Today we arrive in Kunming and transfer to the Green lake View Hotel or similar Hotel, ideally located in the centre of Kunming. Depending on your arrival time this afternoon will be spent taking a sightseeing tour of Yuanthong Temple. The Temple is a well-restored, thousand year old Buddhist Temple dating back to the eighth century when Yunnan was an independent Kingdom from China. Following the Temple visit we will have an opportunity to take a walk around Green Lake or visit the flower market. One of the great pleasures of visiting Green Lake is to take some tea in one of the many teahouses along its shores. Our Welcome dinner will take in one of Kunming's speciality restaurants.
This morning we visit the Bamboo temple built during the Tang Dynasty and restored in the 19th century, when a master craftsman from Sechuan was employed to sculpt the 500 Buddhist 'erhats' or 'lohans', These brilliant life size erhats line the grounds, walls and stretch all over the large temple in lifelike and yet surrealist atmosphere. Legend and local belief has it that you will be drawn to one particular erhat , the one who most represents your inner self.
We have lunch at a local restaurant and have the afternoon to wander before we board the train to Dali after an early dinner. ( Lunch and dinner on own). Overnight in train soft sleepers. (B)
Dali town resides in a long valley on the plains between the Cangshan Mountains and Erhai Lake. The historic home of the Bai people, this stunning town is the capital of the region. The old town stands at 1900m above sea level. The valley is dominated by 19 peaks of the Cangshan Mountains averaging 4000m. Dali was the capital of the Nanzhao kingdom during the 8th and 9th centuries and at its height conquered much of Burma, parts of Vietnam and Thailand and parts of Sichuan province. Later Kublai Khan conquered the stone city of Pagodas. Dali is well known for its colourful people, its embroidery, rich agriculture, famous marble and excellent breed of horses.
You arrive early in the morning . You will be met at the train station and taken for breakfast and a rest in the hotel.
Take a drive along the southeastern shores of Erhai Lake and visit Putao temple ( if the waterline makes it possible ( seeing fishing boats and villages on the way and then take a boat ride back to Dali.
Or take a cable car ride up to the shoulder of the Cangshan mountain and take a lovely walk to enjoy the flora and vegetation of the temperate region and get good views of the whole Dali valley and lake.
In the evening,you take a pleasant walk in the walled city soaking up the ancient history and the unique architecture of Dali .You stay at Landscape hotel. Enjoy dinner at a restaurant in the old town.
Today you will drive south east to Weishan, a charming small town on the Bonnan tea trading route. Here you will enjoy seeing a caravan trading town from where in ancient times large caravans of Horses would stop and continue on loaded with Yunnans tea and other products to Sechuan and the north eastern regions of the plateau. Here life remains pretty much like old times with family shops of basket weavers, tofu makers, cobblers, old horse gear sellers, with a raised gate in the center square that in some form has existed since Nanzhou times. The ancient architecture of the gates of the previously walled town still remain. Return to Dali.
We get off to an early start driving along the Erhai lake this morning for our drive to Shaxi . We will stop at a small Lake side village reminiscent of an ancient Nanzhou era trading town. We get out and stretch our legs as we wander though the village courtyard and square and enjoy the beauty of the Bai stone architecture of Xizhou village to see one of the famous Mansions belonging to ancient prosperous tea merchants.
Drive on to Shaxi through winding roads and pine forests. This small and quiet town actually dates back 2400 years. As early as 400BC Shaxi was a copper mining region with expertise in smelting bronze. Later in the Tang and Song Dynasty, it became an important stopover in the Ancient Tea Trading route. The caravan route from Puer to Dali stretched through Shaxi on to Tibet, Burma and Tibet. The most impressive is the Sideng market square, the heart and soul of Shaxi. The complex consists of a temple, a theater, shops and stables all around a red sandstone paved square with ancient trees and numerous side streets. The next 2 days we will explore the small towns toll gates, the quiet side streets, south gates with custom houses, guard posts and ancient bridges and you will actually be able to imagine hugh tea laden caravans coming into town and almost imagine the excitement of the arrival of these traders. You will stay at Shaxi Cultural Center or Laomadian or similar Lodge
Leaving Shaxi you continue on north, your path will lead to the fascinating site of Shebaoshan. Here, amidst lovely pine forests, you can climb to Nanzhou area grottos and temples, depicting some excellent carvings of local life and the visits of teachers and emissaries from far. At various times of year, also, the flowers should be in bloom and the hills will be ablaze with color.
Leaving Shebaoshan, you drive north east to Lijang through lovely countryside and villages with rice fields. You may see the farmers working on their fields and see the women dressed in the traditional Bai or Naxi dress.
On arrival into Lijiang we stay at the Naxi style Sanhe Hotel similar in the Ancient town. This is a fascinating area of town with it's old tiled roofs and many fish filled canals. milar Naxi style hotel in the old town. Lijiang is situated at 2400m above sea level so we spend he afternoon relaxing before undertaking a gentle walk through the streets of the ancient town before enjoying local delicacies at a restaurant in the old town.
The morning will be spent exploring Lijiang , the cultural center and capital of the Naxi people. Lijiang has existed for 800 years and was once at the end of a very popular ancient Tibetan trading route. It is now a World Heritage listed site. The city is populated by mainly Naxi people with their vibrant blue traditional dress. Lisu, Pomi and also Han Chinese people also populate the city along with a small number of Tibetan people. The town has a thriving arts community and it's own traditional music and musical instruments can be heard whilst walking along the narrow cobbled streets.
We walk to the Naxi museum and the incredibly stunning Black Dragon Pool. All the while the imposing snow capped peak of Jade Dragon Mountain commands our view and helps frame our photos. Time permitting visit the village of Baisha to see the remaining ancient murals and visit the home village of Dr Joseph Rock, the famous Austro American botanist who wrote extensively about the regions botany, culture and its people
Straight after breakfast we head out onto the road and follow the Yangtze River North for our drive to Zhongdian, also known as Gyalthang. We will stop along he way and view the first bend of the Yangtze and see the historical village of Shegu. The scenery here is very spectacular as we travel along huge gorges dotted with small villages. The road is an amazingly good one and enables us to make good time.
We stop at the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge and view this incredible sight. The Gorge is situated in between two large mountains, Jade Dragon Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain, and at one point drops three kilometers to the river below. The drive to Zhongdian from Tiger Leaping Gorge (approximately 3 hours) is very pleasant through pretty Naxi countryside and farmlands growing rice, sorghum, beans, corn and other crops like tobacco, apple and pear. As we rise in altitude we pass Rhododendron and Azalea forests and to the higher country of Pine before reaching the lush 'middle plateau' of Zhongdian (3300M). Stay at Lefu Hotel or similar hotel. On arrival we rest in order to help us acclimatize before heading to a restaurant for dinner on your own.
In 2002 the Chinese government changed Zhongdian's name to Shangri La as it is rumored that James Hilton's novel Last Horizon's was written in the area. Zhongdian is also known as Gyalthang in Tibetan and translates to Royal Ground referring to the rich and fertile pastures surrounding the city. This area is rated in the top 5 places in the world for high plant biodiversity and is famous as a favourite research area for famous Botanist Joseph Rock.
Perched on a hill overlooking the town of Zhongdian is the imposing Ganden Sumtsanling Monastery. The Monastery is 5 stories high and houses over 700 practicing Buddhist monks. It is like stepping back into a peaceful age when entering the Monastery with its huge red pillars rising from the main assembly hall. Built in the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama, the monastery with its' numerous chapels, woodcarving and paintings is like a living museum of Tibetan culture and many believe to be the most significant Tibetan Monastery outside of Lhasa. Parts of the monastery are being reconstructed and there is a great regeneration of the religious spirit. After a good look around we return to Zhongdian for lunch before visiting the colourful vegetable market and the Old town center in the afternoon. The old center was once a thriving trading center and the starting point of many caravans to the high grasslands onto Lhasa in Central Tibet. Tonight we enjoy a meal of Tibetan dumplings in the old town.
After a leisurely breakfast we drive to Ringha temple situated on Ringha Hill, a most sacred pilgrimage site for all Gyalthang people and gaining lovely views. It is where people go to pray and leave their problems behind. We visit the Temple of the 5 Wisdom Buddha's set amidst tall Pine trees. You can often see Animals roaming the streets as locals set them free in order to accrue merit. We will take the time to cumnavigate the sacred hill. We will have lunch back in the town . There is also the opportunity to visit the home of a Tibetan farmer.
Return to Zhongdian and we will arrange for you to have a cooking class so you may learn some local dishes and then enjoy your dinner.
After breakfast we drive North along the valley of gorges towards the Tibetan border. This drive is spectacular as we descend down towards the Yangtze River, past the villages of Nishi to Punzera (Benzilan) situated at 2100m. This is a lush warm oasis valley where oranges, pomegranates and olives grow. We then follow the Yangtze River leaving behind the lush forests and driving into the rocky limestone spires of the Yangtze Mekong divide. We visit the remote and intricately decorated Dhondupling Monastery and see the change in architecture to the flat roof houses of Central Tibet. We see the spectacular Baima Mountains as we cross the Baima pass which is covered in spectacular Rhododendrons. This afternoon we reach Dechen, the third largest town of the region now mostly newly built in a horse show valley . Dechen is the last outpost before reaching the border of Tibet.
We will drive on to Namkhatashe, located only a short drive from Dechin, we get our first stunning view of the spectacular Meili Snow Mountains or the sacred Mt. Kawakarpo ( 6740M) . Stay at Quanching Tien or similar hotel or stay at a home hotel in the glacier village
This morning we hope to have spectacular views of the sacred peaks of the mountain ( on a clear day) . We may have incredible views of the stunning sacred peaks of Kawakarpo (6740M) the highest mountain in the Hengduan Shan range with the peaks of Gewaringha, Metsomo and 5-wisdom Buddha Mountain flanking it on either side. This is the second most important mountain for Tibetan pilgrims after Mt. Kailash in West Tibet and people have been making a pilgrimage here for centuries leaving prayer flags and spinning the prayer wheels on the high pass. We have the option to trek to the Minyong glacier at the base of Kawakarpo, the lowest glacier in all of Asia or take a horse ride to the glacier and back. Alternatively we take a gentle scenic walk and visit the Meyung school and visit the students and interact with them and teach a little basic English. We stay at a comfortable but simple lodge at the base of the Glacier and enjoy local Tibetan hospitality. Dinner at the Lodge. (hike approx: 20kms)
After breakfast we jump into our comfortable vehicles to start the return drive to Zhongdian (Gyalthang). We try to return early so that we can have some free time in the old town. On route we visit an ancient nunnery perched on top of a small mountain, if time permits.
This evening we all go out and enjoy a farewell dinner feast of traditional Gyalthang hot pot and try the local barley arak.
This morning you will be transferred to the airport for your flight back to Kunming. On arrival in Kunming the journey ends.