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Himalaya

Day 77: Tiger Leaping Gorge

Michael Palin - HimalayaOn the steps leading down to the lavatory of the Halfway House a wooden board is nailed up with a Chinese inscription that translates as 'Number One Toilet in Heaven and Earth'. As a bit of a connoisseur, I put this ambitious claim to the test. I can report a plain and simple squat toilet, in a room half open to the elements and cantilevered out over the mountainside, with a narrow, angled channel running away into the garden below. Once in the crouch position, however, the real beauty of this little facility becomes apparent. The land seems to fall away, and all that can be seen are the walls and saw-tooth peaks of Ha Ba Snow Mountain on the other side of the gorge. In normal circumstances I'm out of these places as fast as I can, but here, feeling myself suspended above the earth, halfway to the realm of the gods, I am tempted to linger long after my work is done.

This morning an ethereal mist lingers over the mountains, making breakfast on the terrace a chilly affair. Mr Feng De Fang produces coffee or green tea, walnuts, pancakes with smooth local honey, scrambled egg and fresh apple pie in a crisp batter.

We sit and eat too much and look out over the terraced fields below, where beans, sweet corn and wheat defy the forces of gravity and an odd mixture of walnut and palm trees cluster around farm buildings whose stone walls are set solid and sturdy against earthquake impact.

It's a serenely calming view, timeless save for a mobile phone inside a doctored mineral water bottle which hangs out over the balcony on the end of a stick. I ask Mr Feng if they keep it out there for security reasons but he says no, it's the only place they can get reception.

Mr Feng speaks good English, which he says he learnt from British hikers on their way through. Maybe this accounts for the fact that, as we have a group photo taken, he encourages us all with shouts of 'Lovely jubbly!'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 77: Tiger Leaping Gorge
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Bendi Wan
  • Book page no: 180

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