This time i flew into Kunming, China through Kuala Lumpur instead of the east coast cities. After a few days rest and getting used to the altitude (Kunming is about 1 800 m above sea level) I took the sleeper train to Lijiang (about 2000 m) where I again had a few days break from traveling. I wanted to meet friends and needed to prepare things for my work. From there i took a bus to Shangri-la. There has been huge road construction projects going on all over northern Yunnan during the past years and now they are finished. The new highway is elevated and there are bridges and tunnels through the mountains. Actually the new part goes only to the bridge crossing Yangtze River after which it is the old road. Surprisingly the new road doesn’t save much time, the 200 km stretch still takes about 4 hours. But the road is definitely safer now as it doesn’t wind along the mountain sides and go through villages; safer for both cars and the villagers. And the scenery can be seen better from the elevated road.
In Shangri-la I had a break again as it is about 3 300 m. My village, Xidang, is only around 2 000 m but i still needed to cross Baima Snow Mountains where the road at its highest goes at 4 200 m. Or this was the case before. Now there is a tunnel going through the mountains missing the most gorgeous bit of the journey.
As the public bus to Deqin obviously uses the tunnel there now is also an option for it besides hiring a car. Many of the previously privately owned and operated minivans now have a logo of one company. They gather customers from the different guesthouses in Shangri-la and drive them through the Baima pass all the way to Feilaisi which is where most tourists are going as you can see the whole Meili Snow Mountain range from there. The trip costs 80 yuan/per person. Even driving though the pass this trip took only 4 hours instead of the 6 it did before (180 km) and through the tunnel will be even faster.
The burning down of Shangri-la old town hasn’t affected the number of tourists going up to Meili, actually the opposite. Most tourists I met in the guesthouse in Shangri-la were either going to or coming from Meili.From Deqin I needed to hire a car to get to Xidang. There is one public buss going from the village to Deqin at 8 am and going back at 3 pm but the bus drives only to Xidang village and after that I’d need to hike up the mountain to our house. With all my luggage and the shopping I had to do (boxes of water and ice tea and such) I thought it better to hire one. The 37 km trip takes about an hour with a minivan and costs 250 yuan although I managed to bargain this down a bit. And then I was finally back in my Tibetan home after a year. So all said about the shrinking distances, it is still far! Of course the trip can be done faster by flying in to Shangri-la but you should be used to the altitude already to do that.
For trekking Baima, see http://nomadchina.blog.com/