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Haba - Baishuitai

Walking to Zhongdian, sort of

This story is a continuation of the 2002 Tiger Leaping Gorge tale. An increasingly common itinerary is to trek the Tiger Leaping Gorge and then turn left after Walnut Grove to head through the Haba Valley, spend a night in Haba Village, continue the following day to Baishuitai and then travel by bus to Zhongdian. This is such a story. [Image right: Haba Peak]

As I had thoroughly torn up my right knee trekking the gorge I was traveling onward by horseback. I was in the company of a Chinese guide who was on foot, and a young Canadian couple, Michael and Corrine, who were also on foot.

April 21-23, 2002

April 21

It was another beautiful day. Pleasant temps, a cloudless sky. Sean had told us that the trek from Walnut Grove to Haba village by way of the valley was more difficult than the high trail of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. He wasn't joking. It's about thirty kilometers and much of it is uphill.

Leaving the road we immediately began ascending and would continue to do so for several hours. But as I was on a horse this was no problem for me. While my traveling companions dragged tired legs up steep inclines, I sat back and enjoyed the fine views of Haba Valley. First, the eastern end of Jade Dragon Mountain figured prominently anytime I looked over my shoulder and later Haba Peak, 5000-some-odd meters high, would dominate the view to our left.

Entering Haba Valley and looking back towards Daju. Jade Dragon Mountain is to the right, but not in the picture.

By mid-day we had reached the top. The guide was a bit tired, Michael and Corrine were exhausted, and me? Well, I was on a horse, I had nothing to complain about except a sunburned neck. The next few hours saw us descend towards Haba village, much of the trip along a road that was still partially under construction.

The two horses were a handful, well, one of them anyway. The horse I was riding was mellow enough but the young mule carrying the bags was a real pain in the, umm, ass. His behavior wasn't so much of an issue in the beginning, but as we began descending to Haba village, walking on the road, it was a dangerous adventure every time a car passed us.

My horse would calmly move over but for the black pack horse this wasn't good enough. He'd run up alongside us and at the very last moment, usually when the car is right next to us and there's no place for me or my horse to go, he'd try to push us out of his way. This would be fine except all too often the only thing that was out of his way was a cliff with a drop of a hundred meters or so and being pushed over this cliff by a jackass was not something I was going to tolerate.

I solved this problem by punching the little shit in the jaw the next time he got too close. Animal rights activists, horse lovers, etc, kindly be quiet, punching this ornery mule in the jaw worked marvelously. Though I had a sore hand for a day it was the last time the animal tried pushing me off a ledge, so it was worth it.

My horse and my guide at the Haba Snow Mountain Inn

Mid-afternoon, after a long ascent, we reached the village of Haba. A few hundred residents, many of them Muslim, and a couple of guesthouses tucked into a valley that spills down a hillside with mountains rising on three sides make up Haba. Nice place.

We checked into the Haba Snow Mountain Inn. This is your typical rural Yunnan guesthouse - a family farm with a couple of rooms converted to guesthouse use. This particular place is run by a very friendly thirty-something-year-old woman named Yung. She's learned just enough English to feed you, point you to the shower, get you to your room, and collect your money when you leave.

A word on the showers - if a nice shower is available I'm happy to avail myself of it, but in the absence of such a facility, no matter, this is rural Yunnan, I didn't really care if I was all that clean or not. The Haba Inn has showers and as Yung made such a big deal about heating the water for us, declining the offer wasn't really an option. And what of the shower? A trickle, a drip, a drop. But the water was warm enough and after, maybe half an hour of drip and drop, I was clean.

Girl at the Haba Snow Mountain Inn. One of Yung's daughters?

The Haba Snow Mountain Inn really is a nice place to kick back and Yung proved to be an excellent cook loading the three of us up with about a half dozen dishes, including my Yunnan favorite, fried dried yak. Breakfast the following morning was quite a treat, too, and Yung clearly has a clue about westerners - she serves coffee.

April 22

After a hearty breakfast of tomato and eggs with coffee we loaded up our now, four horses. The previous day's walk was a bit much for Michael and Corrine (hey, they did the gorge the day before as well!) and a pair of horses and a guide were obtained for them.

A brief steep ascent in the beginning and a couple of steep descents were the only diversions from what was otherwise largely a flat trek and certainly much easier than the Walnut Grove to Haba portion. While not trying to push me over a ledge anymore, the black mule was again being an annoyance jockeying for position with my horse. This problem was easily solved. I got a large stick and made a point of thwacking the little bastard on the nose anytime he got too close. For most of the day he dutifully stayed behind me but I don't think he enjoyed his diminished position too much.

As with the previous day, it's a scenic trek and, time permitting, I highly recommend taking the two-day Walnut Grove to Baishuitai trek opposed to taking a bus from Walnut Grove to Baishuitai via Daju.

Leaving Haba Village for Baishuitai

Baishuitai is not as nice of a place as Haba. The main attraction is the limestone terraces. Though interesting to see and worth the Y30 price of admission, I wouldn't make a pilgrimage here, but as it's part of the trek from Walnut Grove to Zhongdian, yeah, have a look.

Our guides brought us to a guesthouse of the name "Beid Hotil" (sic). A new place run by a friendly but drunk and sickly owner. A bed cost something paltry like Y10. There were some other guesthouses in the village but none looked any better or worse than where we were.

After sitting down and having some tea and a quick snack our guides announced that they would return to Haba - now. It was mid-afternoon, they had just walked about 25 kilometers - and they were going to do it again - now. I was rather impressed.

I went off to see the limestone terraces which took all of about an hour to see. You pay money and pass through a gauntlet of women with ponies offering an easy but unnecessary way up the hill. As I said, the terraces are interesting enough and while they rope them off you can still get close enough to really see what you paid to see. Signs tell you where not to go and while you may not read Chinese, it's fairly easy to figure out what you're being told not to do and that it will cost you Y50 if you do it anyway. A friendly old man is standing around ready to enforce all of this.

Limestone terraces, Baishuitai

Another Canadian couple, Mihai and Marcella, turned up at the guesthouse a few hours later. Dinner was nowhere near as tasty as what was provided for us in Haba and as I was eating I began to get the feeling that something might not be quite right with this meal. Sure enough at 3:30 a.m. I awoke to make the first of multiple trips to the 'bathroom' out back.

While I can highly recommend the Haba Snow Mountain Inn in Haba, I can't think of any reason to stay at the Beid Hotil. I was the only one who actually got sick, though Mihai complained a bit of gas and cramps.

April 23

Michael and Corrine hopped an early bus back to Daju and beyond, while Mihai, Marcella, and I waited for a bus to Zhongdian. We had conflicting information as to when the bus to Zhongdian would arrive, 8 a.m. or 10 a.m. It arrived at 10:15. It took over five hours to reach Zhongdian, a trip lengthened by the bus breaking down several times. The problem was apparently some sort of leak in the fuel line. They solved this problem by filling up a gas can and placing it inside the bus and running a line from the can directly into the engine. Did the presence of a large open can of gasoline stop anyone from smoking? No, of course not. Even the driver and his assistant, sitting right next to the gasoline, huffed and puffed away scaring the three of us shitless. None of the Chinese seemed to care, though. Ignorance is bliss I suppose.

Again, we found ourselves all the way in the back of the bus. A few miles down the road a young Chinese guy took the fourth seat in the back, next to the window.

The Chinese obsession with spitting really mystifies me sometimes. Take for example, the guy seated next to me. For the entire trip he followed a cycle. He would sleep for awhile, wake up and spit, sing for two or three minutes and then go back to sleep, repeating this sequence over and over. Now you would think anyone planning to release a wad of snot would at least open the window and spit it outside. You would think. On one occasion the guy wakes up, primes himself quite noisily with a big wad and then pauses. With this mouth full of spit he starts looking around, looking here, pondering there, his mind considering all the possible places to deposit his phlegm. Well, gee, why not just spit the thing out the window? Finally, he does just that. Then he starts singing and falls asleep in mid-verse.

An hour later he wakes up again. On cue, he primes himself with a big wad of spit. And again he looks around for a place to deposit it. Well, gee, seeing as it worked last time, let's try it again, okay, open the window and spit, stupid! No. Too much effort. He leans against the closed window and spits his wad on the edge of the glass letting it run down the side and assumedly on to his shoes. The three of us can only look at each other, laugh and begin to make obnoxious jokes which we knew he couldn't understand. Meanwhile he starts singing and falls asleep in mid-verse, gobs of goo dripping next to him.

Story continues in Zhongdian.


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All text and photographs 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.