Hiking in China isn’t always hiking. My little group and I followed our guide one day to hike in the mountains above Dali.
The trip started with a cable car ride, which they call a “ropeway.” We were buying our tickets for the ropeway when I noticed the big wooden sign. Point No. 2 read:
Tickets will not be returned once sold out unless the ropeway breaks during the trip.
Now, that ropeway went pretty high. If it broke, we probably wouldn’t be intact enough to be asking for our money back.
But the view from the cable car was stunning, and the cable didn’t break. Above the lake on the other side of Dali, the mountains rise steeply, lined up parallel to the lake. Between every peak, a river tumbles down, frequently turning into waterfalls. In the lush climate, greenery clings to even vertical sheets of rock, while water trickles downward. Wildflowers grow everywhere.
The odd thing is that it wasn’t really hiking as we Westerners usually understand it. At the top of the ropeway, about halfway up the slope of the mountains, we climbed a well-built set of stone steps, and then the “trail” began: a path paved in patterned stones, smooth and almost completely flat, winding along the edge of the mountains for 16 km. It seemed so strange to be surrounded by this stunning wilderness while walking on a level manmade surface. We even saw a man with a handmade broom sweeping the walk, and another hacking at weeds near the path with a small scythe, piling brush into his tricycle cart.
At the other end of the trail is a chairlift, as though it were a ski area – but since it takes you downhill, you face downwards. The view is gorgeous: you can see the town, the red roofs of a nearby temple, the Three Pagodas, and the massive glassy lake.
That night at dinner, we asked about a plate of yummy greens that we couldn’t identify. The reply? “Weeds from the lake.”