Chongqing/Yichang, 23-25 October
On the 23rd we are starting our journey to get from Emeishan to the Avatar Mountains of Zhangjiajie. The first step is getting the train to Chongqing, another one of China’s mega-cities and starting point of the Yangtze river cruise. We’re spending the night here at a nice-looking hostel called Lonely Village, located on the corner of where the city’s two rivers meet.
The hostel is a little bit hard to find. After getting off at the metro stop, we turn into a small alleyway where steep steps lead us through an area which can only be described as ‘little China’, so completely hidden away from daylight by the towering skyscrapers around it that it seems to be indoors. We carefully climb down the slippery stairs past shopkeepers performing their trade out on the steps, small groups of people sat down gambling or gossiping over lunch and kids running about, while evading the men and women carrying heavy loads up and down, which is a pretty amazing sight. Some of the old boys (or packmules) are seriously ripped! The stairs spill onto another street where we’re quite literally boxed in to stacks and stacks of giant boxes.
After finding a way out, and around the skyscrapers, the city suddenly opens opens up and there she is, Yangtze River!
We’re at our destination: a humongous apartment building consisting of three towering skyscrapers by the side of the river. It just doesn’t seem to have an entrance..
After some serious searching we manage to creep into the building through an inconspicuous looking carpark, past shops and restaurants, to find a secure door to the lobby of tower number 3. Naturally we don’t have the code. Some tailgating later, one of the many elevators in the lobby takes us up to the 50th floor, to the hostel, which is where today’s orienteering exercise is brought to a successful end.
Our effort gets rewarded, as we’re given an instant upgrade to our room for no apparent reason and it’s pretty great: floor-to-ceiling glass window the length of the room with the most amazing view of the river!
Better yet, the hostel has a shared kitchen we can use, plus a French supermarket around the corner, selling everything required to make a mac and cheese dinner, much to a certain someone’s delight. Happy wife, happy life, as they say in India!
The next morning our journey continuous eastwards to Yichang in the Hubei Province. Essentially we’re following the same route as the big cruise ships on the Yangtze, but on a budget, by train, which, as it turns out is a journey spent mostly inside tunnels..
The city of Yichang is located near one of the more scenic spots on the Yangtze, the so-called Three Gorges, created by the dam of the same name. The dam has flooded all the orginal villages in the area, but China wouldn’t be China if it wouldn’t build fake replacements, along with actors in traditional attire playing the flute for the tourist boats and even performing a wedding ceremony by the water for your ‘authentic’ Yangtze village experience, the ‘Tribe of the Three Gorges’.
In contrast, the area where we’re staying in Yichang offers a more realistic, though be it not necessarily better, experience of China. There’s a pungent smell in the air, which is a mixture of freshly butchered chickens from the guy that helps us find the hotel, and shops around the hotel that sell everything from live frogs to dog skulls to pigs trotters. Not related to the smell (or the dog skulls I hope!), there’s a guy at the nearby underpass selling cute little poodles out of a cardboard box, don’t see that every day either..
Our hotel is a definitely *not* a breath of fresh air: Facilities include a variety of mold, bloodstained pillows, termites, and a flooded toilet. At night, it’s *the* place for locals to meet and argue.
It never rains but it pours literally applies to our Yichang visit when the weather gods decide to add moisture to misery. We decide to give the Three Gorges a miss because of the unrelenting rain and are happy to continue our journey south to reach Zhangjiajie.