Photos & Text ©2007 Haiwei Trails
Yunnan Heights (002)
14 days, Trek [Grade 2]
D1 Kunming Hotel
D2 Lijiang or Yuhu Flight, Hotel
D3 Wenhai village Trek (1+), Eco-lodge
D4 Xuehua village Trek (1+), Homestay
D5 Shanghai village Trek (1+), Homestay
D6 Zhongdian Trek (1+)/4WD, Hotel
D7 Feilai (Deqin) 4WD, Hotel
D8-11 Yubeng trek Trek (2+), GH/Camp
D12 Deqin Trek (2+)/4WD, Hotel
D13 Zhongdian 4WD, Hotel
D14 Kunming Flight, Hotel
Arguably the most open and relaxed of China's provincial capitals, befitting to a province that straddles so many cultures and civilisations. Dubbed the 'City of Spring' due to its yearlong great climate, it's long been a summer getaway destination for the savvier of China's political and economic elite. Nowadays, it only has traces of the old city and its semi-colonial French influences, but the reconstruction has gone well and it retains much of the atmosphere (if not the actual buildings!) of earlier times.
Pick-up from the airport followed by an initial orientation. For those arriving early, whereby Kunming isn’t chock-a-block with traditional ‘sights’, it’s a relaxed and pleasant city to wander around, visit the Bird & Flower market, sip tea by the lake, imbibe coffee at the pre-revolution era coffee house, etc. Accommodation is by Green Lake in the northwest of the city, a good place to use as a base for a rewarding stroll or two and a chance to kick the jet lag.
D2 Lijiang or Yuhu
An early flight to Lijiang which at 2400 m provides an initial chance for altitude acclimatization. Lijiang is in many ways the capital of the Naxi minority, and despite being afflicted by the somewhat crass “authenticity” drive so popular amongst Yunnan local governments, remains an interesting place. A beautiful old town - ancient canal system, traditional architecture, with abundant cafes in the centre. Tonight the option of staying in either Lijiang or Yuhu, small village located a short drive north of Lijiang. Nestled on the lower slopes of Jade Dragon Mountain, amongst other things this was the home of Joseph Rock - who was in parts an explorer, a plant collector, and a scholar of Naxi language, who roamed SW China in the 20s, 30s and 40s. At Yuhu there is a family-run guesthouse with clean cosy rooms and superb home-cooked meals.
Flight, Hotel or Guesthouse
D3 Wenhai village
For early birds, rising early provides a chance to see Lijiang at its most natural, before the tour groups kick into gear. After breakfast, leave behind the hustle and bustle of Lijiang for the short drive to the trailhead at Yuhu, a small village nestled on the lower slopes of Jade Dragon Mountain. Amongst other things this was the home of Joseph Rock - who was in parts an explorer, a plant collector, a scholar of Naxi language, and a bit of a master of fakery - who roamed SW China in the 20s, 30s and 40s. It’s about a 5-hour trek to Wenhai, another Naxi village several hundred metres up on the slopes of Jade Dragon. The site of a half-hearted attempt to impose eco-tourism, Wenhai has a slightly schizophrenic character - sometimes a quiet remote village struggling with the after effects of the ‘98 logging ban, sometimes playing host to large groups of ‘eco-tourists’ with cameras and heels. Either way, the views of the snow peak on the way to and from Wenhai are beautiful and the trek, though up, relatively undemanding. A pleasant first day.
Trek (1+), Eco-lodge
D4 Xuehua village
A short day’s trekking along the slopes to Xuehua, a much poorer Yi village and a chance to relax for the afternoon and check out a little local life. Interestingly Xuehua is also the home of one of the few 'bimo' of the area, an Yi shaman-like figure steeped in a ritualistic history infinitely longer and more complex than its newcomer counterpart amongst the Naxi - the ‘Dongba priest’. Whether or not you’ll get the chance to meet him is moot, but it does give some indication as to the depth of tradition in this village.
Trek (1+), Homestay
D5 Shanghai village
Another relaxed day’s trekking under the snow peak to Shanghai, a relatively affluent Naxi village and the last stop before heading east away from Jade Dragon. By now those muscles should be flowing!
Trek (1+), Homestay
The day starts off with a 2-hour trek to the road and a pick-up (by mini-bus or 4WD) for the drive to and along Tiger Leaping Gorge, stopping for lunch in the middle. TLG, while by no means as some claim the deepest gorge in the world, is still a sight worth beholding. The trail continues, winding along the foothills of Haba Mountain (Yunnan’s 3rd highest at 5396m) through Yi, Naxi, Tibetan and Lisu areas and passing the limestone terraces of Baishuitai before breaking out onto the edge of the eastern Himalayas to Zhongdian. In Zhongdian (now optimistically renamed Shangri-La), we’ll be based at a hotel at the bottom of the magnificent Songzanlin monastery. This sprawling and, in historical terms, very key monastery was commissioned in the 17c by the 5th Dalai Lama, and was the central monastery in the Gelukpa order’s south-eastern expansion. In the evening, dinner, a stroll, even a soak in some hot springs.
Since the retreat of the Tibetans from the Lijiang area in the 19c, Zhongdian (Tib. Gyalthang) has pretty much marked the south-eastern border of Kham Tibet in Yunnan. Up until a few yeas ago, it had the rough reputation of a classic frontier town - but now things have calmed down, and its markets and the old town make for a fruitful afternoon stroll.
Trek (1+)/4WD, Hotel
D7 Feilai (Deqin)
An early start and a long day's drive, gaining nearly 1500m before dropping back down. Bypassing the bright lights of Deqin, heading instead for Feilai, the nearest viewing point from Deqin of the Meili snow mountain range. Once the site was marked by just a lot of prayer flag-covered chörtens and a little shop across the street; these days there are a few guesthouses and restaurants catering to those who want the possibility of waking up to a stunning snow-covered mountain vista.
D8-11 Yubeng trek
The first leg of this trek goes through pristine old growth forest, with views of some of the Kawa Karpo peaks to entice! But don’t let the pretty scenery fool you - the trail climbs a thousand metres before dropping down to the little Tibetan village of Yubeng, set at the foot of Kawagebo. Being as it is located on the pilgrim’s circuit around sacred Kawagebo (the ill-fated Sino-Japanese mountain climbing team of ‘96 followed a route through Yubeng; the bodies were found 8 years later on the other side, and locals say the mountain grabbed them from one side and threw them down the other), the villagers are used to their fair share of visitors. Targeted by The Nature Conservancy as an eco-tourism and biodiversity conservation site, they’re also gaining a certain familiarity with foreign visitors as well. However, it’s still a very traditional village.
Yubeng is a great base to stage overnight treks form, offering many opportunities to fill up on views of glacial lakes and dense forest. The most likely configuration is to start with an initial day-trek to the nearby sacred waterfall, which attracts pilgrims from as far as central Tibet. Those more local will make it a point to come more often (once a year), collecting the water in bottles so to give to others to wash and bless and sip... Following this, a two-night trek into a secluded valley - a pretty meadow, glacial pool, views of the glacier - off limits in the winter and spring, as chunks of ice rocketing off the glacier make the situation a bit too unstable!
Unlike most other places in China which are totally devoid of wildlife, early risers in Yubeng have a fair chance of seeing wild animals about. Excursions from Yubeng are accompanied by a local guide - aside from safety concerns for us, locals have been given reason to be concerned about people taking valuable plants (usually orchids), or trying to summit the mountain (like all Tibetans, they believe sacred mountains are not meant to be ‘conquered’).
Trek (2+), Guesthouse/Camp
An easier trek today, descending the few hundred metres back to the village of Xidang to meet the jeeps; expect to reach Deqin by late afternoon/early evening. Deqin is interesting more for its position - as the last stop before the passes on the old trading route into central Tibet - than what’s in it, but it’s worth a walk around and a browse through the shops. Of course the comfortable beds, hot showers and other creature comforts will be very welcome after a few days spent trekking, as will one of the best hot pots this side of Chongqing!
Trek (2+)/4WD, Hotel
Although backtracking, the extra time available for stops on the way down means this is a day’s travel well worth the effort. Out of Deqin the road climbs back up to heights of 4500m+ as it heads southeast. Given the right weather we’ll stop at one of the passes for a picnic and to say goodbye to the peaks before dropping slightly to have a look at a couple of monasteries - Dongzhulin and Shusong (a nunnery - a much rarer animal indeed). Both sub-monasteries of the huge Songzanlin in Zhongdian, both remote but active teaching gompas. Then the trail drops down to the Tibetan village Benzilan on the banks of the Yangtze, facing Sichuan province on the opposite side. For centuries another important stop on the old trading route into Tibet - indeed in central Tibet, imported Chinese tea was often known as ‘Benzilan tea’! From here it’s a two-hour drive back to Zhongdian.
Extremely early birds can browse the morning market. Then it’s a morning flight to Kunming, and a final meal together, which may just hold its own surprise!
An intensive, two-leg trekking focused on Yunnan’s two highest mountains and the minorities that live there. Sharing the same beginnings as The Dragon and the Mekong, this one then goes on to focus on the Tibetan north-west of Yunnan. The trail starts in Lijiang, for a relatively gentle 3½-day trek (to get you limbered up!) on the slopes of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, staying in the homes of Naxi and Yi minority villagers. Meeting the jeeps, the trek picks up again near the Kawa Karpo range, two days north, with 4-½ days of trekking and camping on the slopes of 6746m Mt. Kawagebo.