First Stop: Lijiang
We will fly into Lijiang in the morning and stay the night in the old town of Dayan. For over a decade the Naxi old town of Dayan has been a World Heritage Site and quite commercialized as a result. But the reconstructed buildings are still in the old traditional style, the town’s layout is the original one and the Old Stone Bridge is still intact. In the evening we have the option of a classical Naxi orchestra performance.
Second Stop: Tiger Leaping Gorge
On our second day we leave Lijiang for the countryside, passing Lashi Lake and then turning up the Jinshajiang, the River of Golden Sand, to Tiger Leaping Gorge. Here the river rushes through a steep, narrow chasm between Haba Snow Mountain, 5396 meters high on the northern side, and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, 5596 meters high on the southern side. Its name comes from the legend of a tiger escaping its hunters by leaping over the river to the other side of the gorge. We will stay the night in Walnut Grove, a picturesque Naxi village near the north end of the gorge. A waterfall and scenic views of the river are within a short distance.
Third Stop: Sanba
On our third day we drive to Sanba, a small Naxi town near the unusual natural phenomenon called Baishuitai—White Water Terraces. Looking like a big blob of white stone in the middle of a forest, on closer inspection Baishuitai is a series of natural terraces, water flowing from one pool to the other. Over many eons, the white carbonate of lime deposited by the waters of the spring above formed into the terraces. Local Naxi tradition says their gods created Baishuitai to show the people how to farm the hills. The Naxi dongba tradition also originated near Baishuitai. We will spend the afternoon exploring the terraces, Sanba and Naxi villages, Hui and Tibetan mosques and spend the night here.
Fourth Stop: Shangrila
On our fourth day we drive from Sanba north to Shangrila, passing out of the Naxi-inhabited area, through Yi territory with villages of log cabins, and eventually reach the Tibetan-dominated Shangrila plateau. We will make a short stop on the way at Dabao Temple, a small but attractive rural Tibetan monastery. Then we will go on to Shangrila city, where we will spend two nights. The rest of the day we will take walks through the reconstructed old town.
Fifth Day: Shangrila City
The old town has been commercialized to the same extent as Dayan, but it has attractive temples and museums, while the outer neighborhoods still feature the local style of traditional Tibetan domestic architecture. The temple on the hill in the southern part of the old town, featuring a colossal prayer wheel, provides a good panoramic view. The new city is interesting for the extensive use of Tibetan architectural motifs, like wide roofs with minimal angles, carved and painted window screens and so on, for new buildings, both government and commercial.
Fifth Stop: Benzilan
Our sixth day begins with a morning visit to Shangrila’s market, where we can see baskets and other items of split bamboo and wood, brass and copper ware, yak cheese and a surprising array of fruits and vegetables. Then we will visit Songzhanlin, a Tibetan monastery village, home to Guihua Temple, the largest and most spectacular monastery in the county. Afterwards we will proceed to Napa Lake just north and then to Nixi, a Tibetan craft village specializing in black ceramic objects. From here we continue north to Benzilan, a Tibetan town overlooking the Jinshajiang, where we will send the night.
Sixth Stop: Deqing
On our seventh day we drive up to a point overlooking a sharp bend in the Jinshajiang and then go on to Dongzhulin, a large and important Tibetan monastery. From here we continue northwest through the Baima Mountains, a preserved forest of both evergreen and deciduous trees. Nomad herders bring their yaks to pastures here in the summer, while autumn colors splash the forests with red, orange and yellow. We next stop for a visit in Deqing city, the county’s biggest city, almost thoroughly modernized, but with an interesting mosque that serves Tibetan Muslims, not Chinese Hui. They are descendants of Tibetan converts during the heyday of Hui-organized caravans on the ancient Tea and Horses Road. We will spend the night in the environs of Feilai Monastery, a little outside of the city.
Seventh Stop: Cizhong
The morning of our eighth day we will drive north to the Meili Snow Mountain viewpoint. At a height of 6740 meters, Meili is the tallest mountain in Yunnan. A long glacier slides down the front face below the peak. Just to the south rises Taizi Snow Mountain, a triangular peak of 6054 meters. Both mountains stand on the other side of the Lancangjiang, the river that flows into Southeast Asia to become the Mekong. Next we turn south down the scenic Lancangjiang Valley as far as Cizhong, just above the county boundary.
Cizhong is the site of a famous Catholic church, the legacy of successful French Lazarist missionaries in the 19th century. Made of stone, combining French and Chinese characteristics in the building design and its interior, built in 1921, the church replaced an earlier one in Cigu, a few km south, that was burnt down during a Tibetan insurrection in 1905. The church is still active, serving a community about 75% Tibetan, 20% Naxi and 5% Han, and holds evening services three times a week, plus its Sunday morning Mass. We will stay three nights in the area.
Ninth Day: Above Cizhong
This is our day for a hike in the mountains. We drive for thirty minutes up to our starting point at 2700 meters altitude on a trail that has been connecting people from both sides of the mountain for centuries and was the route used by Western explorers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We make a gradual ascent to 3300 meters at a moderate pace, passing by a huge spruce tree with a Catholic shrine chiseled into its trunk to scare away ghosts. Our hike terminates at Hongxing’s Lodge, a simple wooden hut in a meadow overlooking a valley.
Tenth Day: Return to Cizhong
In the morning we will retrace our hike back down the mountain and return to Cizhong. In the afternoon we will learn about the local wine production, another legacy of the French missionaries, and visit families involved in the process.
Eighth Stop: Weixi or Tacheng
On our eleventh day we head south and cross into Weixi County, where the demographics change, with Naxi living along the river and Lisu in the highlands. Our first stop is the riverside Naxi town of Yezhi. From here we ascend the mountains for a look at Tongle, a village of log cabins sprawled along a ridge and then proceed to Shouguosi, a 17th century Tibetan monastery of the Karmapa (Back Hat) sect. An elegant redwood building more in the Han style than like those in other parts of the prefecture, the temple has wonderful wall murals, some restored, some originals, ceiling paintings, carved posts and brackets and a host of interior decorations. The temple serves a mixed community of Naxi, Tibetan, Lisu and Han.
After lunch in Kangpu, the town below Shouguosi, we will proceed to Xiaoweixi, about 12 km north of the junction of the Langcangjiang with the Yongchun River. Xiaoweixi is the site of another Catholic church set up in 1870 by the same Lazarist missionaries who worked in Cigu and Cizhong. This church, also still active, is the original, Chinese-style building. From here, depending on the time, we have the options for our overnight stay to go to Weixi city, a quickly modernizing city lying on a long ridge with good mountain views, or further north, along the Pula River to Tacheng, a smaller town with a Tibetan neighborhood and temple.
Ninth Stop: Liming
We begin our final full day with a visit to the Tibetan quarter of Tacheng and then head for the sanctuary for the snub-nosed monkey, an endangered species animal and Yunnan’s mascot. We then head east, passing Damo Temple, a monastery built in a cave on a mountain high above the road, and then down to the Jinshajiang, where we turn south and follow the river through the Naxi town of Judian to the turn-off to Liming, where we will spend the night. Liming is a Lisu village, though very much Naxi influenced, set in a unique red rock canyon.
Day Thirteen: Return to Lijiang
In the morning we will drive back to Lijiang., with a stop at Shigu, at the first bend of the Jinshajiang. We will arrive in Lijiang in time for afternoon flights to Kunming or other destinations in China.
For those groups who do not wish to make the overnight trek above Cizhong we offer three alternatives. The first is to drive up the mountain and take a shorter, less strenuous hike back down to the valley, with a stop in a traditional village. We return to Cihong for the night and spend the next night in Yezhi and the eleventh in Tacheng. The second choice is a drive above Cizhong to the high-altitude lakes of Nanjieluo, return by car to Cizhong, stay the night there and the next night in Yezhi. The third option is to stay in Cizhong one night, spend the ninth night in Yezhi, the tenth in Weixi and the eleventh in Tacheng, with more time for the sights along the way.
Lijiang-Tiger Leaping Gorge 85 km, Tiger Leaping Gorge-Sanba 84 km, Sanba-Shangrila 99 km, Shangria-Benzilan 78 km, Benzilan-Deqing 88 km, Deqing-Cizhong 68 km, Cizhong-Weixi 136 km, Cizhong-Tacheng 196 km, Tacheng-Liming 105 km, Liming-Lijiang 120 km