435 pages Paperback $27.95; digital book $6 Published by iUniverse, 2007 18 Chinese/English city maps 15 road maps 26 pages of black & white illustrations Detailed hiking instructions for 19 hikes Transportation, lodging, food, and attraction listings for all 18 destinations en route 7 pages English/Chinese phrases 5 pages English/Chinese menu selections Historical background and local traditions
Beyond the Beaten Path
This is a guidebook that picks up where Lonely Planet leaves off. Instead of directing you to famous historic and scenic sights, it is a guide to remote and beautiful forgotten stretches of one of China's most famous ancient flagstone roads, the Road to Shu. Built over 2,000 years ago, this 600-mile road was the main link between Xi’an and Chengdu until replaced by a highway in 1935. Today the few stretches of the original flagstone that remain are not typical tourist destinations. Instead they are almost deserted, used only by local farmers, yet they happen to lie amidst some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in Western China and pass through some villages where life hasn't changed much in the last hundred years.
Nineteen Hikes Nineteen hikes are described in detail in this guide. They cover a distance of about 120 miles in total and traverse the most scenic parts of the Daba and Qinling Mountains lying between Chengdu and Xi’an. In Sichuan the road is still mostly flagstone, shaded by ancient cypress trees. In Shaanxi where the mountains are even steeper, the road is mostly dirt trails winding through wooded peaks. You can take some of the half-day hikes on your own by following the detailed directions in the book. If you have a handheld GPS, you can supplement the written directions by ordering the CD of GPS waypoints for all of the routes. For the two- and three-day hikes, however, it is highly recommended that you hire one of the six guides listed in this book.
The guides listed in the book are all non-professional and non-English-speaking. They know where to find the old road because they traveled it as children. They cost an average of $5 a day and the English/Chinese phrases relating to hiking and hiring guides should enable you to communicate. Do not hire a professional guide in either Chengdu or Xi'an. They will take you to some of the attractions associated with the old road, but they do not even know that the actual old road still exists.
Almost every town you will pass through has an attraction of some sort. Some relate to the old road itself, such as plank road remains, stone-slab bridges, forts, gates, passes, and reconstructed plank roads. Several of the cities along the route have “Old Towns” in which traditional structures have been preserved including residences, bell/drum towers, and city walls and gates. Traces of old China abound in the countryside as well with farmhouses built along traditional lines and their occupants still using querns, winnowing fans, and practicing other ancient customs. There are also many battle and burial sites from the Three Kingdoms period, a brief sixty-year era in the 3rd century which produced some of China’s most famous heroes including the God of War.
Transportation, Hotel & Restaurant Listings
About half of the hikes originate from Puan and Jianmenguan which are a four-hour bus ride north of Chengdu. The rest of the hikes are scattered throughout the mountains between Chengdu and Xi'an, so in order to access them, you will be taking local transportation and dealing with people who speak no English. A 25-page description of some transportation in general and the local bus system in particular will help you get to where you are going plus there are listings for transportation in and out of all eighteeen destinations as well. Hotels in all price ranges are also listed for each destination, in both Chinese and English, and there is a 15-page section on how to find expensive, moderate, and cheap lodgings as well. Local restaurants are also listed for every destination and a 20-page section describing local dishes will help you to eat well for under $5 a day.
Maps in Chinese/English
Except for some of the older farmers you'll meet on the trail, most Chinese can read, and you should have no trouble asking directions by refering to the Chinese characters on the 18 city maps and 15 road maps included in the guide.
The seven pages of Chinese/English phrases include sections on finding lodgings, buying bus and train tickets, hiring a guide, and asking directions while hiking which should enable you to get by without any prior knowledge of Chinese. You can order a CD of all the language phrases in this book as well as all the destination names to help you with pronunciation. The five pages of Chinese/English menu selections will also make ordering easy in local restaurants which, when they have menus, have them only in Chinese.