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August 25, 2009

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Escape from city pressures in the great outdoors

EVERY soul is born with a desire for freedom. However, everyone is fettered by pressures from career, family, society or more. But while some people find themselves plagued by the pursuit of fame, money and social status, some are embracing nature to enrich and refresh their souls.

Liu Xiaohang and Zhou Bin are good examples. The two met on an outdoor trip a year ago and now they are working together to launch the Namjagbarwa Outdoor Exploration Club League and Namjagbarwa Outdoor Center at Plaza 353 on Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall at the end of this month.

The league, which unites several outdoor exploration clubs in Shanghai, is going to provide enthusiasts with outing tips and safety guides and organize teams to go outing.

"It is rather common abroad. Skiing, mountain climbing, hiking and ice climbing are all included. But in China, there's a misconception that always exists - only the rich who have plenty of time can do it,'' says Liu, one of the founders of the league.

"We'd like to promote it as a lifestyle, an attitude and a spirit. As long as you are healthy, you can have a wonderful experience of an outing with your peers. Shanghai is still an emerging market when compared to cities such as Beijing, Shenzhen (Guangdong Province) and Xi'an (Shaanxi Province).''

The league is named after Namjagbarwa Peak, the 15th highest peak in the world.

Liu himself has explored provinces and cities such as Sichuan, Chongqing, Yunnan, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Hebei, Zhejiang, Shandong, Henan, Shanxi, Hubei and Inner Mongolia since he got his first tent in 2003.

Born in 1978 and brought up at Taihang Mountain in Hebei Province, Liu says: "I'm a kid of the mountain and nature. I remember clearly the reservoirs at the mountain each time I passed on my way to school. When I see mountains stretching into the far distance, I feel the moment is mine."

His most recent adventure was traveling through Longyangou, an area at Siguniang Mountain in Sichuan Province, together with his team mates. They became the first batch of walkers, other than local people, to walk through the area.

"The 10-day trip is marvelous although risks and tiredness emerged now and then," Liu says. "It is really unforgettable that we could record the beauty unknown to most people and bring the primitive ecology and pictures of rare animals and plants to the world."

This October, he, together with a team, is planning to explore another uninhabited area called Heizhuzhou at Xiaoliangshan area in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

"The place is something like the Bermuda Triangle with reports of the mysterious disappearance of people coming up several times. Even CCTV has reported it," Liu says. "We will try to walk through its key area, which nobody has passed yet."

People get involved in outdoor exploration for different reasons. Some want to escape from the pressures of work. Some want to free themselves from the depression of breaking up. Some find it more interesting exploring with peers rather than listening to the ideas of their travel agents.

But all in all, according to Zhou Bin, Liu's partner in founding the league, the main reason is that outdoor exploration provides a brand new world to the explorer.

"Everything, including pressures, daily trifles and troubles, which dampen our souls, flies away the moment we become a part of nature," Zhou says. "Such an experience not only builds a strong body but also makes us cherish more of what we've owned after returning to the city life. We are optimistic and strong again."

Several years ago, Zhou was a reporter, a job that many young people would wish for. But he decided to quit because of his love of the great outdoors.

His fate turned in 2006 when he got an assignment to do a story on outdoor exploration. At that time, he had little idea of what it was all about.

To get first-hand information for his story, he joined a group of outdoor explorers, going to a small island in Zhejiang Province and spending several days there.

Since the place had not been developed by any tourism agency, there was no one else there.

"The whole beach belonged to us. At night, we had sea food, drank beer and lit lanterns," Zhou recalls. "I suddenly felt that I actually should belong to this group of people, who were passionate and crazy about exploring the outside world rather than being confined to the busy city life.''

But every expert must start somewhere. For amateur outdoor explorers, Zhou thinks easy and developed routes are more suitable for them to explore the start.

"Some people might like to go to Lijiang in Yunnan Province. They could spend a whole afternoon by the lake," Zhou says. "Driving trip to nearby cities and some trips just to have a picnic are also popular among the city's office workers.''

Zhou, a seasoned outdoor explorer, likes "self-torture" routes best. He defines it as self-torture because normally such routes require participants to walk for a long time without a stop before reaching their destination.

"A typical one is where a group of travel companions hold supplies on their back and walk like ascetic monks on the mountains for hours and hours. There is no difference between boys and girls. Only friendships exist and we are like comrades at war," Zhou says.

"At night, we drink and sing around the fire. In some cases, we even drink from the same bottle of beer one by one and share the same pair of chopsticks. It really feels like 'Band of Brothers'."

Such routes can take people to extraordinary scenery that is rarely seen. Zhou recommends places such as Shizixia, Luxixia, Niutoushan and Sanjian in Zhejiang Province as several of the best "self-torture" routes.

"When footsteps become heavier, your heart will feel more bright and peaceful," Zhou says. "Walking for more than 10 hours without a stop, your desire declines to its lowest. Give me a hot drink and I won't change it for the title of manager.''

Nowadays, Zhou is thinking about traveling through a desert to enjoy the beauty of desolation.

No matter how people start, they will definitely end the same - with the love of an endless pursuit for freedom.

As autumn is approaching, it is time for people to go out, embrace the masterpiece of nature. If you have a brave and passionate heart, you should join this group of people and begin your exploration.

Namjagbarwa Outdoor Exploration Club League


Tel: 2326-5482

Tips for outdoor exploration

Do your homework before going - check the weather, make a schedule, know the condition of the terrain and what equipment you need to take. Usually each group will have a meeting before heading out. Make a list of all the equipment and supplies. Make sure everyone gets it.

Drink water during the expedition. It will be too late to drink when you feel thirsty. Drinking every 15 minutes is advised to avoid dehydration. But don't drink too much during rest periods.

Don't walk alone. It is easy to get lost. If you do find yourself on your own, shout your teammates' names loudly to locate them.

Don't set up camp beside water or at the bottom of a slope in case of heavy rain and flooding.

Be environmentally friendly. Take away nothing except photos. Leave nothing except your footprints.


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