Turtles All the Way Down

After hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge, we were sore.  Our knees were creaking.  Our shoulders resented the weight we’d carried.  I slipped a couple times on the descent and my hip was bruised.  Maybe it was crazy to go straight to another mountain?

But we’d advance-booked a driver (through the help of Bruce at the Bruce Chalet) to take us to Thousand Turtle Mountain.  This is the site of a fairly new national park.  It doesn’t seem to be nearly as famous, but it sure is cool.  I’m glad that we went and would recommend it to anyone who is already in the gorge area.  In fact, the park map indicates wildlife reserves and many miles of hiking–probably enough for a few days’ activities.


From the parking lot, we took a steep cable car to the summit.  It’s surely the longest cable car I’ve ever ridden.  In fact, it was actually two cable cars–you had to get off the first and transfer to another, because it was so high and steep.

At the transfer point between the two cable cars.
At the transfer point between the two cable cars.

And then you find yourself atop an incredible landscape.  The sandstone has been weathered away by rainfall, producing bizarre patterns.  The locals decided it looks like turtles, clambering over one another in a race to be the Top Turtle of All.  A lot of tourists think it looks like brains.  No matter what you see, it’s amazing.


As if the turtle-brain landscape wasn’t impressive enough, there’s also the fact that you are standing on a thin peak, some 10,000 feet in the air.  If you lean over the chain fence in the picture above, here’s what you see:



Do you see that valley in the middle of the photograph?  That’s where we started out, before the cable cars.  It’s a long, loooooong way down.

It’s hard to say what was more bizarre: the mountain formations jutting straight up, reminiscent of Devil’s Tower in North America, or the weird, turtle-y patterns on the rocks under our feet.



This is his “I’m being ornery” smirk. We’d already asked him to not play in the puddles on the railings.



The gray, misty sky certainly added to the other-worldly feel of the place.  We were so high that we were looking down onto clouds, as if we were on floating islands.  It’s easy to see why so many movies–from “Avatar” to anime–draw their inspiration from Chinese landscapes.

Then it was time to take the long cable car ride back down.  It was raining now and the view (of nothing below my feet) was enough that I had to close my eyes for a bit to not hyperventilate.


Once we were down, we joined up with our driver and ate lunch at a local restaurant.  Not enough foreign tourists to necessitate English menus, so we walked over to the refrigerated case and pointed to foods we wanted them to cook.  It was all delicious, though I think the cook made it a bit bland (non-spicy) for us.

As we finished lunch, our Xiao Pianzi (little thief) tried to beg a cigarette off our driver. And he was nearly successful.


When we stepped out of the restaurant, blue skies surprised us.  The weather in Yunnan is known to be fickle.  “You can stand in the rain and see the sun shine,” they say.  I thought the mountains were just as beautiful, misty or sunny.

Then it was back in the car for the three-hour drive to our next destination, Shaxi.  Along the way, we made on quick stop at the first bend of the Yangtze River.  Basically, the river makes a “Mankato bend” here in Yunnan.  If not for this nearly 180-degree bend, the largest river in Asia would flow south right into Myanmar (Burma) and China’s history would be drastically different.




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