Tour Duration: 14 day(s)
Group Size: 3 - 10 people
Specialty Categories: Hiking & Trekking
Season: April - November
Airfare Included: No
Three years ago the Yading national park area was one of the true wilderness areas left in Kham Tibet. With its three 6000m sacred peaks (sanctified by the 5th Dalai Lama as manifestations of the bodhisattvas Chenrezi, Chenadorje and Jampayang), it combines stunning high altitude and remote natural beauty with a profound religiosity. Alas, once the Shangri-La tourism board happened upon this, they poured money into the northern gateway to the area, creating the usual tourist infrastructure along with an irritating ticket system. All is not lost however, and despite the initial frustration we felt at this intrusion into a previously unspoilt area, in fact in the end it has proved to be a blessing. On the one hand, the development is restricted to a very small corner of the area, and looks like if anything it will serve to keep the excesses of mass tourism constrained to that corner. On the other hand, to avoid the crowds, it has forced us to scout out 2 new routes, namely this one (006), and Gods & Mountains: Yading from the East (005). Whereby the latter is really just a reversal of an earlier route, this one takes the trek to another level, going deeper into the wilderness and climbing higher altitudes. The trek actually starts from a village north of Zhongdian, and climbs fast for the 9-day trek north, crossing some 4500m passes into the 3-peak sanctuary of Yading. More than its eastern-approach counterpart (005), this is a trek for experienced high altitude trekkers only. However for those who feel up to it, this is one of the most dramatic and beautiful treks we’ve ever offered.
Day 1: Kunming
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.
After pick-up from the airport and consolidating the group we’ll hold 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 jetlag. Dinner will provide a chance for everybody to meet.
Day 2: Lijiang Old Town
An early flight to Lijiang, which at 2400m 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 one of the not-to-be-missed gems of SW China. An intriguing and beautiful old town - ancient canal system, thriving central market, traditional architecture, with abundant cafes in the centre.
Flight / HotelFor those less fanatical, a little later in the morning we'll have an orientation meeting at Wenshu Monastery (Zen Buddhist) and tea garden.
Afternoon: Options include... Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, the UN award-winning panda breeding research program - the world's most successful. Good news for the world's 500 to 1000 remaining wild giant pandas (85% of which live in Sichuan). The journey back, a visit to Chengdu's largest Daoist temple... Sichuan Opera (as distinct from Beijing Opera) has a long and distinguished history, mirroring the history and the legends of the region. Here is the chance to go backstage at a neighbourhood opera house, talk with the performers and watch the opera with a local expert/translator.
Evening: Time permitting, some time to explore Chengdu's back streets and markets. Then dinner at a xiaopan restaurant - Chengdu's version of dimsum.
Day 3: Geza village
Meeting the 4WDs in the morning, the trip really kicks off, with an early start and a full day’s drive that climbs 1000 metres via Tiger Leaping Gorge, Haba Mountain (Yunnan’s 3rd highest at 5396m) and skirting Zhongdian (now optimistically renamed Shangri-La) on the way to a small Tibetan hamlet, on the border of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. By now the trail is already in deep country, after heading up almost 1500m from Kunming.
Day 4 - 10: Geza to Yading trek
An 8-day trek north through the eastern Himalayas, culminating at the apex of the three sacred peaks. The trekking is hard, and depending somewhat on the route (which can vary slightly), fairly fast paced, in terms of the distances that need to be covered. The scenery is spectacular, as is what might be termed the ‘religious’ or ‘cultural’ geography. Pack horses will lighten our load, the food (as always) is good and gear (equipment) superb. At the end of the trek, we arrive (either directly or after a short hop by 4WD) at Riwa, a small village halfway between Yading village and Daocheng.
Trek (3) / CampXinduqiao before sighting the prayer flags of the 4140m Kabzhi Pass and descending to the attractive riverside town of Yajiang. As the landscape changes so does the Tibetan architecture and there'll be ample opportunity to stop and meet the locals and maybe step inside for a cup of tea or two. Leaving Yajiang, the road climbs to a final 4405m pass, at which point the scenery changes to grassland, and a dramatic drop takes us down to Litang (4100m).
Afternoon/evening: Time to explore old and new parts of one of the highest towns in the world and the capital of an ancient kingdom dating back a 1000 years.
Day 11: Riwa
Heading down the encampment at the northern gateway to the region near Yading village & bidding adieu to our horse guides, we’ll load up the jeep and embark on the 1500m descent to Riwa, along one of the highest and most exhilarating roads of the trip.(B) (L) (D)
Day 12: Xiangcheng
A winding road takes us out of the sacred mountain area via pretty Tibetan villages and beautiful fields of crops. Time allowing, we’ll stop and visit a Bön monastery before the trail veers south, crossing a 4500m pass before dropping down from the mountains to the edge of the high plateau, destination, Xiangcheng, a small town at the base of the range that connects the Yading mountains with the rest of the eastern Himalayas. Nothing spectacular in itself - at least a place to get a comfortable bed and a warm shower.(B) (L) (D)
Day 13: Zhongdian
Morning visit to Chaktreng Gompa. Recently built, it’s a huge towering colourful affair. Then still early we head due south for the beautiful drive to Yunnan, crossing 2 high passes to arrive in the late afternoon in Zhongdian. With a little luck (depending on state of the roads) they’ll be time to wander around. The huge, and in historical terms, very key, Songzanlin Gompa, 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 eat dinner at a neighbourhood BBQ joint, then 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. It’s a curious mix of a recently prettified new town and an untouched old town, quite different from Lijiang to the south. 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.
Recommendation: We’ve scheduled this to be a 14-day trip, mindful of the restrictions on free time many of you find yourself from work, etc. Ideally, however, an extra day would be added to the trek. To this end, if when enquiring about the trek, if you could indicate if this if possible for you (at additional cost) please let us know, and we’ll try to arrange it with other members of the group.(B) (L)
Day 14: Kunming
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! "Where the world meets the sky." The highest natural lake in China, Lugu is home to the Mosuo - the last truly matriarchal minority in China and a refreshing contrast to society at large. Local transport is largely by horse, foot or canoe and the setting is perfect for a day's relaxed exploration of the wooden lakeside villages and its several islands and temples. Or, for those who would like to rest their weary limbs, it's also a perfect setting for relaxing on the balcony with a good book.
- all domestic airfares;
- food while trekking & all breakfasts;
- equipment (except sleeping bags;
- experienced trip leader.