The border crossing is without problems although they examine my passport and every detail of it for about 15 minutes.
Thanks to the fact that there is now a new Highway down to the border, there is hardly any traffic on the old road anymore. A great road. The silence is fantastic: for hours I can cycle on this narrow, winding road through the dense forest hearing nothing but the voices of the animals of the woods.
There are a lot of ethnic minorities living here in the south of Yunnan. I pass many Dai villages. Very beautiful wooden houses on stilts with a very characteristic roof made of tiles.
Later it is the Hani that dominate the area. And how they do that: over the centuries they have built their rice terraces on the steep slopes creating an unforgettable vista.
The vegetation is still subtropical. But this is now slowly changing. Bamboo and bananas giv way to eucalyptus and pine trees. Instead of rice there is more and more wheat on the fields. The climate too is changing. I enjoy the cooler and less humid air.
Chinese Towns is a story of its own. From a certain size on, they are all the same ugly places. With the modernisation of the infrastructure in the last years at a pace unthinkable for us they have all become replaceble, uniform places without any character. With tourist towns maybe the only exceptions. South of Kunming I start to get to the first towns of that size. But I am positively surprised. Here there are actually towns with a beautiful preserved old town where you can stroll through narrow alleys free of traffic. So after all it is possible: to have the fast progress China wants and at the same time preserve what makes China what it is. More of that please!
The quiet nice roads continue until just before Kunming. Only at the very end it is getting busy on the road. Here I need a well deserved break. In the past 10 days since the border I totally climbed 13'000 vertical meters.
In Kunming my bicycle gets a big overhaul. But the new tires that I let have sent here I cannot find.
The landscape continus to be as hilly as before Kunming. But everything is now slowly shifted to higher elevations. With fantastic weather I enjoy this wonderful countryside. I cycle through endless pine forest. In the valleys there are picturesque villages with lots of agriculture and on the road very little traffic.
But in Panzhihua I have to go down to a very low valley. The following 50km are dominated by coal mines and coal power plants. Everything is black, the road, the trees, the houses. On the road there is a steady stream of trucks. Soon I have taken over the colour too. When the road finally climbs out of that valley I am more than happy.
Lijiang is a major chinese tourist destination. The beautiful old town with its cobbled streets and bridges is romantic. But at times there are so many people in the streets, like on carneval in Lucerns old town!
Eating in China is simply fantastic. No matter what I order, it is simply always delicious and unbelievably cheap. But eating on my own is not really fun. So at tourist destinations like here, I enjoy going out with a group of others, so we can order a big choice of dishes. Always a feast!
3 years ago I already cycled here, then coming from Lhasa. I don't want to take the same route of course and search for options. On my map I find a road from Lijiang that passes east of the mountains directly to the tiger leaping gorge. I know that there are roads on both sides of the gorge and a ferry over the river. But what lies in between? Can I pass there with my bicycle? Nobody can really answer me that question so I simply go and find out myself.
At first I cycle past Yulong Xueshan. The first real big mountain. What a sight, I am overjoyed. After an endless downhill on a cobble stone road I come to the gorge. Some 200 vertical meters I have to carry the bike and my panniers down to the river and up again on the other side. At the river a meet a friendly man who cannot believe where I just come from. He has a little guesthouse where I happily agree the spend the night. It is going to be one more time a funny evening even though we can only communicate with signs.
I continue on this side of the mountains. Yet another highlight that road: no traffic, beautiful villages, wide forest, great mountains and all that enjoyed with cristal clear air.
What can a town do to get its share of tourist dollars when it has no well known name? Very simple, just give yourself a new name. That's just what Zhongdian has done, but it has not chosen just any name but rather calls itself now 'Shangri La' the utopian, timeless place of James Hiltons novel 'Lost Horizon'. It even seems to have worked.
The biggest attraction for me is the PSB office. Friendly officials renew my visa within 20 minutes (elsewhere that usually takes one week)!
The farming houses around Zhongdian are among the most impressive and beautiful that I have seen. They are huge and made of a white wall on three sides. All the rest is being constructed of wood. Everything is decorated with extensive carvings and paintings. The gable roof is covered with shingles.