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2015-05-15 Zak Sights Yunnan 1832
Deep in Southern China, bordered by the tropical jungles of Laos and Vietnam, one of China’s best kept secrets from the western world is found. Yunnan.
Though relatively unknown to the regular westerner, ask any native from any province for travel advice and you're certain to find yourself on the way to this mountainous jewel in the crown of the South. Rich with history and boasting the greatest number of minorities in China, all with their own dialects, cuisine and colourful culture, Yunnan holds many places of interest for travellers of all tastes.
Capital, Kunming and former first cities Dali and Lijiang are all popular destinations for any visitor to Yunnan. In fact all three appear on the oft travelled tourist trail alongside the thousand year old Shangri-La. Although sadly, January 2014 saw Shangri-La witness a terrible fire destroying more than 240 homes and shops changing the ancient Dukezong Tibet neighbourhood for any newcomers to the area.
Fortunately the province of Yunnan bears some of the most breathtaking natural scenery China has to offer. This, of course, being centered around the famed Tiger Leaping Gorge. No article, review or even conversation can do justice to Yunnan without mentioning this majestic landscape.
The gorge lies shadowed in the white peaks of the Jade Dragon Snow and Haba Snow Mountains. There are typically two options to hike the trail, the first being the artificial walking street alongside the river that allows visitors to experience the gorge in under three hours. The second and far more spectacular is the 20km trek from Qiaotou. Needing around 8 hours to complete and the levels of fortitude one can only imagine, this journey is one that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Running high on the northern side of the gorge the trail sweeps through quaint villages and terraced farmlands, peaceful woodlands and blustering precipices. For those with a fear of heights or an unsure footing, be warned. Many sections of the twisting and rising pathways are not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to stare down vertical cliff faces from narrow pathways just a feet wide. For those that begin to falter along the way help can often be found in the form of locals offering safe passage via their mountain-sure donkey’s, for a humble fee of course.
If the views on the way up aren't enough to quench your thirst then when you reach the summit you’ll not regret a minute of your arduous task. Offering several places to stay with breathtaking valley views and the fresh mountain air so rarely enjoyed elsewhere in China you can afford yourself a nights rest before your exit. For those who are familiar with China and its skies you’ll be aware of the scarcity of stars when dusk falls. However one night under the diamond blanketed heavens of Tiger Leaping Gorge will leave an memory no photograph will ever replace.