So far, I went to the wrong train station for a train, locked myself in my hotel room, and received a summon for jury duty in Kent County nine thousand miles away. What else could go wrong?
That is why you hike with local guide when you travel solo in Shangri La.
According to my butt muscles, Shangri La is not utopia. The name is from some novel you never read (James Hilton, 1933), but want to once you visit this tip of Tibet, but won’t be able to find here. It’s banned in China. This precarious corner of the world is a hiker’s paradise, filled with insanely tempting peaks, including one called Abugi.
Being a solo traveler, I asked my hotel to connect me with a local guide.
“Your guide won’t speak English,” she warned.
So he won’t know what it means when I say, tall, non – fat latte with caramel drizzle. I’ll live as there are no Starbucks here. I scratched my head. “Ask him when I need to lace up my hiking boots.”
My guide, who I swear was a reincarnated goat, does the Abugi trail six times a week, hauling snacks of Baozi and hard boiled eggs for the trekkers and a pack of smokes for himself. He knows that paying hikers are not mountain goats, so while the trek is more strenuous than a tread mill, it is well paced with several rest stops.
I boarded his dusty van, part of a caravan of eight that ventured off to Abugi—about an hour outside of Shangri La– all of us praying to our respective gods that the axels wouldn’t break. We were on the edge of civilization, that is, out of range for any type of GPS signal, which is why our guides used walkie-talkies.
Abugi looks like the huge egg rock that birthed the Monkey King–a book you can get here– the face flat and daunting, our trail winding up to its chin. At the end of the trail is a holy lake marked with Tibetan Buddhist flags. The flags are not to be touched unless you’re posing for a selfie.
Fed by snow, the water is drinkable, but you cannot wash your feet or hands in it. I did drink the water, which I figured was a lot safer than most Chinese street food, including the baozi. The lake, like a faucet not properly been shut, trickles into to a creek that blossoms into a stream that eventually feeds it he Yangtze River.
That water I would not drink.
As for eight hours of no English? Ha! First, there was a farmer for Amazon Prime, that is, an Emory graduate who lives in Beijing and farms out creative work to designing teams in Asia (their day rates are cheaper). He also informed me that Lost Horizon is not even available on Amazon in China. Along with other useless trivial, Farmer Prime informed me the Goose Island Beer is brewed by Anheuser Busch in Wuhan, not Chicago.
Maybe that’s how Covid-19 started.
There was also a young hipster couple from Shang Hai and another not-so-hip-but-super-helpful couple, who helped me with my fiasco do jour. I left my eyeglasses in the bouncy van.
So, if you want to get out of jury duty, I highly recommend a hike to Abugi Scenic Area. But get a guide or rent a yak.
Tonight, I’ll be eating one for dinner.