I Trek, Yubeng

Monday, July 21, 2008

It was a hard slog in every way. Finally, my luck with the weather ran out and it rained almost the entire trek into the Tibetan village of Yubeng. Between trekkers and donkeys, the trail was often times a soup (with ingredients you don’t want to think about) and a largely uphill one at that. I’d gone with an Austrian couple but they weren’t acclimatized and were feeling pretty pressured to keep up with me so I wound up ahead and on my own. A hot bowl of soup helped restore my water supply and core temperature at the chilly peak and then downwards the rain finally began to abate. There was a big chain of donkeys carrying supplies that I had to endeavour to stay ahead of (it’s painful to pass them or be stuck at their pace even though only slightly slower than mine) but as I got below the cloud the village could be made out amidst the shadows of some imposing mountains.

I found a place to stay in a Tibetan guesthouse (this village really is Tibetan in everything but name) and went back to show the Austrians where I was staying. Our host asked if we were hungry and then brought us to his pantry and kitchen to point out ingredients we wanted. I wanted more than just vegetables and remembered that chow mein is fried noodles, so I managed to get that tacked on to our list of veggies as well as some meat (he couldn’t stop laughing once he figured out why I made a ‘moo-ing’ sound). The end result was a fatty soup of noodles, pork fat, and veggies that was edible but not my favourite dish. But, I suspect, we were eating the way they do.

It’s cold up here in the mountains (current elevation around 3700m) and the three of us sat around the hearth in their living room with the grandmother of the family. She could only speak Tibetan, not Chinese or English but we tried to initiate a conversation with her regardless. I pointed to myself and said, “Dean” and then pointed at her. It turns out that both “di” and “dean” are numbers in Tibetan (1 and 7 respectively) and so that initiated a counting lesson that the Austrians were more than happy to see me struggle with. I then tried to find out her background and found (I think) she’d been born in Lhasa, had moved to Shangri-La and Lijiang when she was younger and then had lived here the rest of her life. We didn’t want to overstay our welcome so we said goodnight, grabbed some tea, and then went to sleep ourselves, praying for better weather tomorrow.

I awoke at 6:30 in the morning to see the sun begin to light the tall mountain out my window. And then I realized that I could actually see that mountain. I hurriedly dressed, ran outside past the cows to the washroom, came back and packed, and bolted out the door. There was hardly a cloud in the sky though they seemed to be forming as the sun warmed things up. Aside from the locals (and let’s face it, there still are not a lot of tourists here anyway) I felt I was alone in the town to observe their morning rituals. A woman milked her yak, a man tended to his mules, and somewhere a small bell was ringing every five seconds or so. This turned out to be a woman turning a prayer wheel (you walk in a circle around a cylinder, pushing it) that hit the bell every revolution. Another woman joined her in an unlikely little temple and I watched quietly for a time before moving.

Knowing how the weather changes in the mountains and fearing rain and cloud, I resolved to make good time while the weather held. After admiring the views from above and then making my way down to the lower village (where I’d observed the prayer), I set out on the path towards the Secret Waterfall. The path ambles through a valley forest along a snow melt stream which is never too far away. On the way, I passed a tree covered in bracelets, cloths, earrings, and other trinkets. I have no idea what this indicates, but it was a departure from the streamer-like prayer flags. Further along and further uphill I went, admiring the mossy forest still wet with morning dew and catching glimpses through the canopy of the Himalayas that surround Yubeng and isolate it from the rest of Tibet. While cloud seemed to move here and there, offering glimpses and then taking them away, it soon became clear that weather was not going to be an issue. It was an absolutely perfect day, and the third of four in a season where one nice day every couple weeks is lucky. I think blessed is the word to describe the weather here this July.

At last, my journey neared its destination. The surrounding mountains, beautiful Miancimu and the Buddha’s Head framed the green foothills below with snowy peaks and wispy clouds, the two mingling only via a river of snow cascading down from the heights. On the right, two massive waterfalls. In the middle, a cloudy landscape of snow and low, jagged peaks with the higher mountains partially peeking through. On the left, green and white and blue. The funny thing is that these massive waterfalls are, when viewed from afar, an almost insignificant part of the mountain itself. I climbed up along a stream and accidentally washed my shoes to the top where, of all things, a pair of rainbows sat at the end of the waterfall illustrating that I had indeed found the pot of gold.

I’m sorry for the flowery prose (or whatever you might call it), but I’m not quite sure how to convey the feeling that goes along with a walk of this sort. And if you’re cringing at the pot of gold remark, well, I made my way off the path down the moraine on a very steep and foolhardy descent and was rewarded with two 100 yuan notes that must have been lost in the winter or were deemed irretrievable. So, that would pay quite nicely for my trip back to Shangri-La not to mention the guesthouse. I played around in the snow, the first time I’ve seen snow since leaving New Zealand almost two years ago and shoe-skied my way down to where the snow ends and the stream collects the run off. Back to Yubeng, a quick lunch that quite resembled last night’s dinner, but with yak meat instead. I was tired, hungry, and probably would’ve grabbed a horse back up but that nobody offered me one.

Just as well, once I had my Snickers (this is not a paid advertisement) I had a bit more energy and I doffed my shirt in the sun and virtually ran up the slope. People stopped me, no word of a lie, to give me thumbs up or say things like “strong”. One Chinese guy was so startled, I merited a heavily accented “Oh my god”. If you know me at all, you’re wondering the same thing as I am – what on earth are they talking about? I think they were surprised I hadn't opted for a horse. Still, I felt good and made the hike back in what I consider a speedy 2.5 hours. The view on the way was spectacular – all the mountains were out in all their resplendence. Back in Fei Lai Si, I thought about waiting a few hours for sunset and passed some time having beer with an English guy but got tired waiting and retreated to Tashi’s for dinner and a warm bed. It had been a big day, a big four days in fact, and I was looking forward to the morrow’s ride southeast to, well, wherever I could reach. But if I haven’t been convincing in my delivery, let me just spell out in plain words what a wonder this area is. If you are coming to Yunnan, I definitely recommend a stop here in Fei Lai Si, even if only for the drive up.

Yubeng Trek Photos


Anonymous said...

Whoa!!!! That picture is awesome... Where is that???

Dean said...

Which one? :)

They're all the same place anyway, I guess, on the border of Tibet and China.

Anonymous said...

how long does it take from bottom to lower Yubeng village. Love your blog!