The Hat Maketh The Cowboy/girl

After a 10 hour bus ride through some landslide prone terrain we finally arrived at Songpan, home to the Sichuan horse trekking industry. We looked at what was on offer and decided on a 2 day, 1 night trek to the mineral water springs a couple of mountains away from the town.

Songpan is as close as China could get to a gun-slinging, rootin' tootin' Western township. The town has some attractive walls (which have clearly been recently touched up to impress tourists) and is set between some lovely lush green mountains. The quaint town straddles one main street, which tends to have more horses than motorised vehicles.

After a night's rest we got up early and met our horses. The number of horses on the main street at 8 in the morning was incredible and brought traffic to a standstill. We soon mounted our equine partners and got moving out of town and up into the mountains. We traveled with four other tourists and five guides, with one spare horse making a total of a dozen horses.

All of the camping equipment was laid on top of the horses' saddles, and we were perched on top so we were very tall above the horses. The trip was a little bumpy at times and a little scary on narrow paths next to sheer drops but overall the riding was pleasant and not too difficult.

We made camp early in the afternoon and whilst our guides were setting up we went for a wander in the area. We saw a lovely colourful pool with a small waterfall and (without any help from our guide) found the mineral springs which were next to a thoroughly smashed temple. We then stumbled upon very interesting cave, which we entered brandishing flashlights and although the paths were awkwardly small we discovered many quite large caverns with multi-coloured walls and curious formations. When we were as far in as we could go we turned off our flashlights and the darkness was completely encompassing.

The guides were multi-skilled, able to create camps, tend to horses and make a delicious camp dinner of yak and noodle stew using rudimentary preparation materials. This said, the other couple of meals they cooked were very bland. Sitting around the fire under the large tarpolen tent whilst it rained persistently outside was a nice expereience even if most of the conversation was in Chinese.

We went back late in the morning and in some descents we had to get off the horses and wade through some very muddy tracks. Our horses were worked hard over the trek and became comically flatulent as they climbed steep and tall mountain tracks. In the early afternoon we triumhantly arrived back in Songpan, stopping traffic on the main street with our posse. It was great fun travelling through a modern town on horseback.

We got back to our hostel, hosed off our shoes and washed our trek clothes. Then we got a well deserved Chinese massage and had a good night's sleep before taking the bus to Jiuzhaigou.

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