Flashback #12 – Tiger Leaping Gorge, China – 2000

In 2000 Shoko and I quit our jobs (not the first time or the last…) to set off on an overland voyage that would take us from Hong Kong to southern India, where our trip was thwarted by a family tragedy (they always have bad timing, don’t they?), and we were sent back to Japan to beg for more work.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is in SW China, near the border with Tibet, and is (depending on how you calculate it) the deepest river gorge in the world. The trek is short (only about 20 km) but spectacular. We went during the wet season so didn’t get the best views, but for sheer terror this time of year can’t be beat! There were numerous landslides along our route, which we either had to find a way around or walk straight over. We (well, me at least) had a humbling experience on one such landslide. The walking path had been totally wiped out by the slide and what was left was a barrier of very steep, wet dirt. Locals were trotting over this mess like it was nothing, obviously oblivious to the fact that on their left was a near-sheer slide of hundreds of meters. Of course that fact was cemented in my brain as I shepherded Shoko across, trying to act ‘normal’, all the while watching my short life flash before my eyes! But the stupidest thing about the whole experience was the fact that the people who lived in these mountains didn’t look as if they saw the danger they were in! Fear is a funny thing, that’s all I can say.

And my anxiety was not just imaginary, as it turned out. The next day while totally getting lost on our way to the end of the gorge, we watched a woman, far far off in the distance, trying to navigate a slide somewhat similar to ours. She went forward, then back, then forward, then down…this was her mistake and she started to slide down the mountain, then tumble head over heals…then stop. She wasn’t hurt luckily, and we actually met up with her later in the day. She seemed totally unfazed by the whole thing, stating rather bizarrely ,’I’m from Vancouver. I know how to walk on scree.’ I didn’t argue. How can you?

The other problem we had was dynamite. Yes, we were warned before that, because of the construction of a lower road along the river, we should stay on the upper footpath. All throughout both days we heard distant explosions, but on the 2nd day we were forced down to the lower road somehow (we were basically lost the whole damn day) and, knowing that this was the place those big booms were coming from, didn’t waste time getting to the end of the road, and safety. 

All in all it was quite the nerve-racking experience, I have to say. But if it had been easy I suppose there’d be no blog entry to write…

By the way, this exact route was walked (and filmed) by Michael Palin a few years later, if you’re interested. The series he did is called ‘Himalya’, I think.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

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