We’re often asked what goes into the process of picking and designing a trail and it’s a difficult question, without a simple answer. Obviously the choices of places to visit and routes to take are myriad, but what we generally do is pick a theme, or an aim if you like. This may be to focus on and explore the minority cultures of a particular area (e.g. Where the World Meets the Sky), a particular landscape, to follow a certain interest (e.g. Four Rivers, Six Ranges: The Horse Festivals) or historical notion (e.g. Missionaries, Minorities & the Mekong), or indeed, use an area as a backdrop for a particular activity (e.g. Yading - Gods & Mountains #1 & #2), or ultimately, as could in part be said of all these trips, a combination of the above.
When working on an itinerary, such aspects as difficulty/reward ratio of trail, is relatively easily dealt with, and we try to give fair descriptions (and so fair warnings!), to those who need them. Although achieving a balance with even the more physically or experientially demanding trips is of course centrally important (as well as being an imperfect art!). Naturally it is in our nature to push the envelope; we tend to opt for experience over entertainment and we’re in a constant search for more options, more remote areas. It’s never been our purpose to merely service well-tramped routes that a local tourist board might dictate, a failing common with 99% of ‘adventure companies’. However, we strive to balance pace and interest in such a fashion that we keep tweaking your curiosity but also keep you enjoying the actuality of travelling, in such a way that each complements rather than eclipses the other (or indeed the hardships or lack there of negating each other).
So, to return to the myriad of choices we mentioned at the start,
and to answer the question most often asked - why “trails”?
We refer to these routes as trails because of the nature by which
they crisscross the region, to get to places for a myriad of different
reasons, sometimes unavoidably and with reason touching on more
touristed destinations. But more often opting for the more remote,
the more in depth. We hope these trips fulfil both our aims in designing
them, and your aims in taking part, and ultimately, at the very
least that you leave with more understanding, a faster heartbeat
(but lower blood pressure) than when you arrived. To find out what
these aims might be, and if these trails get you there – well
there’s only one way to do that.
Taking the types of travel involved as our jumping off point,
the routes we’re offering this year fall into 3 broad categories:
Photos & Text ©2003 Haiwei Trails
The 4WD overland trips vary in both pace and difficulty of the roads. In general the trails are designed specifically to allow ample time to get out and wander around at will, and in many ways this is rather the point. Indeed some trails (e.g. Trade Routes to Tibet I) heavily emphasize this - comprising mostly half-day’s driving time with the rest of the day specifically allocated to time spent in a particular village, monastery, etc. On the other hand, some (e.g. Four Rivers. Six Ranges – The Horse Festivals) use the 4WDs in part to get to particular events, though of course a lot of thought is put into the ground we cover en-route. And some (e.g. Four Rivers, Six Ranges - ? or - riding the Frontier, conform more to the traditional notion of a “road trip”, covering large distances to gain broad overviews of a region and are based on a majority of full-day’s driving (though of course still with ample stopping time).
The difficulty of the roads varies between trips, during trips, and of course between seasons. Suffice it to say all of these trails at some point absolutely require a 4WD and most of our behind-the-scenes work over the years has gone into finding the right jeep and what we think is fair to say, some of the very best drivers in the region (see The company the people the gear). Also in a region where roads can go up and down depending on the weather and (though to a lesser extent) political conditions, we obviously schedule our trails so as to play the odds as far as possible in our favour. Thus if you take a look at the calendar, you’ll see that our scheduled trails tend to move north in the summer months to avoid the rains in the south, and not much at all is happening in the winter, as the snow closes down most of the passes. However it should be said that the roads in this part of the world are improving every year and it’s becoming more difficult to find, or easier to avoid, (depending on your point of view) the genuinely (gnarly) honest-to-God goat trails of yesteryear. But no worries, they still exist!
A final word to the wise before setting you loose, obviously in the best
case scenario, the roads are clear, the jeeps have no problem, and everything
goes just like clockwork! Although this does happen with surprising frequency,
what also happens (with less surprising frequency!) is that obviously depending
on the type of road, landslides cause delays and the jeeps need occasional
repairs - best to expect and accept as all part of the experience! The delays
are rarely long ones (ho,ho,ho) ……..