[特约 Contributor Jason Lim 英译 Translator 刘大人 摄影 Photographer Jason Lim]
She has no preferences as to where our next destination is, so long as we have each other for company. In the humdrum bustle of everyday life since the opening of our cafe since late 2015, those moments are few and far between. But when we’re stuck on a few hour train journey, or waiting in an airport lounge, there isn’t a lot else to do. I reckon I learned more about her in two weeks of travel than I had in the last few years. She is none other than, my mum!
Next up, Dali, Lijiang and Shangri’La
Besides companion at home and at work, we have been keeping each other company on the road, since our first backpacking trip by rail throughout Taiwan in 2013 and Sa Pa in Vietnam last year. In continuing our new-found tradition, our initial idea to travel light will be put to the test with the cold spell in Dali, and in particular, a snow-covered Shangri’La can put pay to our best-laid plans. However, the thought of seeing snow for the very first time had filled her with great anticipation, and thereby strengthen her resolve to go ahead!
To make more time for ourselves, we decided on taking the overnight train from Kunming after taking a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur. It seems mum was already well-trained from our previous exploits, which I fondly remembered as “Travel Taiwan by Train” a few years back. Despite the longer commuting hours which can be taxing, it was one of my most cherished moments – we could always count on each other’s company while time passed us by. Occasionally, I would rest my head on her just to re-live the good old days!
Before we knew it, our train has pulled into Dali train station. The moment we stepped out, we were immediately accorded “Super VIP” reception and greeted by many who would “chauffeur” us around. Sensing her discomfort and wanting to maintain a “low profile”, I swiftly escorted her out of harm’s way and boarded a public bus to head towards our hotel. With mum, we could always have it free and easy, but not so much when we’re in China. After all, the reception at the train and bus stations here can be somewhat… overwhelming LOL!
Dali, a backpacker paradise and a great place to relax and escape “the real China” for a while, is picturesque throughout the year with Xiaguan Wind, Shangguan Flowers, Mt. Cangshan Snow and Erhai Lake Moon dominating the four most famous and fascinating scenes. Being the capital of the Bai Autonomous Region and the center of Bai culture, the best thing to do is wander the streets and see what we can find. Finding our way to Dali Hooloo B&B was a breeze and mum was surprisingly quick to feel at home. Her outgoing personality soon won her some new friends among the locals, and we managed to savour the city’s renowned Stewed Carp Casserole, courtesy of our friendly host Winnie.
For many, choosing between seeing everything having come so far or just going free and easy with a cuppa to back it up has always been a tough choice on its own, let alone travelling with their mother isn’t seen as a particularly cool thing to do. For me, seeing the world’s most amazing sights with the world’s most amazing person is a dream come true, not once but on a few occasions. Over time, my mum has learnt to appreciate the freedom and flexibility that comes with backpacking, and she had no qualms about taking the road least travelled while enjoying the sights and sounds even on a detour, thanks to the many recommendations from hostel owners, fellow travellers and friends we made along the way.
Lijiang, a familiar name that’s so close, yet so far
Before we knew it, we had to call time on Dali and continue our journey towards Lijiang. It was with great reluctance that we bid Winnie and her best companion Qianli goodbye at the bus station, having taken a final stroll among the maze of cobbled streets we have begun to familiarise. Mum seemed to be missing Qianli, so much so she wondered if we will have other pets for company in our next “home”…
Lijiang (which means ‘beautiful river’), a time-locked place that sounded distant but soon within reach. Armed with my prior knowledge from google and travel guides, I did my best to play “local” in providing facts and figures to my appreciative mum who also tried her best to take in every information. With an elevation of 2,200 meters above sea level, I was naturally concerned about mum walking at high altitude and developing acute mountain sickness, so I had to remind her to take it easy and not to overexert herself. Thank goodness, both of us managed to enjoy ourselves without showing any signs of discomfort.
My previous impression of Lijiang was derived from surprise surprise, “The Lijiang Drummer’s Song” which accompanied by the live beating of a drum, indeed brought out the feel. Almost everywhere we went in Lijiang, there were shops of bongo players drumming along to this song, so much so it got stuck in my head. By far the largest of the ancient towns, but also the most commercialised, the mind-boggling array of bars and restaurants almost drove us bonkers and out of the city.
The weather in Lijiang during our stay has been very unforgiving, with winds too strong for mum’s fragile body, so we took to the more rural and warmer parts of the city at the recommendation of our friendly lodge owner. Chama Gudao (or Tea-Horse Road) is an ancient network of roads dating back a thousand years ago, and our entourage of six took part of the route where horses and people would carry goods such as tea and salt from Yunnan Province to other parts of Asia. This was mum’s first time on horseback and riding a horse was much more tiring than I thought, but she seemed to enjoy it tremendously!
Lashi Lake, our next destination was just a short shuttle ride away. Despite being called Lashihai (Hai means sea), it is actually a lake famous for viewing migrant birds by boat amidst distant, rolling, green hills. Seeking to relax our ride soreness by sitting back in the boat with me taking the oars, I could sense her excitement as the birds flutter their wings up close, as well as her (occasional) anxiety whenever our boat appeared to be stranded.
Her voice was heart-warming enough for comfort, nothing else matters in the cold…
We were glad to experience nature life beauty in this lake area, a nice side escapade from Lijiang to stay away from the increasingly touristy town bustle and hustle. During the day, the old district of Lijiang’s Dayan and Shuhe were largely traffic-free and perfect for walking among the many willow trees that line the banks, waterways that twist and turn throughout the town. Tiny eateries and small arts & crafts galleries are built into the fronts of the old Naxi homes, while arched stone bridges cross swift-flowing streams of crystal-clear water. The overall effect is entrancing.
Our 5-hour bus ride from Lijiang to Shangrila took us across one of the deepest gorges in the world – Tiger Leaping Gorge measuring about 20km long and is a giddy near-4000m from the waters of the Jinsha River to the snowcapped mountains of Haba Mountain to the west and Yulong Xueshan to the east.
The gorge is divided into three segments called Upper Gorge, Middle Gorge and Lower Gorge and we decided to take the “middle road” of about 1~2 hours to the bottom of the Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge. There were two famous “high ladders” connecting the upper place to the lower place as there was no available road along the 8km route. As we got down to the river side, we marvelled at the sights and sounds of water flapping at the stones, as we noticed the Jinsha River shrinks into a narrow valley. We found ourselves in some solitude as we met only a few groups of hikers. While I’ve never underestimated mum’s will and determination, I may have overlooked the challenges that lie ahead.
It took us nearly two hours to reach the bottom of the canyon, even as we took the moderate low trail that follows the course of Jinsha River, a primary tributary of the upper Yangtze River which offered some of the most spectacular sights of the world’s third longest river, and the most important river in China. With only two hours left on the clock before our bus scheduled departure, mum was visibly tired, needing to catch her breath every now and then. Just when it appeared mission impossible to make it back in good time, we chanced upon a kind local drink seller who was very helpful (albeit with some gratitude on my part) in closing her stall for the day and willingly walked my mum all the way back to catch our bus, and just in time too! I secretly thanked Lady luck for helping us through as we gratefully continue our journey.
Despite mum’s evident pride at successfully overcoming the challenges and emerging unscathed from the Middle Gorge, it was scant consolation to me that I’ve nevertheless subjected her to such gruelling conditions in the hope that we could experience one of our most scenic hiking trail ever. I’ll never forget this close shave in a hurry and would put her well-being above anything else in planning our future itineraries.
The winding road between Lijiang and Shangri-La didn’t help the feelings of nausea, and the 4-5-hour bus journey, no matter how bumpy the road was on the way, was worthwhile. With the greens turning into browns from the cold weather, it wasn’t the flora or fauna that was the most impressive sight. It was the smile on her face at the sight of the snow which lit up the crimson sky.
Some travel to see the world, whereas I am looking to fill up our family photo album. It would be nice when we got back, to browse through those pictures of our trips together. I realise how few of them we actually have, and how precious they will be one day.
Kafuka is the product of two talented music professionals, venturing out on their own, where both mums were invited to helm the kitchen. Jason and Eric insist on serving only food and drinks made with great love and patience, as food served from the heart is most delicious. Nothing beats a yummy heart-filled home cooked meal prepared by the one person who knows and loves us unconditionally, and that’s MUM!
Our appreciation goes to Jason for sharing and giving us food for thoughts in planning our future trips. One thing we learned is that often trips like this will feel more significant to our parents than they do to us. After all, the idea of our parents travelling with their firstborn probably brought back memories of family trips of our childhood; memories that are hazy to us at best. It would be great to be able to give something back, to do something that (although small to us) can be a big deal for our parents.
It doesn’t matter how far we travel, but how close we remain together, isn’t it?