Kunming resident Colin Flahive (pictured above, right) is on his motorcycle traveling across northwestern Yunnan and southwestern Sichuan, sending occasional dispatches to GoKunming from the road. In today's post, Flahive searches for a road less traveled between Lijiang and Lugu Lake on the Yunnan-Sichuan border.
The number of road projects that the Yunnan government has successfully undertaken over the past ten years is enough to make any motorcycle enthusiast want to bungee a tent to the back of their bike, saddle up, shift out of neutral and throttle straight out of town.
These days, one can buy a road map in just about any decent book store, pick out the smallest roads in any part of the country that piques one's interest, and chances are they're primed for riding.
For our current journey, we wanted to find an alternate route from Lijiang to Lugu Lake as far from the buses and trucks as possible. From there we hoped to pass along the Litang River in western Sichuan to Litang (理塘), the highest town in China at 4,014 meters - 400 meters higher than Lhasa.
We started out from Lijiang by skirting the foothills of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain towards the eastern passage of Tiger Leaping Gorge. We then worked our way eastward with hopes of finding a bridge that could take us across the Jinsha River (金沙江), better known as the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.
Stopping often to ask locals about the roads and the bridge, our inquiries were always met with "That road doesn't exist" or "There's no bridge there, you have to go back to Lijiang."
With road construction moving at such a swift pace in Yunnan, locals can be forgiven for not knowing their own neighborhoods. And truth be told, the advantage of riding an off-road motorcycle is that even when there is no road, you can make your own.
For a few hours, we were blessed with beautiful tarmac surfaces, but as the road began to break up into gravel and dirt, our hopes for a bridge and getting to Lugu began to dim. Then, a massive construction site appeared over the top of the next pass.
Under the haze of dust and heavy machinery was the Jinsha River; though hardly reminiscent of the magnificent Jinsha I'd seen on trips past. It was bruised, bulldozed and the color of pea soup. Dam construction was well under way along this stretch of the Jinsha. It was hardly a pleasant sight, but the construction zone had provided a temporary bridge that we were able to cross and continue our journey.
With that behind us, we were free to cruise along the stunning high-mountain roads through golden rice terraces and smiling Yi minority villages. These are the kind of places and people that remind you why you fell in love with China in the first place.
We eventually climbed up a high mountain pass that descended upon Lugu Lake. The full moon rising over its rippling waters accentuated the natural beauty of the place. The Old Tree Cafe on the western shore of the lake – run by a friendly young woman from Lanzhou – welcomed us and fed us pasta and drinks as we pondered the next leg of our journey into western Sichuan.
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