Cycling through the mud in beautiful China

Because of the high altitude disease of Marlous we’ve changed our plans a bit. At first we’ve had the idea of cycling west from Chengdu, into the mountains with high passes above 4500m. But now it doesn’t seem wise to do so.

Instead we cycle south to mountains and roads with a lower altitude. The first days after Chengdu we take it easy. Marlous gets tired very soon and after 50 km cycling we’ve had enough for each day. It’s getting easier to breath and we feel great to leave the big city behind us.

In Jiajang we visit the 1000 Boudhas cliff which is located at scenic spot on the riverbank. Boudhist monks have carved beautiful statues in the cliffs overlooking the streaming water. Besides statues of Boudha we also notice some statues of other important people and monks. It’s a nice quiet area surrounded by rolling green hills. With a small ferry we cross the river to the other side. Here we wander around the fields full of peanuts, lettuce and other vegetables. We’re the only tourists which is special in China. Normally we encounter many tourists at locations like the one we’re now. These tourists are mostly Chinese people visiting the beautiful places of their own country. In our next stop Leshan we encounter the Chinese tourists again.

Leshan is famous because of the biggest sitting Boudha statue in the world. This huge statue is carved from the rocky cliffs where two rivers meet and become one. There is a story that tells about a monk who was worried because of the disappearing of many fishermen and boats in the river. The statue was meant to guard over the fishermen. It seems that since the monk started work on the Boudha there hasn’t been a disappearance of boats. The statue is famous in it’s own country which we notice from all the Chinese tour groups going on and of in little boats to view the Boudha. For us those boats are too crowded and we take a small ferry to an island in the river. From here we’ve got a nice and quiet view on the Boudha and its Chinese visitors.

We’re in need of some nature and a quiet part of China. This is how we end up cycling a small road from Leshan into the forests and mountains. It’s very peaceful and our tires are gliding along the new tarmac. We’re surrounded with small streams, lakes, little fields and very green trees and plants. After a few days cycling we meet many people who tell us it’s impossible to go further on our bikes. The tarmac is going to stop and it will become a rough road. For us a rough road isn’t a big problem but for the Chinese people it’s crazy we like to cycle this road. When the tarmac stops there is a big row of waiting cars and trucks. Thanks to some heavy rainfall the last couple of days the road is a mess and there is a bus stuck right in the middle of it. Blocking the road from two ways the only thing people can do is wait till the bus gets freed from the mud. With our bikes in hand we can get alongside the long row of waiting cars. When we’re past the cars we start cycling in a very low gear through thick layers of mud. In no time everything is covered in mud. The next 150 kilometers we crawl on this bumpy and slicky road.

Before entering this area we’ve seen many people walking in traditional clothing. Beautiful colored robes are draped around the bodies and many women have a turban on their heads. Their hair is pinned on top of these turbans with big silver jewelry. It’s nice to see the people walking in their traditional dress and the further we cycle into the mountains the more we see. On our muddy road it’s the people only wear this traditional dress and we’ve got the feeling of cycling in another country. Everything Chinese is gone: the language, clothing, houses everything is different.

The next couple of days we get shaken thoroughly when we cycle through mud, on big rocks, through loose sand and small rivers. Next to us are wild rivers and steep cliffs which rise to the sky. In the villages we get surrounded by the people, Pakistan style. When we leave a village the children sing and chant while chasing us in big groups. The road climbs steadily and at night we pitch our tent somewhere in nature. Modern China seems thousands of miles away and that it’s already year 2006 isn’t noticeable here. As transportation they use the donkey or their own legs and everything goes in a relaxed pace. The people are friendly and open to us. We’re met with beautiful smiles and they touch the hairs on my arms and legs. Everybody is curious and they seem to wonder what on earth we’re doing with our bikes on this road. The camera is scary and when we get it out of our bag people dive away for it. It feels great to play Marco Polo in this newly discovered zone.

At a crossing there is a brand new road waiting for us and we loose the mud on our tires by riding on it. The people still wear their traditional clothes and in the villages there are markets where they do some shopping or sell their products.

While we are cycling to Xichang we enjoy the high peaks of the mountains around us. When we pass the village Zhaojue we start climbing again. It’s raining and with the clouds surrounding us we do not have any idea of what is coming. Cycling is hard at this part and it seems that Marlous her High Altitude Disease hasn’t disappeared totally. At an altitude of 3200 meter we still don’t see the top and it is starting to get too hard for Marlous. Her breathing doesn’t go smoothly; she has a small headache and she feels a tintling sensation in her face. Tibet is still fresh in mind and we decide to take the first bus which comes along. We find out that we were almost at the top but that doesn’t matter; safety first. A quick descent by bus helps Marlous to recover soon.

In Panzihua it is time to choose which direction we want to go. After three months in China we are a bit fed up with all the modern and ugly Chinese towns. We are looking forward to something different and the decision to skip Kunming is not difficult. This route would take us to more Chinese towns and it would be more crowded. In stead of this we choose to go to Lijiang where we can enjoy some history of China.

The center of Lijiang is forbidden for cars and there are a lot of nice and narrow alleyways. The houses are not made of concrete, but of wood and stones. It’s a touristy place with a lot of small shops, restaurants and hotels. The Chinese tour groups are highly represented and the streets are very crowded in the afternoon. Despite this the ambiance is relaxed and we love the coffee, the sandwiches, the pizzas and pastas. It is great fun for a couple of days and certainly different than most of the modern towns we visited.

* Chengdu – Xinjin: 48km;
* Xinjin – Meishan: 51km;
* Meishan – Jiajang: 51km;
* Jiajang – Leshan: 39km;
* Leshan – a village near Zhenxi: 55km;
* A village near Zhenxi – Lidian: 73km;
* Lidian – near Sapoe: 67km;
* Near Sapoe – somewhere in the wild: 39km;
* Somewhere in the wild – somewhere in the wild: 43km;
* Somewhere in the wild – Meigu: 54km;
* Meigu – Zhaojue: 74km;
* Zhaojue – Xichang: 55km;
* Xichang – Dechang: 81km;
* Dechang – Miyi: 98km;
* Miyi – Panzihua: 81km;
* Lijiang



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