I came to this area first time 2009 and the road from Shangri-la to Deqin was under construction then. Half a year after it was finished the construction started again and is now almost done (besides the tunnel Through Baima Mountain which is supposedly going to be finished next year). Also the road through the village here is paved now and now they are doing the rest of it from the village to the bridge crossing the Mekong.
So some days ago i fried my computer cable but unfortunately the road construction had decided to blow up the road the next day so no bus was leaving the village. You could get to town by hiring a car to the construction site, hiking over it and getting another one from the other side. But that was a bit too much trouble so I decided to wait for a few days. Yesterday the bus was running again so I went to Deqin and luckily found a cable there saving me a trip to Shangri-la (again). Deiqin is a two street town with really nothing to do so I sat at the bus station reading my book. There’s a lot of construction happening in Deqin as well as the number of tourists is expected to explode especially next year which is the birth year of Kawa Gepo, the highest peak of Meili Mountains and holy to the Tibetans.
At one o’clock I got a call from my Tibetan brother that he was driving his friend’s car to the village and i could have a ride with him saving me from 2 hours of waiting (or so I thought). We got maybe half way to the bridge when the traffic was stopped first time because of constructions but it was only half an hour waiting. Then just before the bridge the traffic was stopped again. Road to Mingyong was open but you couldn’t go to Xidang before 5 which meant 2 hours of waiting.
Road to Xidang
Most cars turned back to Deqin at this point. My brother waited for an hour before he realized that the car he was driving wouldn’t make it over the construction site anyways. So he arranged me a drive in the only other car still waiting to get through. And this turned out to be the sunniest day of the week with no shade on this side of the river. And then half an hour before we could get through huge part of the slope fell down to the road!
Ah, this meant more waiting and waiting while they cleared the road. And the slope wasn’t very stable so there were several smaller slides every time the wind picked up. Finally after 6 they started letting cars through from the other side. Some tourists decided to leave the car and ran through the slide. And then it was our turn. And here we go…
And made it through without any problems! 🙂
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.
Baima Snow Mountain
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.
Cars in Baima pass
Tractor in Baima pass
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/