Mountainous terrain and smooth lakeside plains offer myriad environs and technical challenges for cyclists. Add the majestic beauty and unique traditions and history and you get a taste of the visions James Hilton saw as he envisioned the peaceful paradise for his book, Lost Horizons.
Located in southwestern China, Yunnan province borders Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. The cultural influences from its neighbours, as well as being part of a major player in world history throughout history, along with the developments within its borders has resulted in an amazing slice of culture and history set against broad, sweeping terrains.
If you decide your next adventure will be to Yunnan, please don’t forget:
A strategic military site and the terminus for the Burma Road, a supply line built by the British but used by the Japanese in WWII, Kunming now stands as Yunnan’s capital and transport hub to the far reaches of the province. It also has a number of temples, parks, and museums worth visiting, including the Yuantong Si Buddhist temple, built over a 1,000 years ago, and the Golden Hall, China’s largest copper structure.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is one of the deepest canyons in the world, at almost 4,000 metres. The depth and the steep angles of the canyon faces could induce vertigo, but this canyon created by a rollicking tributary of the Yangtze River is breath-taking.
Ganden Sumtseling Monastery
Sometimes called the “Little Potala Palace”, after the home of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, this Tibetan monastery is host to the Gedong festival, which features Cham dances and mortality plays set to music acted out by dancers in ornate masks and costumes.
Forming one side of Tiger’s Leap Gorge, this massif, has some of the most spectacular views from its various peaks, and the view of it from Lijiang is second to none.
Old town of Lijiang
Lijiang offers more than just incredible views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain – its ‘old town’ is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which had led to the preservation of the elaborate constructions of the Naxi people (allegedly created without written plans) and its ancient system of waterways.
From here, you can visit Er Hai Lake, where the Bai people sometimes still use trained cormorants to fish for them or wonder at the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple, which was built to repel a dragon attack.
Its antique wood structures harken back to the time when it was a major stop on a tea- and horse-trading caravan route from Burma to Yunnan. The region’s Buddhist traditions can be found in the sculptures and temples carved out into nearby Shibao Mountain.
A seasonal lake northwest of Shangri-La, it is fed by the melting snows of the three mountains that encircle it. During warmer climes, the resulting wetlands are a favoured spot of migratory birds, including the endangered black-neck cranes.
Below Haba Snow Mountain (the other side of Tiger Leaping Gorge), the ‘White Water Tables’ were created by calcium carbonate deposited from the melting mountain spring water. These ethereal ridges are continually sculpted by the cascading water flowing down into ponds.
Last, but not least, the legend of Shangri-La so affected the world’s imagination, that in 2001, local authorities renamed Zhongdian after the fictional utopia created by James Hilton in Lost Horizons. This region of four adjoining towns does imbue the peaceful, pastoral lifestyle that is the hallmark of its namesake.
See these wonders and more on SpiceRoads Yunnan Discovery adventure: http://www.spiceroads.com/tours/china_yunnan
Or, follow the trail of history starting in Yunnan while Cycling the Burma Road: http://www.spiceroads.com/tours/north_burma