We set ourselves three main objectives for Day 3.
1) Hike down to the Tiger Leaping Rock and climb back up to Tina’s Guesthouse by 4pm to catch our ride to Shangri La. (The inn-keeper of Tibet Guest House told us the walk should take four hours, so we catered for eight)
2) Not get scammed (too much).
3) Make sure the the blisters on our feet do not gain sentience and murder us mid-walk.
If you were to go to the Wikitravel page for the Tiger Leaping Gorge, you’d notice that one of the “Annoyances” for travellers going through the Gorge is “old women, young girls and sundry others who will demand small fees for using optional parts of the path”.
I’ve mentioned before that one of the things we loved about the Tiger Leaping Gorge was how “undeveloped” it feels. So far, not a lot of effort has been made by the municipal government to commercialize it and turn it into an overgrown theme park. Without proper governance, many of the more entrepreneurial residents within the Gorge carved out their own “territories” and took ownership of certain sections of the trail for their own commercial gains.
For the first two days of the trek, besides the occasional offer for donkey rides and overpriced chocolates/soft drinks, we’d remained relatively unmolested by touts on the road.
The Tiger Leaping Rock, however is a major tourist attraction within the Gorge. If you were to take the normal (i.e. driven) (read: sane) tour of the Gorge, that’s the one stop you’d make.
Unsurprisingly, many villagers from the nearby Walnut Grove Village put up barricades and solicit 10 yuan ($2) toll from all who want to gain access to the Rock. To be fair, it’s not a big amount to pay, but it can come as a rude shock for someone who had been walking for two hours before hitting the first of the makeshift “toll booths”. The alternative to paying the toll is to hike all the way UPHILL back to your starting point without even a whiff of the Rock.
We managed to politely (and sometimes, not so politely) avoid most of the villagers who tried to solicit payment from us for taking photos in their “territories”, but there were some places where we just… HAD to pay.
The 10RMB “entrance fee” to the part of the Gorge where the Rock was situated was one such fee. To get back to civilization again, we had to pay another 10 RMB to get back to Tina’s Guesthouse via the rickety Sky Ladder (or according to Jo, “THE Scariest Ladder in the World”). Lastly, we HAD to pay another 10RMB for us to, ermm… do stupid touristy things on the Tiger Leaping Rock.
It was a slow business day, so the lady manning the “booth” at the Tiger Leaping Rock even had time to show us around her 10m by 10m workspace (rock). According to her, tourism had become a main source of income for the villagers of Walnut Grove. The villagers built and periodically maintained the various wood bridges, ladders and railings leading to/from the rock. That’s why they feel justified in charging the 10RMB for their troubles. I can’t say I totally disagree with her.
So, at the end of the day, I’m proud to announce that we successfully accomplished 2.3 out of the 3 objectives we set ourselves. I’m just not that sure we’d completely accomplished point 2, and from the present state of our feet, I don’t think we can totally rule out the failure of point 3 either.