Mekong expedition – July 9

It’s an uncomfortable ride from Yushu to Zaduo. Bumpy and slow, made so by road works. The accompanying encampments and installations are an eyesore on the grasslands. Two high passes are still beautiful but a tunnel is being dug underneath one of them.

Closer to Zaduo the Mekong, swift and brown-red. Tibetan prayer flags span the river, so do bridges under construction.

Mekong near Zaduo

I meet up with Luciano. He is nearing the end of his eight month walk along the Mekong. We first met on the internet, then in Savannakhet in southern Laos (on the Mekong indeed), and decided to team up to get to the river’s sources.

We meet up with driver Renqing who drove me to Zaxiqiwa last year. That is the most easily accessible source of the Mekong, revered by indigenuous Tibetan nomads for whom this is a spiritual place.

The idea is he will drop us at Zaxiqiwa again. From there we will walk to the Jifu and Guosongmucha sources, about 160 kilometers there and back. Those are higher up and seen as the Mekong’s real sources by the more rationally and scientifically inclined – Chinese, Japanese, westerners.

But we change plan. Renqing says he can get us closer to the sources with his jeep.

It is the bears. Local people warn attacks have occurred, people have died. They simply rip your tent apart. There is no defence. Bears used to stay clear of people when they still carried guns. But the government doesn’t allow that anymore.

‘Don’t worry about wolves’, they add  reassuringly, ‘they don’t do harm to humans’. They are in wild lands, the Mekong’s headwaters.

No doubt the bear threat exists. No doubt too the threat is exaggerated. But I am the worrying type. So we will travel more by jeep. And whenever possible camp near some of the rare nomad encampments where yaks, guard dogs and more people live, and where bears steer clear of.

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