China 2015: First week of July

In the first week of July Ya-Ping and I hired a driver to take us to the infamous Gaoligong Mountains. We made a few stops along the way including in Gongshan in the Hengduan Mountains where we drove up a very windy mountain road for hours. We parked the vehicle at the top and wandered around in the dense fog but could not find any of my plants. On the way down we were able to find some of Yaping's mints (Isodon, Lamiaceae) before stopping at what looked like someone's house for lunch. We were the only people for miles but sure enough there was a Mom and Pop restaurant tucked away on the side of the mountain. We had a delicious meal with a view and there were not any other people around. Amazing food in seemingly unlikely places remains a theme for my entire China trip. 

Lunch with a view on the side of the road in Gongshan, China. 

We continued on to Nujiang on the Nujiang river (In Chinese Nu = New, Jiang = River). If you search Nujiang you will find the tagline "in the middle of nowhere, at the center of everything" as Nujiang is a starting point for some popular scenic destinations. We had a lively dinner at a Sichuanese restaurant before heading to the grocery store to stock up on supplies for the next few days. The next morning we began the drive to the town Dulongjiang. The Dulongjiang Valley is a biodiversity hotspot in China and if it wasn't for the difficulty and dangerousness associated with getting there it would likely be national park.  

Ya-Ping and me after a long day of hiking in the pouring rain. No, we did not ride those dirt bikes up. We never saw another person the entire 10 hours we spent out there but Yaping said they were probably medicinal plant collectors from the local village.

An important point in the history of Dulongjiang is that it was the last village in all of China to be connected by a road. And road should really be in quotes here because the route that was carved up and over to the Dulongjiang Valley was seasonal at best. Some years it was impassable for most of the year due to land slides and inclement weather. A few tribes, which had been in the valley long before there was a road, persisted year round, but for the last few decades the valley was given the nickname of the Valley of Death due to its inaccessibility and the constance threat of being trapped there. Sounds inviting, huh? 

As it turns out, the new underground tunnel officially connecting the valley to the rest of China was completed a few weeks before we arrived. We were likely some of the first people to pass through this tunnel, and though we avoided the dangers of going up and over the pass the remaining drive through the valley was still on a sketchy one-and-a-half lane road susceptible to rock slides. Once we were through the tunnel we took a sharp left to head up the now defunct old road. We barely made it a few miles before we encountered our first landslide so we got out and began hiking (my preferred method of travel). It rained the entire trip which seemed fitting for how lush and green the landscape was, but it was pretty cold and wet. I also got to break in my new gaiters due to the blood-sucking land leeches known in this area (yes, you read that correctly). We saw tons of cool plants ranging from Primulaceae to Orchidaceae to Euphorbiaceae, but alas, no Micranthes. When we finally made it back to the car we were cold, soaked, and tired. We drove back down the road to continue on to what was once the most remote village in all of China, Dulongxiang Village, which also was cold, soaked, and tired. Though Dulongxiang was amazing I was disappointed to have not collected any plants so Ya-Ping suggested we continue our adventure and head to Lijiang to hike up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. And that we did.

Tiny orchid (about the size of a penny) spotted in Dulongxiang.