Fugong to Bingzhonglue

Saturday 22 May

Truckers hotel front courtyard

We’re up at 7am to leave at 8, only to find that the water has been turned off – they’re doing the plumbing in the extension to the truckers stop and start early… Breakfast is noodles and fried egg and this all takes much longer than expected.

I’m realizing that you can usually  much add up to an hour to the original leaving time – but that you can’t rely on that so have to be ready anyway.

I travel up in the Cherokee with Jason and Tsabho. We make for the Army station to ask for permission to go across – and wait while they phone through to the boss.

The border village at Army post

Half an hour later, permission denied. Apparently the checkpoint for the Burmese border has been brought down to this point, so we would in effect be entering a “no man’s land”. That’s what we’re told, anyway.

Washing clothes

Thwarted, we head up the main road to Gongshan. There are tiny villages strung out along the way, with terraced fields spilling down towards the river: there are still some wooden houses and a few thatched roofs, but they have mostly been replaced with corrugation.

Driving through villages

Woven cone-shaped baskets are filled with bracken for the pigs, other herbs harvested from the hills or produce for the market or home. The weight is either taken by a strap across the forehead, or a wooden yolk across the shoulders, but this is less usual. I last saw that in Shaxi when I headed up the mountains with the ethnobotanists from KIB and the mushroom collector.

We pull up at a tourists stop with a wide paved area overlooking the river. It’s a nice enough view, but I wonder why here? Then someone spots “moonrock” high up on the mountain ridge to the right.

Jason waiting for the moon rock to appear

It’s an extraordinary natural phenomenon – a sharp peak with a massive circular hole in it. The clouds play hide and seek around the ridge, with the spectacle disappearing just as the light is good to take a photo.

Moon Rock

Further up the road Jason, Tsabho and I pull over and head off on foot across a metal bridge to a small village with a small church.

Bridge over the Nu Jiang

Pink Catholic Church

The area was heavily influenced by French and American missionaries (?) at the turn of the century and there are some very interesting pink constructions high up in the hills.

Unfortunately the church is locked, but on the way I spy another variety of ginger – Zingiber – with clusters of deep yellow flowers.

Zingiber sp

Then, almost obscured in a stand of massive bamboo stems, I spy a very tall purple and green patterned stem with a dull, deep purple oval spathe protruding from a sheath. This is a really unexpected find, and I ask Tsabho to stand next to it for a sense of scale.

Tsabho and the Amorphophallus...

We later identify this as an Amorphophallus, from the Araceae family. Apparently a new species – not this one – was discovered some few years ago: “Amorphophallus xiei, is endemic to Yunnan Province, China, where it is locally esteemed as a food plant. It is gathered by local people as red konjac

because of its red tuber and petiole and purple berries. Beginning in 1998, the local agricultural department introduced this plant to farmers for the development of konjac plantations. At present, the red konjac is a new food crop in Dehong Prefecture, where it is considered the best edible Amorphophallus. The new species is distinguished from A. yuloensis and A. muelleri, to which it is most closely related” – Li Heng and Dao Zhi-Ling, KIB: http://foc.bio-mirror.cn/novon/novo-16-02-240.pdf

The road winds up alongside the gorge, with hydro-electric plants with huge pipes penetrating the mountain side tapping underground streams, or strategically placed to take advantage of the cascading falls, and a number of foot-bridges which seem to end in winding paths up through the mountains to small villages clinging to the cliffs.

Golfball lychees and other fruit

We catch up with the others in Gongshan where we stop for lunch, and buy some fruit from the stall across the road: lynches the size of golf balls and as sweet and juicy as I’ve ever had, succulent magosteens and a yellow fruit like a very small papaya with large brown seeds.

The two vehicles head up to Bingzhonglue, the end of the “white road” on the map on the right hand fork north of Gongshan, while we check out hotels for future trips. The best, leaving town, is 60 RMB single, 80 double or 120 for an “interesting” suite.

Jason was here five or six years ago but hasn’t headed further north – at that time the streets were lined with large wooden houses. Sadly long gone, replaced with breeze block and concrete.

The journey is pretty uneventful, and we cover some ground – although I am really surprised to see snow on the mountain tops, not realising they were that high.

The snow-capped ridge

Then we see a huge torrent of water cascading down the mountain side and the video camera comes out and Jason and Tsabho play around, running into through the gap between the water and the cliff taking pictures of the circular rainbow. We all get rather wet…

A few miles up the road we pay our ¥100 to enter the Gongshang Nature Reserve, which is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area, a World Heritage Site. Typical of most areas of natural beauty that have high entrance fees, there are no accompanying maps – you’re encouraged to view them, not actively experience them.

Then panic! Tsabho has left his favourite hat – his only hat – back at the waterfall. Jason and I reassure him that going back is absolutely no problem, and we turn tail. Fifteen minutes later we are scouring the area and, at almost exactly the same time, Tsabho and I see the mobile phone he bought just days ago resting on the low wall – exactly where he had left it when he picked up the video camera to shoot the rainbow. We don’t find his hat, but we’re all thinking the same thing – if we hadn’t returned for the hat…

We arrive at Bingzhonglue just after 6pm and check into the hotel that John et al have

The one-horse town at the end of the road

found. Bingzhonglue is right at the end of the road, and the town has just that feel. There are a few Tibetan influences, but surprisingly it’s mostly Han, with a smattering of ethnic minorities.

My hotel room overlooks the road so I ask to switch – I now have an amazing view of the mountains, a glimpse of a snowy ridge, and a wonderful view over rice paddies glowing in the late afternoon light.

Rice paddy nurseries

After a quick shower I wander down to explore.

A birthday cake for Judith

Then we all head off to a local restaurant for a typical Chinese feast – and a surprise birthday cake for Judith that has been travelling up on the back seat of our vehicle since Liuku – wonderfully decorated with yellow and green flowers that none of the botanists can identify!

There’s no internet connection at this hotel to keep me up at night. I leave the window open – the stars are bright, the snowy right glows in the moonlight and there is a sense of one-ness with the world.