Somewhere high up in the Himalayas, the mighty Yangtze River embarks on a long and arduous descent. Beginning its journey as a tiny creek at its apex, the Long River (as it is known in Chinese) transforms over its course, forming a series of bounding rapids and hurtling waterfalls before settling into its slow, flat demise into the East China Sea.
About 65 km north of Lijiang in Yunnan Province, the river descends into one of the deepest and most intensely beautiful canyons on earth – the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Legend has it that many years ago, a local hunter was chasing a fierce tiger that leapt onto a rock in the middle of the gorge’s narrowest junction to his escape, leaving his legacy in the name of the place – Hu Tiao Xia or Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is the steepest and narrowest canyon on earth situated in a remote suburb of Shangri-la. The mere mention of a place so alluring whetted my appetite for true paradise on earth that is becoming a rarity in our modernized world. I had to experience for myself this gem of a place– the last of China’s lost heavens.
My journey to Tiger Leaping Gorge begins in the city of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its ancient architecture and ethnic minority, the Naxi People. Once a trade center along the old tea roads to Central Asia, Lijiang is one of the last stops before Tibet and its series of waterways and canals meander through carved wooden edifices that are interconnected by cobblestone streets.
Hiking along one of the two trails that span above Tiger Leaping Gorge requires just a short day. But why rush through the experience without savoring its beauty and splendor? So I opted instead to spend two nights and three days hiking the gorge.
Camping here is virtually impossible because the trails are extremely narrow; however, there are many guesthouses operated by the locals who once made their living farming grains. They are now spending their days providing food and accommodation to adventurous foreigners who come seeking the thrills of Tiger Leaping Gorge.
The gorge measures about 15 km long, but hiking through the sandy paths created by the locals for access in and out of their homes on the steep cliffs proves to be a much longer journey, almost double the gorge’s length. Two trails provide a way in: the low road and the high road. The low road offers quick access to tour buses and the high road is a steep hiking trail sought out mostly by the adventure seekers.
The trek begins in the tiny town of Qiaotou, where, equipped with a hand-drawn map, I side-stepped a truckload of touts and made my way to the start of the trail. The Yangtze flows right through Qiaotou, which is not more than a one-lane village with loose chickens crossing the road under the beginnings of mountain green mountaintops.
Most inbound hikers to Tiger Leaping Gorge are required to pay a ¥50 entrance fee, but that day the dusty guard station was empty, so I continued along the path, which was lined in wildflowers and weeds and narrowed into a small track carved into the hillside. Below, the mighty Yangtze narrowed with it in a rush of grey water, and before me the hill swept up into a swath of green.
The first few kilometers trek steadily upward in a gentle incline until you reach the 28 Bends, an aptly named series of steep switchbacks that bring you over a tangle of rocks and weeds straight up the cliff side. The view becomes intense, at times almost vertical as the gorge opens like a chasm below and little more than a few dusty boulders separate you and imminent death.
As the bends wore on, my feet began to burn and slip under the loose rocks, and about halfway to the top, I met a toothless lady selling green tea and Snickers bars. “Hashish?” she asked with a wry smile. I gently declined, ordering instead some cold tea to sip on.
A high wind caught the flags flying over the Tea-Horse Trade Guesthouse, where I stopped for the day and readily ordered a large bottle of cold Tsingtao and a plate of fried noodles. The huge porch here offers stunning views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which stands in awesome grandeur on the opposite side of the gorge. Despite early May’s spring temperatures, the mountain was still capped in a white blanket of snow, indicating its altitude and, below, the green river steamed in quiet serenity.
The following day, I made my way down to the Tiger Leaping Stone, where the mythic tiger supposedly landed mid-river as he fled from the hunter. To get there required a tricky encounter with a waterfall before arriving at a serene bamboo grove. Below, the gorge dived into what seemed like eternity, while the bamboo trees above wafted back and forth like feathers. Terraces of tea fields laced along the slope of the gorge and the icy azure waters of the Yangtze flowed in harmony below, winding their way out to freedom.
To get down to the Stone, you must follow a long, narrow staircase before finally arriving to the roar of the river’s rapids. An unstable-looking rope bridge offers the possibility of retracing the tiger’s jump across to the massive boulder, which sits like a sentinel in the middle of the gushing waters. I took the chance and, once across, laid down there on my back, watching the walls of the canyon rise like rocky pillars above me and enjoying the sprinkles of the mighty river over my face.
My second night on the gorge was spent at Sean’s Guesthouse, a budget friendly accommodation, one of the last inns along the high road. The inn’s leafy Eden-like gardens brought spring to life and a scenic place to relax. Here, I met several backpackers from all over the world, and we strayed into a dreamy evening, drinking cheap Tsingtao around a glowing campfire. As the river flowed steadily below us, we exchanged stories about our travel experiences, about lives back home and most interestingly, the various encounters on the road to Tiger Leaping Gorge. Too soon, the fire quelled to dying embers and my friends retreated into their rooms to sleep, leaving me alone under the inky sky, trying to find the North Star.
My final day on the gorge was one of goodbyes and of photo taking. The last stretch of trail before returning to the road and the bus back to Lijiang offers amazing panoramas of the canyon’s sweeping vistas and the vast horizons beyond. Looking back toward the trail’s beginning, Haba Snow Mountain and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain extend into the skies with one on each side of the gorge, sliced sharply in two by the Yangtze.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the few remaining places in the world so undisturbed that even the “flawed” dirt paths and muddy slopes are made perfect in its splendor. As more infrastructure is forced into the natural beauty of Tiger Leaping Gorge, I fear it may lose some of its grandeur to the masses of tourism. But for now, Tiger Leaping Gorge still exists as a place off the beaten track where peaks rise to the heavens and myths meet the helm of reality.
Unearthing Asia is a travel zine focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. Don’t miss out on the best travel ideas and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of top attractions in Ho Chi Minh City.
About the Author. Megan Eaves. Megan Eaves is a freelance travel writer and China junkie. She’s an English teacher in a small town in Zhejiang Province where her days are filled correcting grammatical mistakes, killing nuclear wasps and getting stared at by the locals. Megan has traveled everywhere from the Great Wall to the Gobi Desert and isn’t afraid to write about it. She’s also the author of a groovy book called “This is China: A Guidebook for Teachers, Backpackers and Other Lunatics”. She, of course, has a website: http://www.meganeaveswriting.com
Kenya holidays are popular for the incredible wildlife. The grasslands of the Serengeti in the west of Kenya have prides of lions along with magnificent elephants, zebras and more.
I know it sounds crazy, but the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong is actually a great backdrop for hiking. Hong Kong Island has lots of hills and trails, and if you’re ready to walk off last night’s round of drinks and dim sum, then check out any of these excellent hiking trails.
This is one of my personal favourites. It’s a trail on Lantau Island (so not technically on HK Island, but close enough), which starts just behind the Big Buddha. Look for the signs (last time I was there, there was lots of construction so keep an eye out) as the trail is right there but easy to overlook. It’s about a 10 minute walk along a quiet trail before you reach the Wisdom Path, which is a circle of 38 wooden timbers with Chinese sayings carved in them, and of course some excellent views. The path goes on from here, which is part of the 70km Lantau Trail.
Hong Kong Trail
Another fantastic trail is simply Dubbed the Hong Kong Trail, and it’s one of the city’s major routes, so it’s well marked throughout. That’s a good thing because the trail winds around a 50km stretch of land, starting up on Victoria Peak and ending in Big Wave Bay. You start with great city views, with some parts of the trails right on the cliff – not for those with a fear of heights! As you go you’ll run into scenic rivers and reservoirs, and near the end the views of hidden beaches and coastal shores is unbeatable.
Check out as well our list of 10 Things to do in Hong Kong other than the Frenzied Shopping for more traveling tips and inspirations!
Time Asia called the Dragon’s Back the best urban walking trail in Asia. This 5km trail runs from the edges of Hong Kong itself to a great island hang out, Shek O. The trail is named after the ridge that you cross midway, inside Shek O Country Park. From here you get fantastic views of Stanley Peninsula, Clear Water Bay Peninsula, and of course the sea. Shek O is also a great place to hang out – try one of the fresh seafood restaurants after you walk, where you can eat outside and soak up the fresh sea air.
Violet Hill Path
Another calm and relaxing walk is along the Violet Hill Path. It starts at the Wong Nai Chung reservoir and then heads around Violet Hill itself. The views just never stop – Brick Hill, Deep Water Bay, and Wong Chuck Hang, and Repulse bay, just to name a few. It’s a bit of a rocky path, so while it’s not terribly difficult, you do need to watch your footing. The trail ends at Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir, and you’ll know you are close when you start to see all those beautiful streams and creeks. The entire route is approximately 7km.
Hong Kong is a megapolitan city of many facets. Explore a different side of HK, the Kowloon Side, with Andy Hayes at Unearthing Asia.
Eastern Nature Trail
This 9km trail is great not only for the scenery but for a bit of nature and historical sightseeing too. Be sure to note the signs along the way explaining flora and fauna that you’ll encounter. Heading out of Quarry Bay, the route heads up into the Quarry Bay Complex. The red brick house building here is a former sugar factory, now a nature center. If you head down along the Quarry Bay Tree Walk you’ll find some large outdoor stoves that were built during WWII. You’ll also find Sir Cecil’s Ride nearby, where Japanese invaders once landed. The route carries on through Tai Tam Country Park to the Tai Tam reservoir.
Lung Fu Shan Fitness Trail
Warning: only those who want to get fit need to hit this trail, the last of our six recommendations. It is only 1km long, which may seem an unlikely candidate for a fitness regime, but in fact there are twelve fitness stations along the way to make sure you get a full body workout. There are great views, naturally, as you head up from the gorgeous gardens of Pinewood Battery and head straight up. The Hong Kong Medical Association actually helped contribute to the signage and layout of this path, so it’s definitely a great choice for hangover cute or to work up an appetite for lunch.
India is another country with mesmerizing mountain attractions. Check out our 10 Stunning Mountain Attractions in India.
Health & Safety Warning
It is worth noting Hong Kong is the only place in the world I’ve visited where I’ve had a hard time with the pollution. It can be a very thick haze, and you’ll feel it when you’re out and about. Ok, so wearing one of those face masks looks absurd, but is it really not worth it if it saves your lungs?
Also, be sure to grab a map from any tourist office, so that you know where you’re going. Often the best routes start and end in different places, so you should be aware of what public transport options will take you back to your accommodation.
If you are planning a visit to Asia, don’t forget to check out Unearthing Asia, the best Asia travel portal focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. We have got some of the best last min Sun holidays ideas and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of Singapore’s best romantic views.
About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Travel Experiences.
Dive back into nature and uncover the beauty in the small little things that create your personal paradise. It’s time to get lost in amazing Asia.
In this issue
+ Leh Ladakh
+ New Zealand
+ Puerto Princesa, the Island Life
+ Hong Kong – More than Shopping
+ Singapore Shopping Hotspots
+ Kuta Beach Getaway
+ Unusual Festivals
+ Ride Like a Khan
+ A Sense of Touch
About one and a half hours drive away from Seoul, South Korea, is beautiful laid-back Mount Sorak. This mountain region offers mesmerizing views and numerous hiking treks for the nature lovers, and at the foot of the mountain are various Buddhist temples from centuries of old. Here are some scenic snaps from the foot of the mountain, featuring lush green landscapes, colorful guardian statues (left, third row) and a magical water fountain (right, second row). Be sure to come back next week as we bring you more snaps, this time from the top of Mount Sorak itself!
About the Author. Nikolas Tjhin. A graphic and web designer in its previous incarnation, Nik’s journeyman career has seen him do work for various creative studios in Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Singapore and Jakarta. Now, he’s settled down for the time being and focusing his efforts as the editor of an Asia travel zine, Unearthing Asia.
India is a land of many wonders, blessed with a amazing geography and cultural diversity that is unmatched throughout the region. Naturally, one of its main attraction is the Himalayas in the North East. Travelers are able to trek through to the Deccan Plateau and the smaller hills and waterfalls of the South, passing by regions each clad with their own charm of Indian history and culture. Here’s my list of 10 stunning high-altitude destinations in India, ranging from the popular and famous to the unknown, tranquil and serene.
State: Uttarakhand / Region – Garwal Himalayas
This popular ski resort is approximately 492km from Delhi, nestled at an altitude of around 3km above sea level. To reach the snow clad slopes, you treat yourself to a 4km long gondola ride, the longest in Asia. Apart from skiing, Auli also offers other attractions such as the highest man-made lake in the world and a stunning 180 degree view of the Himalayan Peaks.
State: Uttarakhand / Region – Kumaon Himalayas
Munsiyari offers breathtaking views of the Himalayas, trekking routes into a never ending horizon, high altitude glacier walks and the whispering of the wind in the God’s own natural amphitheater. Situated approximately 588km from Delhi, Munsiyari, meaning “place with snow”, stands at an altitude of 2,200m high. It gives you the chance to view some of the most beautiful snow-capped landscape in the region, with the road towards it filled with scintillating scenery.
State: Himachal Pradesh
This is popularly considered as the most beautiful Himalayan valleys in India. Surrounded by breathtaking scenery, Sangla is situated on the historically famouse Hindustan-Tibet highway, a charming experience often dubbed, the Swiss Countryside of India. Visitors can enjoy a day out angling on the Baspa River, trekking to Kinner Kailash or pay a visit to the monastery at Rekong Peo.
Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, is a popular haven for tourists, trekkers and mountaineers looking to explore the scenery of Sikkim. There is much to see within a day’s drive from Gangtok, such as the Tsomgo or Changu Lake, the famed Nathu La Pass which connects India to China’s Tibet autonomous region, as well as the valley of Yumthang. There are also numerous trekking routes starting from Gangtok, including the famed Mount Kanchenjunga (third highest in the world) trek and the Dzongri trek.
State: Arunachal Pradesh
Located between the border of India and Bhutan, Tawang is yet another station boasting stunning views of the Eastern Himalayas. At the heart of this small hill station lies the Tawang Gompa, a Buddhist monastery home to not more than 40 monks. Nearby is the beautiful Sela Lake, pristine and untouched, while trekkers would enjoy a hike to the Sela Top Pass.
Igatpuri is a small slepey town in the Western Ghats not far from Mumbai, approximately 138km. During the Monsoons, the landscape transforms into a riot of colors and waterfalls dot every nook and cranny of this valley. It is also home to the Vipasana center, where believers flock to meditate and renew their spirituality. The Tringalwadi Fort is a popular picturesque spot, offering one a wide angle view of the entire valley and the Talegaon Lake.
State: Andhra Pradesh
For some of the coolest summer in Southern India, head straight to Araku Valley. Enjoy a picturesque train ride passing through numerous tunnels enroute, before finally reaching the rolling hills and waterfalls of the Araku Valley. The Borra Caves, 35km from Araku Valley, dates back to a million years back and are pure stalactite and stalagmite formations that tells a story from a different era.
Nagarhole National Park: Irpu Falls
Spread over 640 square km of virgin forests, streams and cascading waterfalls, the Nagarhole National Park is home to the mystical Irupu Falls (also known as Lakshmana Tirtha Falls). This stunning waterfall cascades down and takes a plunge of 170ft! The park is a haven of flora and fauna, and you can find wild elephants, leopards, spotted dear and Gaur, among others. It is also an excellent place for bird-watching.
When you travel to the land of Gods, what would you expect? Naturally, stunning scenic beauty fit for the Gods, exactly the type Kerala offers. Lakkidi, often referred to as the Tarzan territory, is the highest point in the Wayanad region of Kerala. It’s a forest canopy so dense that you can barely see the sky, where you can truly walk through the wilderness. Here, you can experience treetop living and walking 100 feet above the ground to get from one tree to another.
State: Tamil Nadu
Bellikal is a picturesque village situated on the Nilgiri Montains, with the famed Mudumalai forest on one end and the Sigur Plateau on the other. It is a place of isolation and tranquility, 5,500 ft above sea level. A trekker’s paradise, there are various trails here leading to various attractions such as the Kalhatti Falls, as well as the Bison valley, where you can spy on these amazing beasts. The biggest attraction here however, is the Kurinji Bush, which blooms only once every 12 years!
Photo credit (front) Sirwatkyn
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About the Author. Parthajit. Parthajit is a nature & landscape photographer and trekker with travel experience in the Indian Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh), Western Ghats (India), Thailand, New Zealand, and Japan.