|The NuJiang River Project|
|First Bike Tour of Nujiang and Search for Flying Tigers|
Since I am traveling on the overnight bus to Liuku and can't stop to send email (!) from Dali, I will let a modern American adventurer tell her story. Mary Dawn Bailey is a 61 year old retired University administrator from North Carolina. In January 1999, she was my first American client to cycle the Nu River Road from Bing Zhong Luo to Liuku. I provided some editing and names & places for clarity.
White Pearl's First Tiger Cycle Tour group was small, only five and all Chinese except for me. White Pearl's guide was Professor Wu Deyou of SW Forestry University and this was only his second trip to Nujiang. Mr He, a distinguished local, traveled with the van purchasing food and arranging things. Finally White Pearl always invites a Chinese national to go on all Firsts, and she was a 24 year old athelete who cycled in thick soled high heels on various borrowed bicycles. She was the only one to take a bad spill on the gravelly road. We picked up, according to White Pearl's eco-rule to involve locals, miscellaneous cycling companions along the way. And because of White Pearl's donations to the area and other assistance, in every small town county leaders hosted us as dignitaries.
After flying half way around the world to get to the rendezvous point in Kunming, China, we drove 2 1/2 miles (partially along the original stone Burma Road of World War II fame) on rough (an understatement) roads to get to the small mile high village, BingZhongLuo, to begin cycling. The spot is literally the end of the road. Only 50 miles from Tibet, as the crow, or whatever bird, flies, BingZhongLuo is the start of a horse trail to Tibet, One walks for three days along small"goat intestine (winding) paths."
We cycled down the Nu River 280 kilometers, from the point after it flows out of Tibet and through its deep canyon to NuJiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture's capital of Liuku. Nujiang, 200 miles later as it turns west into Myanmar (Burma), becomes the Thanlwin River (named the Salween by the British.) NuJiang Lisu and its river is one of three minority prefectures being studied to become the largest national park in the world.
I was the first foreigner to cycle the entire route which was wickedly bumpy but so beautiful the pain was worth it. The river in January (season) is a brilliant blue-green. The winter weather is cool (40's degrees F) in the morning and warm (near 70 F degrees) in the afternoon. The area is south of Miami, but 2,400 to 5,400 above seal level. The ecological zone is subtropical alpine. Unexpectedly the steep river valley is populated, ever so sparsely, by Lisu who prefer to live miles up on the slopes of the mountains (3-5000 feet) and Nu, Dulong, and Tibetan who live closer to the river. The people carefully tend rice along the river, and corn, canola seed, and other crops shallowly in small fields on the steep slopes to avoid erosion. When we asked them how long it took to walk to their homes from the market, they gave us blank stares. The "time" we live by has no meaning. Many of the residents have never met a Chinese much less a foreigner.
The Minorities who live here and on down the NuJiang to Burma are the poorest in Yunnan Province. Whereas the Bai have grown wealthy off their tourist town Dali, and the Naxi off of Lijiang, tourism here is still in its first stages. White Pearl just opened the area in 1996 with her environmental First Descent. Government efforts and her Eco-Tours are helping a bit, but they need more tourists. Surprisingly a good percentage of the people are Christan, both Catholic and Protestant churches which date back to 1900's. Missionaries, primarily European, came up the Salween early in the century. The China Inland Mission supported some of them.
An important part of White Pearl's Eco Tour is the donation of $500 of the tour fee to a worthy cause. The recipient for this tour was Liuku Middle School chosen by White Pearl in efforts to raise the money for the USA GLOBE Program of V-P Al Gore. The staff honored me at a modest Chinese banquet in a bamboo hut restaurant lighted by candles, because no electricity that night. The whole thing felt good and made me want to do more.
- Mary Dawn Bailey
First Bike Tour of Nujiang