China is massive. So massive it’s difficult to know where to start: the historic sights of Beijing, the urban explosion of ultra-modern Shanghai, the beautiful lakes of Hangzhou or the stunning limestone mounds of Yangshuo. The cities are intriguing, but at times oppressive. It’s this stereotype of smog, dirt and endless hoards of people that sometimes puts travellers off. Don’t let it. China is a goldmine of wonderful, challenging, awe-inspiring experiences. One real gem is Tiger Leaping Gorge hike, a truly stunning place in the southwestern corner of the country.
Getting to Tiger Leaping Gorge
Tiger Leaping Gorge is situated in Yunnan Province, about 60 miles north-west of famous old town and tourist hotspot, Lijiang. The gorge itself is one of the deepest in the world, winding for 16km along the Jinsha River and plunging spectacularly down from the peaks of Haba Mountain and Yulong Xueshan, almost 4000m, to the roaring river below. It is from Lijiang that most people organise transport to the gorge, through one of the many guesthouses there.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike
It surprises and delights, from the first glimpse of the snowcapped peak of Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) until the final descent to the pounding rapids of the Jinsha river. Along the way, everything from the rocks and plants, to the waterfalls, corn fields, bright yellow sunflowers, bamboo, pine, cannabis plants, huts, small villages, sickening drops and tremendous neck-break views of the towering mountains on either side, will have you dizzy and wide-eyed with wonder.
Don’t be fooled, while the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike is manageable and does not require a guide or any expert knowledge or survival skills, it is tough. It’s best to do the hike over a couple of days and in a group. Bring plenty of water (at least a few litres) and some snacks for the trail. Also check the conditions beforehand, which can become treacherous in the rainier months of July and August. There are plenty of guesthouses along the way, with most people choosing to stop at the Halfway House, for bed, food and more spectacular views as darkness falls in the gorge.
After the hike
Most people leave their heavy backpacks either at a guesthouse in Lijiang or if they aren’t returning to Lijiang, at a guesthouse at the start of the trail. The bus drivers know the deal and will drop you off to pick them up. It’s possible to hike further along the gorge, if you’d like, or to continue your journey north or south. Yunnan is a wonderful province with its stunning landscape, picturesque old towns and wealth of various ethnic groups making it a unique and exceptional region of China to explore.