully, circumstances changed, and now the monastery buildings have been mostly renovated. Its arts are restored to their amazing detail and the fact that lamas continue to meditate and study there provide for a deep dive into Tibetan spirituality. We explore its surroundings a bit more before heading downwards, where we gather for a group picture and prepare to head towards the airport for our flight eastwards.

Cooking Lessons at the Linden Centre

On the second day of our stay at the Linden Centre, we were given the opportunity to have a cooking class with Michael, one of the Linden Centre’s chefs. Our group of 15 was broken into two groups. Group One would take a tour of the markets in Xizhou and purchase their own ingredients to be used later that afternoon in the cooking class. Group Two, my group, was chosen for the morning class where all of the ingredients were already purchased. The recipes my group and I would be cooking consisted of two traditional Bai dishes, the Bai people being the predominant ethnic group in Xizhou.

The first dish we prepared was a type of mashed potatoes with leek and green onions cooked in dark soy sauce. The potatoes were already boiled in water and we proceeded to peel and mash them by hand. One of the immediate differences between my experience with western cooking and eastern cooking was how o ften the hands were used to help cut and mash the various ingredients. After the potatoes and related ingredients were prepared, we proceeded to combine them into a stir fried mash potato delicacy.

The second dish was along the lines of a more traditional plate of chicken stir fry. Some of the unique ingredients used were sichuan peppers, cinnamon bark, potato starch, light and dark soy sauce, and Chinese peach flower wine. The peach flower wine used in this dish was the same kind that could be bought at most wine selling stores in the Yunnan province. It is a common drinking wine with a taste similar to rose tea or rose wine which also doubles as a perfect cooking wine. As we started to combine all of our ingredients into the wok, we had the liberty of choosing how much spice to use. Those of us who prefered our food to be spicy used more sichuan pepper than those who liked to maintain the sweeter flavor of the peach flower wine. Even those who enjoy spicy food need to be aware of the dangers possessed by sichuan pepper. Too much sichuan pepper can lead to a numbing sensation in the mouth which is only worsened by drinking water.

Both groups concluded the cooking classes with a late afternoon feast for lunch. While group two made mashed potatoes and chicken stir fry, group two used the ingredients they bought to make a pork stir fry and a spicy rice cake dish. Chef Michael had one last surprise for our lunchtime feast. Michael prepared a soup of his own recipe which consisted of rice wine, sugar, gogi berries, and cheese. The final product was a sweet, yet savory soup which was very filling.

The feast was a satisfying conclusion for a group of tired, amateur chefs.

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