Reluctantly leaving Shaxi behind, we head north. Rolling hills are replaced by cloud topped mountains and the air becomes noticeably cooler. We’re on our way to walk Tiger Leaping Gorge, a two day trek along goat tracks over the mountains and beside tall cliffs.
The walk starts with a four hour steep uphill hike. After an hour on a winding tractor road the track veers off and across the hills. After two hours we’re exhausted but exhilarated at the same time; the views of mountain tops, sheer cliff sides and the ever present rumble of the river as it’s forced through the gorge below inspire us to keep walking.
The sun reaches its midday peak and its intensity is surprising. We take a break for a cup of tea and lunch; eating sweet stir fried aubergine, tomatoes and egg and a spicy fried cucumber dish in the courtyard of a guest house with stunning views of mountains all around us.
After lunch it’s back on the twisting turning track for another two hour close to vertical climb that takes our breath away. The sun, harsher and brighter as the afternoon goes on, burns our skin pink in minutes.
At the top we pause breathless and hot. We take photos for posterity and then walk on for another three hours across undulating hills and along cliff edges. Every couple of hours there’s a guest house with courtyard, roof terrace and views from every room. One even has a spa offering massage and I’m sorely tempted to stop but we amble on till we get to our destination - the halway point - just on 6pm.
We sip beer on the open terrace and watch the mountains opposite turn from green to pink to charcoal grey as the sun sinks. That night in silence and darkness I sleep deep and dreamless.
The next morning we head off again. The path becomes thinner and more treacherous. At one stage we spot a waterfall cascading down the mountain ahead of us and a few minutes later realise that it thunders directly across the tiny path we’re walking on and straight over the cliff on our left. We stand and stare at it for a few seconds then get our feet and shoulders wet as we hug the mountain side and splash through the falling water, always avoiding the not so distant edge.
It’s possible to walk another four or five hours on this path but today we choose a shorter route. After a couple of hours we take a short cut down to the village of Walnut Garden. We have a bus booked to Shangri La.