Photos & Text © 2003-2008 Haiwei Trails
Gods & Mountains: Yading from the East (005)
13 days*, Trek [Grade 3]
*For a 4-day 4WD overland extension, go to Gods & Mountains I Extended.
D1 Kunming Hotel
D2 Lijiang or Yuhu Flight, Hotel or GH
D3 Lugu Lake 4WD/Bus, Guesthouse
D4-10 trek to Yading Trek (3), Camp/Hotel
D11 Langdu 4WD, Guesthouse
D12 Zhongdian 4WD, Hotel
D13 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 Lugu Lake
A newly repaired road makes this a smooth(ish) journey, passing Naxi and Yi houses on the way, as well as beautiful scenes of cascading rice terraces. Possibility of stopping at markets before reaching Lugu, a high altitude lake with a serene, clear and slightly SE Asian feel to it. It’s the undisputed home of the Mosuo minority, famous for its matriarchal structure and ‘walking marriages’, but has also been the home of Naxi, Yi, Pumi and Tibetan peoples over the centuries. Leave the more touristed southern (Yunnan) side for the more tranquil northern (Sichuan) side.
4WD or bus, Guesthouse
D4-10 Lugu Lake to Yading
An entirely singular experience, this trek combines an awe-inspiring beauty with an ancient mystique in a wilderness experience like no other. Rising from the warm cultivated landscape around Lugu to altitudes of 4-5000m, the trails takes in views of the three sacred peaks - Chenrezi (6032), Jampayang (5958) and Chenadorje (5958), passing through virgin forests, along valley floors, and around sacred lakes. Scattered throughout the region are the rough stupas, mani stone piles and temples that give testament to the reverence Tibetans hold for this area. In Tibetan Buddhism, mountains such as these have a religious significance higher that the Dalai Lama or any monastery, and it’s not difficult to see why. The trekking ends at Chonggu Temple; from here it's a 1500m descent by jeep along a very high and exhilarating road to Riwa, a bustling town which even has wireless these days. .
Trek (3)/4WD, Camp & Hotel
From Riwa take a newly built road heading south following the Dong-chu river, crossing a 4000m+ pass and the wee town of Kasi before crossing a bridge over to reach Langdu, in Yunnan. Either stay at a guesthouse in the village itself, or head through pretty untouched country to a guesthouse attached to the local cheese factory, an NGO-sponsored affair churning out artisan cheeses.
From Langdu the road wends its way down heavily forested Hongdang Mountain to meet up with the main Sichuan-Yunnan road. Arrive late afternoon to Zhongdian, (recently, and rather optimistically, renamed Shangri-La). With a little luck (depending on state of the roads) there’ll be time to wander around. The huge, and in historical terms, very key, Songzanlin monastery, commissioned in the 17c by the DL5, and was the central monastery in the Gelukpa order’s south-eastern expansion. In the evening eat dinner at a neighbourhood DIY grill house, then for those who want off to the Natural Bridge hot springs for a soak under the stars.
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.
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!
With its three ~6000m peaks sanctified by the 5th DL as manifestations of the bodhisattvas Chenrezi, Chenadorje and Jampayang, Yading combines high altitude and remote natural beauty with a profound religiosity. Sadly, once the Shangri-La tourism board happened upon this, they poured money into the northern gateway to the area creating the normal tourist infrastructure and irritating ticket systems and rules. All is not lost however. Reversing one of the earlier routes and approaching Yading reserve from Lugu Lake makes it possible to avoid the crowds that are kindly constrained to the north entrance corner.
From the modern breezy city of Kunming to the remote areas of northern Yunnan and western Sichuan, the 7-day high altitude horse trek begins from Lugu Lake, home of the Mosuo people, lying on the border of Yunnan and Sichuan. Then heading northwest for a 7-day trek over rarely trodden territory to Yading, eventually hooking up with the pilgrim’s path around one of Yading’s sacred peaks.