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Backpacker Magazine – March 2009

China: The People's Hiking Revolution

As prosperity spreads across China, so does a passion for the outdoors. But can millions of new trekkers save Asia's vast wilderness from the march of development? Welcome to the world's next hiking frontier. PLUS, check out China's Top Treks.

by: Craig Simons, Photos by Matthieu Paley

Changhui downs a beer.
Changhui downs a beer.
Shatuo River campsite.
Shatuo River campsite.
Hiking behind the Chinese flag.
Hiking behind the Chinese flag.
Nationalism runs deep.
Nationalism runs deep.
Hiking through a garden.
Hiking through a garden.
A waterfall on Shatuo River.
A waterfall on Shatuo River.

Then come two businessmen, each looking for a break from hectic workdays. Zhou Changhui, a rail-thin man with sharp, angular features, sells stoves to hotels and is the group's elder at 38. His friend, Xu Junjie, is shorter and bulkier and markets disposable products available in hotel rooms–packages of toothpaste and toothbrushes, combs, slippers, soap, and shampoo. Guan introduces me as a journalist interested in hiking and the environment, and Xu immediately apologizes. He has tried, without success, to convince hotel managers to provide high-quality toothbrushes that guests can buy and take home. Perhaps hoping to deflect future questions, he says, sheepishly, that he knows his work isn't environmentally friendly.

Liquor's real name is Chen Xiang. He studies engineering and business management at Chongqing University but prefers traveling. Because his father is a government official, he figures he'll get a good job regardless of his grades, so when he saw the trip mentioned in an online chat room, he signed up.

The rest of the group works in real estate: Two of them are interior designers, one is in sales, one in advertising, and the last an architect. Together, they represent a cross-section of China's middle class, a demographic that consists of 100 million people with annual incomes between $5,000 and $15,000. Guan makes $500 a month, enough to share a rented apartment with his brother and indulge his passion for travel and hiking. The architect, 28-year-old Guo Shanchuan, earns almost $900 monthly and is considering buying an apartment. He Xiaoqing, a 30-year-old real estate saleswoman who tells us to call her Little Qing, picked me up at the airport in a new Mazda 6 that cost $33,000.

All of the trekkers except for Guo wear T-shirts printed with the English statement, "Tibet WAS, IS, and ALWAYS will be part of China!" Two months before the trip, violent riots broke out in Lhasa over the issue of Chinese rule in Tibet. Nationalism runs deep among Chinese yuppies, and the shirts appear to be a coordinated effort to send a message to a Western audience. I don't debate the point. Instead, I ask Liquor how he got his nickname.

"I always bring alcohol when I travel," he says, his giant aviator sunglasses reflecting a soaring web of elevated highways behind me.

"What did you bring this time?" I ask.

"Beer."

"How much?"

"Six cans. But it's not enough."

We board a new, air-conditioned bus and ride six hours to Jinsha, a town of 3,600 people near the start of our trek. Our plan is to hike through the Chishui Alsophila National Nature Reserve, a wilderness area at the heart of 33,000 acres of protected forests. The reserve includes one of the world's last pockets of alsophila spinulosa, an endangered fern that has existed for about 100 million years, but when we arrive I don't see any ferns, just thousands of disposable chopsticks drying on the side of the road.

While Guan looks for a local guide to help us improvise a route, I watch villagers feed sections of bamboo into machines that cut them into smooth, white sticks. A woman bent over one of the contraptions says that a skilled worker can make 8,000 sets each day–enough for a profit of about 21 renminbi (just over $3). I ask if locals hike in the reserve, and she gives me the universal what-kind-of-idiot-are-you look: No one has time to walk in the woods, and if they do take a vacation, most people would rather go to a city.

It's almost six in the evening when Guan finds our guide, a 56-year-old beekeeper named Luo Zhixia who maintains hives in the nature reserve. Still, we have time to hike to the park entrance, and our little band strides out of town on a quiet dirt road that winds through a canyon. A thin tributary of the Red River gurgles softly beside us. A waterfall tumbles over a cliff, its spray catching the late-day sun.



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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Trekking in Nepal
Mar 08, 2014

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Star Star Star Star Star
Hiking in Nepal
Mar 08, 2014

Hiking in Nepal an indoor outdoor trekking and tours operative company takes you that further way to guarantee you has an unforgettable adventure that you have been dream of. Benefit, of course there is the Hiking in Nepal part of choice. We have your choose of trekking for 3 days or 30 or more days it depending of your timetable, sleep under lodges or tent. We always respect our duty to constantly your holiday satisfaction in Nepal. Whether you are looking for a quiet gateway, a memorable outing with a family or an exciting nature adventure. We offer you with the best progressive information and itinerary leading focused and modified as per your requirements. It is significant to memorize, though, it necessitate an enough level of physical homework and must remembers that there is also a psychosomatic assurance in walking in mountains. Acute trek is an attempt to encourage Nepal to the exterior world while striving to defend an aged tradition as well as conserve the surroundings for generation to come.

Hiking in Nepal specialize in organize Nepal travel activities excursion such as:- Nepal trekking, Helicopter tour, peak climbing, rafting, mountain flight, Kayaking, Cannoning, Bird watching Tour, Honeymoon Tour, sightseeing, jungle safari, rock climbing, Pilgrim's Tour, Hotel Reservation, air ticket, Tibet Tour, Bhutan Tour, Paragliding, Bungee Jump, Eco Tour, local village tour and many more.

We dedicated ourselves to take each step essential to provide you and skill you will dotingly look back upon not kind what it cost you, as you will be recurring a wealthier person full of reminiscences. We, trekking and tours company in Nepal that is very believable, responsible and fully offers personage, group, tailored travel and trekking excursions in Nepal. If you would like to explorer lifetime knowledge of trekking and visiting destination of different part of Nepal as well as tours to Bhutan and destination Tibet in a secure and safe mode, then we is the exact agency for you. Our trekking tours involve knowledge all aspect of country, the enormous historical sites, natural loveliness and wildlife, most prominently, they give you the opportunity to get with local people and to see their custom first hand. Further you need not have to be an sportsperson, as trekking in Nepal and between the people is itself an well knowledge as trekking, tour, hiking is not climbing. Anyone with a join up to strong legs and strength of adventure to discover the exotic will pleasurable the excitement of trekking, tours and charming discovery. http://www.holidayhiking.com

Star Star Star Star Star
Trekking in Nepal
Mar 01, 2013

Acute Trek Pvt Ltd http://www.trekshimalaya.com an indoor outdoor trekking and tours operative takes you that further way to guarantee you has an unforgettable http://www.adventurestrekking.com adventure that you have been dream of. Whether you are looking for a quiet gateway, a memorable http://www.hikingsinnepal.blogspot.com outing with a family or an exciting nature adventure. We offer you with the best progressive information and itinerary leading focused and modified as per your requirements. Acute trek is an attempt to encourage Nepal to the exterior world while striving to defend an aged tradition as well as conserve the surroundings for generation to come.

steven newman
May 10, 2012

I have journeyed entirely on foot and with a backpack the lengths of Japan, S. Korea, and Taiwan. Soon I will be doing China. In all my journeys--including my solo walk around the world in the 1980s--I focus on the people. As a writer, I have always considered the people of this world to be my inspiration. This article has made me all the more eager to explore the people of China.

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