internet. My rudimentary knowledge of Mandarin was not needed. There's no
shortage of people anxious to practise their English.
The canal towns have an aging population. The old buildings are beautiful
but do not meet the standards of modernity to which most young people
aspire. Rather than let them decay, many municipalities have bought up large
sections and developed them for tourism. Those we saw were tasteful and
preserved enough of the past to give a good impression of what the towns
were once like. After the lunatic destruction of the Cultural Revolution, the
Chinese are at pains to preserve their cultural heritage.
A good way to see the canals is by boat. This can be done by joining the
other tourists and going on a cruise. Or, you can catch one of the regular
ferries and join the locals as they go about their daily lives . The latter way is
far cheaper and far more interesting.
The old houses rise straight up from the sides of the canals . In some
places, markets line the banks. In others, there are boat yards, potteries,
distilleries and other industrial sites where old crafts are still practised.
Ancient bridges span the waterways like the humps of serpents and are still in
use for pedestrian traffic. You will see watergates, temples and ancient
Don't forget to take your camera.
7 Tiger Leaping Gorge
It's in Yunnan Province, close to the border with Tibet and near the
famous Yangtze bend. The locals say it's the highest gorge in the world,
far exceeding the Grand Canyon. I went there with my wife and was
disappointed. We joined a queue of tourists and made our way along
pathways and tunnels until we reached the spot where the mythical tiger
made its leap. The scenery was spectacular but scarcely record
A couple of years later I went back with a mountaineering party and
changed my mind. We had a Tibetan friend with us and he was scathing of
the tourist route. He said he'd show us the real thing.
I was, at the time, walking with the aid of a crutch, having injured my foot in
a silly fall early in the expedition. That meant riding a pony. There were lots
and their owners were keen to take people up the genuine route as opposed
to the one my wife and I had been on.
It was the second time in my life that I had ridden a pony. The other was
on a beach when I was small. The guys with the ponies took away my crutch
and hoisted me onto one of the animals, while my friends took photographs
and made jokes.
The track clung to the side of the gorge. There was no safety rail and
whole sections had been ripped away by landslides. We made our way round
them, struggling across scree slopes, trying not to dislodge stones.
We went higher and higher and the tourists got smaller and smaller . After
a while they were no more than coloured blobs on distant pathways. The
track rounded a bend and the scenery was suddenly amazing. The people
below wouldn't catch a glimpse of it. I realised why I had been so
disappointed on my first visit.