Travel Report Three

Lijiang and Northern Yunnan Province

Lijiang is an old town with a small river. With an altitude of about 2400m it has a subtropical highland climate, with sunny winters.

Accommodation: The courtyard hotels are one of the greatest charms of Lijiang. In Tiger Leaping Gorge there are various inns for walkers.

Recommendation: Either walk along the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail, or stay near the northern end of the gorge at Walnut Village, and use that as a base for walking.

Pretty courtyard hotels offer havens from the busy lanes of the town.

Lijiang, ShangriLa (Xianggelila) and Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hu Tiao Xia) are part of the Three Parallel Rivers UNESCO World Heritage Site in the north of Yunnan Province, not far from the border with Myanmar.

The region has diversity of ecosystem and of people – there are villages here of many different minority groups, including Tibetan, Miao and Naxi. Lijiang is a centre of the Southern Silk Road, and silk embroidery remains a local skill.

Haba Snow Mountain or Haba Xue Shan is 5396 metres high. A guide is necessary for hiking, and altitude sickness is a hazard. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain or Yulong Xue Shan, is a slightly bigger sister, at 5596 metres.

The special feature of the district is that this is where some of the great rivers of Asia escape from the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau to the north-west. Major rivers that downstream have the names Yangtze (Chang Jiang), Mekong, and Salween here come close together, but each in a gorge separated by terrain up to 6000 metres high. They reach the sea many thousands of kilometres apart.

A tributary of the Yangtse (Chang Jiang) squeezes violently through a narrow space at Tiger Leaping Gorge, which, with its 2000 metre rockface, is deeper than the Grand Canyon. Further upstream the river is wide with a flow that is speedy enough, but when it pushes its way through the narrow gap between walls of rock the turbulence is awesome.
Downstream a little there are no crowds. That’s a human figure, in the centre of the circle. For a small fee it’s possible to cross a slightly rickety bridge to a sturdy rock. But one slip means certain death.
That’s the bridge, on the right of the rock.

The ‘High Road’ (as opposed to the surfaced road for vehicles in the lower gorge) is a well-known (and well used, but not too busy) trek of about 22km. It’s easy enough to stay for a night along the way, and also for a night after finishing, usually at Walnut Garden Village near the northern end of the gorge. This village also makes a pleasant enough base for short day walks.

Tiger Leaping Gorge or HuTiaoXia

The Jinsha river is one of the main branches that later flow together to create the mighty Yangtze River (Chang Jiang).

Once away from the coach tours to the upper rapids, there are opportunities for free walking among wonderful scenery. Guides are necessary, however, in some places.

And the bridge again. It has a small toll, supporting the local community.

At the time when this picture was taken no trolls were encountered. And in any case, they’re probable only a problem for billy goats.

Xianggellila, ShangriLa or Zhongdian

What’s in a name? Pretty much everything in this case. The town changed its name to match the fictional paradise created by a man who never visited China. Previously called Zhongdian, or Gyelthang in the Tibetan language, the town became Xianggelila in order to attract tourists. It has worked. Paradise? Maybe not quite, but interesting.

There are quiet walking and riding opportunities in Pudacuo park, although the altitude is high (more than 3500 metres) scenery is less spectacular than in Tiger Leaping Gorge and the ‘snow mountains’ near Lijiang. Nice, though.
The town itself has some old areas, and although much was destroyed in a fire in 2014 the rebuilding is allowing a due emphasis on traditional styles. There is a Buddhist monastery at Songzanlin, a few kilometres north of the town.

A visit combining Lijiang, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Xianggelila and Pudacuo National Park offers excellent cultural and outdoor diversity. Except in the highest parts, the region enjoys a gentle climate throughout the year. Summers are mild with significant rainfall; winters have chilly nights but daytimes have plenty of sunshine and low rainfall.

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