The image most hold in their mind’s eye when Chinese cities are mentioned is of densely populated high-rise sprawls, a mass of humanity, blaring horns and pollution. And whilst not always a huge distance from accuracy, there is so much more than this to twenty-first century Sino urban living.
Our friends and colleagues Cathy and Lee live in Yunnan Province’s capital, Kunming. With its location just north of the Tropic of Cancer and an elevation of around 1800 metres, the town boasts a wonderful year-round climate giving it the rightfully deserved moniker of the Eternal Spring City.
Amongst the surprises to greet the visitor to this city of six million inhabitants is the dry warm and mild atmosphere, the relative lack of pollution, and the proliferation of the gas guzzling Porsche Cayenne. But for the cyclist lucky enough to have a chum with local knowledge the greatest surprise of all is the quality of the cycling.
From Lee’s abode on the western side of the city, a quick nip through narrow winding lanes of small shops, market stalls, and street hawkers takes us to the edge of West Mountain. The initial climb is on bitumen where heart pumping and lungs searching for some extra oxygen at this slightly depleted altitude we quickly gain 500 metres.
The scenery up here at 2300 metres is absolutely beautiful - jagged grey rock, pine trees, meadows of flowers, are all negotiated on fantastic red dirt tracks. The views vary dramatically as we circumnavigate the hills - here wilderness as far the eye can see, there a city landscape sprawling to the distance, at times countryside with rural hamlets, all pastoral and romantic looking in the classic sense, and elsewhere modern communities of high rise apartments sprout amongst the trees adorning the hills and valleys.
Lee and his cycling chums have led me on numerous accessions through the environs of his home city, the rides are always different, on occasion we stick to rural byways of tarmac, but mostly our rides take us on a variety of surfaces, gravel, concrete, dirt and tar, which my ever accompanying titanium gravel machine tackles with graceful aplomb, and not once has the cycling been anything less than wonderful.
Think you have an idea of a Chinese megacity? Bring a bike, have a look, and think again.
Just above Kunming are meadows...
and grassy trails
Great trails in the hills above Cathy and Lee's home
The hills north of Kunming have some interesting brick roads
Lee and Lao Fu
Closed trail, never mind, plenty of alternative routes
More brick roads...
and dirt trails
Lee in a mulberry bush
Heading back down to town