Detour to the Hospital

Our trip through the back country of Shangri-la turned out to be four days instead of two, due to a landslide and constant big (still) mountains.

First Class Care

First Class Care

Yesterday we took a little detour on our way into Lijaing – to the hospital. We crashed. A combination of a long day, with 1200 more meters of climbing, a patch of water laid down by the cooling water of a truck’s brakes, a little bit of clay, and down we went at about 30kph.

Claire was not responding at first and I got her out of traffic carefully, in case any bones were broken (none). I can’t explain how I felt seeing her, barely moving, having trouble hearing me, or answering to her name.  She finally came around, and I got her sitting upright and talking coherently. I checked her eyes for dilation or wandering, and she could focus and had no double vision (we’ve been through this before).

A motorcyclist helped direct traffic as I dragged Zippy to the edge. I started to search for the first aid kit, and by then Claire was thinking clearly enough to tell me where to find it. Before I could start cleaning her abrasions, a van full of police arrived. My first thought was that we were in even more trouble than the crash aftermath, but they were great. “We take you to hospital,” said with authority, had an amazingly calming effect. They commandeered a small pickup, and loaded Zippy in. We wondered if we’d ever see him again, until we saw one of the policemen get into the truck.

It’s really frustrating having to admit you need help, but when the police came and said “hospital” I knew we probably should go, even though it meant transporting Zippy some other way, struggling to communicate with doctors or nurses, arriving in an unfamiliar town not under your own power, and worst of all, losing your bearings.

Since I’d lost a minute or two, I had a lot of questions for Bob and it took me a while to come out of the fog that makes you think you’re having a bad dream. I remember knowing we were going down, but that’s all.

At the hospital, we had our scrapes swabbed. They thought my nose might be broken, but I think my glasses just gouged it. I took the hit evenly between shoulder and hip. Bob got it pretty bad on the knee, but it hasn’t swollen. Bob noticed the doctor watching me for signs of brain trauma, and from previous experience, he knew to wake me in the middle of the night to make sure I knew who and where I was. We’re both a little stiff and sore today, so we’ll take an extra day in our three star hotel. (Total hospital bill: $6)

We’ll post our days in the back country soon. Beautiful…

With this sign would have been before that curve!

Wisn this sign had been before that curve!

Meeting the Yangtze


You might wonder why we don’t find better accommodations? The next Bingwan was 84 kilometers, and 1500 meters up the road, a hard all day ride. Sometimes the basics seem awfully nice after a long hard day, with another one waiting.

October 3
Shangri-la is changing as we drop in elevation. The yaks are gone, replaced by mixed breed cows, sheep, goats and donkeys. The high meadows, empty of human habitation, other than seasonal tents, with sparkling air and clear water, have been replaced with terraced fields of crops, villages with substantial houses, roofs filled with drying corn and racks with hay. The people remain friendly and vocal as we pass, our unusual mode of transportation a novelty still.

But there is a change. The prayer flags, stupas and monasteries are fewer, the flags more likely to be tattered and faded, and the architecture increasingly Han and not Tibetan. There have been a few instances of architecture new to us, indicating we are entering an area of more diverse ethnicity. Groups of women walk in brightly decorated dresses and several varieties of head dress.

Today was a nearly perfect cycling day: the road was smooth, and mostly downhill, with just enough cooling upstream breeze. We had a few hills, but none were long. There were friendly people, cute donkeys and goats, spectacular gorge scenery, and all our official interactions at check stations were pleasant. I’m beginning to think we just got a couple of bad eggs, on edge because of the 60th anniversary of Communist China’s founding. The army was even guarding a bridge, complete with sand bagged bunkers, though they seemed relaxed, perhaps because the day, October 1, has come and gone without incident, as far as we know. Unescorted foreigners are still blocked from the Tibetan Autonomous Region, though that was supposed to be lifted this week.

Read the rest of this article…

Shangri-la: Journey into Myth, search for Reality

Stupa at first pass into Tibetan landsOur original blog articles are now arranged chronological sequence. The first article appears on this page. Simply follow the sequence by clicking another article from the page boxes at the top and bottom of each page. You can leave your comments to each article by clicking the “Replies” link located at the bottom of each chapter.

The British author James Hilton published a small novel in 1933. He was no doubt shocked at the widespread repute the location of his fictional sacred Utopian kingdom would achieve, and the misuse that would subsequently occur.

Las Vegas to Shanghai, luxury hotels, and the no-tell motel in the seedy underbelly of thousands of towns, have expropriated his fiction. Shangri-la is the idea of a magical place where people live long happy lives in perfect bliss. All of these places, even the most plush, fall short of the dream.

Whole countries have laid claim to the title, and all but one are fabrications. James Hilton’s Shangri-La is not in Bhutan, Nepal, or Myanmar, but in China; in Yunnan province of the Tibetan cultural region of the eastern most ranges of the Himalayas. Here the great rivers of Southeast Asia begin with trickles, explode into violent torrent, gather into the mighty forces of nature to embrace one of the most dense populations on Earth, and to eventually braid out across huge fertile deltas from Shanghai to Myanmar.

Misty Morning in Shangri-la (Claire)

Misty Morning in Shangri-la (Claire)

Amazingly, Hilton was not a traveler. He got his inspiration from the National Geographic which published the explorations of the botanist, philologist, Joseph F. Rock, who spent years in northern Yunnan. The collection of plants was Rock’s primary mission, but he also documented the local Tibetan cultures. Rock’s plant collections are said to have sparked the, now ubiquitous, exotic garden craze in the United Kingdom and beyond. Hilton grazed from this material the fictional beautiful and perfect place.

Shangri-la, and surrounding mountains, hold most of the minorities of China, and are one of the last holdouts from complete domination by the Han majority.

The unique southerly curve of the Himalayan range at the east end, allows the valleys to funnel warm wet monsoon clouds to extremely high elevations. This makes for a fecundity of plant and animal life found nowhere else in the great stretch of the Himalayan range all the way to Central Asia.

Claire and I crossed the Tien Shan mountains of far western China on our Silk Road Crossing. They are the western ending of the Himalayan range in Central Asia. This trip we hope to cross the far eastern part of the Himalayan range, in our search for the real Shagri-la.

What will we find? Well, as with the Silk Road, fantasy and reality are not the same, but in Asia, reality is always fascinating and alive, always challenging and rewarding.

From Yunnan we plan to ride into Laos, then Vietnam, where Claire was born, Cambodia and end our journey in Thailand, after about four months.

We hope you will come along with us, here on our New Bohemians site as we begin in Chengdu, Sichuan, where the great earthquake devastated the region and killed thousands. From what we know of will and energy of the Chinese, the people are recovering. We hope so. We’ll visit some pandas of course, along with our Lucky, and then attempt the mountains, monsoon snows, and vagaries of Chinese Communist bureaucracy allowing us to make the trip. Wish us well and then bookmark and follow us on our unusual, and no doubt enlightening, quest documented on this site.