Yunnan Province is a remarkable place. Sandwiched between Vietnam, Laos, and Burma; in many ways it has more in common with its Southeast Asian neighbors than the rest of China. You find incredible diversity everywhere here with the variety of people, language, food, landscape, climate, flora and fauna. While many in the west associate China with crowds and massive, polluted cities it's also a country of staggering natural beauty and unique geology. Tiger Leaping Gorge is a massively deep river canyon in a remote part of western Yunnan near the Tibetan border. In contrast with many other places in China, here the air is clean, crisp, and invigorating. After spending two weeks in Beijing when there was record high pollution, I have a new found appreciation for air quality. Additionally at this high altitude, the quality of light and cloud is almost painterly. Yunnan is the only Chinese province where ethnic minorities outnumber Han people. In and around Tiger Leaping Gorge has been inhabited since antiquity by Naxi, Bai, and Tibetan people which adds another fascinating layer to the region.
The main trail trough the gorge is an 18 mile two day trek climbing over 9,000 feet.
Local Naxi guides are the safest way through the trail. Though it's relatively rare, there have been numerous incidents of trekkers being robbed while in the gorge.
Many thousands of feet below is the river that over eons cut its path deep through these mountains.
Where the path summits there are hundreds of beautiful, wind-worn Tibetan prayer flags. Most of the people in this region are Buddhist and there are many incredible temples throughout.
A virtually inaccessible Naxi village along the trail.
Outside the villages there is some evidence of environmental abuse. Here, there's some kind of mining happening upstream that's depositing salt ad sand all over this ravine. China has a ways to go with the whole "stewardship" concept. As does the United States for that matter. I'm cautiously optimistic progress is being made in both countries. At least there's increased awareness.
One of the eeriest things I noticed in the two days I was here is that you don't see (or hear) any wild animals. There are tons of domesticated animals but you don't even hear birds in the gorge. It's strange and deeply unsettling to be in such a massive natural area and find it to be devoid of its wildlife. In hindsight, I noticed this in other places deep in the Chinese countryside as well. Places that should be crawling with natural life and instead all you find are humans, pigs, and chickens. The ecological problems this country is facing are monumental. They have essentially traded their natural environment for fast tracked economic development. The repercussions of this have yet to be fully felt in their country or by the rest of the world but it's coming.
Not too far from the gorge is Shibao Mountain featuring many ancient Buddhist temples like Baoxiang, some of which are carved directly out of the rock face.
1200 years ago the Goddess, Guanyin, was carved directly out of the side of the cliff. The hole in her chest is she reached in and pulled out her own heart to show her devotion to the Buddha.
This region is also home to one the most entertaining and bravely curious creatures, wild macaques. Though no longer truly wild as they've learned that hanging out at temples is basically an all you can eat buffet so now have little incentive to go back deep into the forest.