I’ve climbed 18 of Tiger Leaping Gorge’s 28 bends when a guy in his 40s with a horse crosses my path. While he walks by, he looks at me and says with a friendly smile: “You’re beautiful.”
I’m out of breath and he comes to a halt, asking:
“Do you want to ride the horse up the mountain? It’s another 10 bends.”
I: “How much does it cost?”
He: “30 Kuai (about EUR 3.5 or USD 4.9).”
He: “30 is the minimum. It’s quite exhausting for us to walk up the mountain too.”
Seeing that he has a point and that his offer is much cheaper than that of the other people with horses that have crossed our path, I agree. I get on the horse and the guy leads the way up the mountain.
I: “Is this a horse?”
He: “Actually, it’s a mule. A mule is the child of a horse and a donkey, it cannot reproduce itself.”
I: “Where do you get the mules from?”
He: “They sell them in many places in this area.”
I: “How much does a mule cost?”
He: “Three years ago, it cost 6000 Kuai (about EUR 710 or USD 975). Nowadays, you’d pay 9000 for a mule (about EUR 1070 or USD 1465).”
I: “That’s quite an increase. What do people do here for a living?”
He: “We all work in tourism.”
I: “Do the kids here go to school?”
He: “They do. There’s a primary school near a guesthouse on the mountain. Once they graduate from primary school, they go to secondary school in Shangri-la*.”
When we reach the upmost of the 28 bends, I get off the mule and hand the guy 30 Kuai. We wait for the German and French couple that I met on the bus. The guy looks at all three of us, and repeats: “You’re all really beautiful.”
The French girl is hesitant to believe him, but he’s fast to reply: “No really, I mean it.”
With a smile he says good-bye and starts his descend, walking back to his little home village that is situated on a mountain range featuring one of China’s most breath-taking scenery.
*Shangri-la is 2-3 hours by bus from Qiaotou – the village that forms the starting point for the hike up the mountain. It’s probably another hour or so by car to get from the village on the mountain to Qiaotou.
Have you ever climbed a mountain in China? What was it like?