(I have no idea why this whole post is in bold!)
Day 6 - Not a great start today - I didn’t sleep well and woke up with a sore stomach. Breakfast was congee and steamed buns. Then, we packed into the car for the drive to Nilong village, where we were to start our walk.
At first the drive was standard - windy with reasonably paved roads. But before too long we came to a place where there had recently been a rockfall, and we could see rocks still coming down onto the road. The road was completely blocked, so we got out to have a look. What we saw wasn’t a very recent landslide after all, but people on the rock face stabilizing it after a slide and pushing the loose stones onto the road. Eventually they stopped and another team came in, clearing two tire-width tracks on the road. No hardhats or safety gear, manpower only.
The road from the main junction down to Nilong Village was scary - thin (one car width), switchback hairpin bends, and on a scree slope. But we got to the bottom and met our guide and mule. We (or rather, the guide) loaded the mule up with our packs and, carrying only daypacks ourselves, we crossed the narrow wooden bridge to the village and began our walk.
It began steeply, switchbacking upwards, before flattening out. The path was on a steep cliff face, about a meter wide and with a narrow, man made water sluice on the right and the river far below us on the left. The scenery was stunning and, after another short but steep climb, we reached a hostel where we had morning tea.
After our break the track climbed steeply (there is a lot of this to come!) through the trees. We followed the rushing river upwards until finally (thank god!) we reached our lunch stop: a beautiful meadow with a corn field and a few (empty) houses.
After lunch we continued on and, after approximately a total of 5 hours’ walking, made it to our home for the next two nights - Lower Yubeng.
The hostel in which we are staying is lovely in a rustic sort of way. Several wooden buildings surround a grass courtyard where chickens, two cats and a yak calf roam. There is a ‘restaurant’ and communal eating room - unlike other hostels I’ve been to on various travels you can’t cook your own meals but must have them prepared for you with local produce. The dining/common room is spacious and the cats wander in and out. So too does the little yak calf, however it is soon chased out by the owners.
Day 7 - I woke up feeling much better after an amazing sleep. Thank goodness, because today was our ‘hard’ day of hiking. Of course, calling one day hard implies that the others were easy, which they certainly were not. Anyway, today we were following a pilgrimage route to the sacred lake and, knowing it would be a long day we were walking by 7:40am.
The path started steeply, and carried on that way. Up. And up. And up. Neverending switchbacks as we followed our guide. Three of us were sharing a day pack and the walking was tough enough even without it, needing frequent breaks to slow the breathing and heart rate. After almost two hours of struggling along, we offered our guide extra money to carry our pack for us. This turned out to be an excellent decision.
We’d heard from locals that it takes about 4 hours to get to the lake, with the first 2 hours being ‘very steep’ and then next 2 merely being ‘steep’. We took it slowly, and after about 2 ½ hours the steepness did indeed decrease slightly. It was still extremely hard, and we persevered - slowly, steadily, pantingly - until we finally reached what we thought was the top, only to be disappointed by our guide telling us that it was a further 40-50 minutes. So we plugged on, one foot in front of the other at a snail’s pace until finally . . . the sacred lake!
It was beautiful; a small lake nestled in a cirque, surrounded by prayer flags and small stone cairns. It was cold up there too - we were at approximately 4,400m altitude (it's hard to know exactly, as we've found figures up to 4,600m), having started the day at 3,100 - and the air was thin. And then it began to rain. We didn’t linger, instead walking back to the site of our recent disappointment to don all spare items of clothing.
We descended by the same route. It had been rather muddy on the way up but, with the rain, it became a slippery quagmire, steep and slow. We finally arrived in camp, wet, exhausted, and exhilarated, 10 hours after starting out that morning.
We had cleverly thought to order chicken soup that morning and, as we had hot showers, we knew our hot dinner was being prepared. Having had my shower I sat looking out to the courtyard and, as I watched, a young man walked out of the kitchen with a knife in hand. Without any fuss he caught two chickens and carried them away - obviously to make our soup. Sorry chicken! The soup was delicious and hit the spot.
Next stop: bedtime for this exhausted girl. What a great day!
Day 8 - We woke up this morning to slight drizzle, but we weren’t going to let that stop us! A leisurely breakfast - congee and deep fried bread - before packing up our stuff. This afternoon we’d be leaving Lower Yubeng for Upper Yubeng, so we needed to clear out our rooms.
Leaving everything but our day packs in the hostel common room we headed out to the Tears of the Buddha holy waterfall. The track was well marked, muddy, and filled with other walkers - Chinese tourists and Tibetan pilgrims. We followed a stream and enjoyed the lack of incline. Before long we came to a riverbed absolutely filled with rock cairns of all sizes. They were beautiful.
Not long afterwards the path started sloping upwards (surprised?) through the trees. Slowly the number of tourists dropped off, but the pilgrims kept overtaking us. Even the very elderly ones! Eventually the trees thinned and we were treated to views of lush greenery and waterfalls everywhere. There were prayer flags in many places near, and across, the path and as we got closer to our destination their frequency increased.
Still climbing, we passed a snowfield and eventually arrived at the falls - two great streams of water misting down the cliff face. It was cold and wet just standing there.
Custom is for pilgrims to run three times round the base of one of the falls, and we were fortunate enough to arrive at a time when a group was about to begin. Round and round they went as we stood watching. How they don’t get hypothermia I don’t know!
We descended slightly to an area below the falls where people had left offerings to the Buddha. Money and prayer flags mostly, but I was amused to see an iPhone. Then, on the descent, when the rain began in earnest, we had our first real casualty: Ian slipped and scraped up both knees. Still, we made it down alive even if wet and bleeding.
We had quick first aid session in the common room, where it was discovered that another of our party had a leech on his foot, resulting in blood-soaked sock and shoe. Then, finally, we settled down to a late lunch of fried rice, our appetites worked up after 5 hours of walking. The rice was delicious and lightly spiced, and with it was served a soup that, while it tasted ok with your eyes closed, looked alarmingly like vomit when you opened them. Needless to say I didn’t have much soup.
We relaxed around the table waiting for the rain to ease. Finally it did and, having commandeered a mule to carry the bulk of our stuff, we set off for Upper Yubeng.
From Upper Yubeng we had gorgeous views looking down to the valley in which Lower Yubeng sits. Dinner was in a smoky restaurant, complete with several large slabs of salted pork (head and tail intact) hanging from the walls.