What is the deepest river canyon in the world? Everybody would probably mention the Grand Canyon in US but only few would think about a place in Yunnan, China, called Tiger Leaping Gorge which has indeed this record, with a canyon as deep as 2000 metres and even more in few points.
Is there anything more astonishing than the sight of two long mountain chains, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains and the Haba Mountains, separated by the 16km long Tiger Leaping Gorge? Well, nature is able to organise some real amazing spectacles and the Tiger Leaping Gorge is for sure one you should put into your personal list of top sites to visit before you retire from travelling (will it ever happen?).
How to reach the Tiger Leaping Gorge ?
It is an easy 80km trip north of Lijiang. You can either come for a long day trip or take your time, enjoy the gorge and stay 3-4 days.
Will you encounter tigers along the trail? Probably not. The name comes from a legend that says that a tiger pursued by a hunter jumped from one bank to another to escape.
We have been travelling in Yunnan for quite few weeks (or maybe months LOL) and we love how there is always a story behind a name of a mountain, a gorge, a canyon, a road. Everything has a legend, or a true story, behind the name. Nothing is there without a good reason.
We met the original inhabitants of this area, the Naxi people, already in Lijiang. That was however in the city, where the modern life has met the local traditions. Here the people live in few small hamlets along the grooves. Their main livelihood is the production of cereals and tourism is starting to be seen as an alternative source of income. Do not expect mass tourism in this area, in fact only few people and that is the beauty of it.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge on a (sketch) map
Start your hiking in the village of Qiaotou. You will here realize how remote is the area. The information center, a grand name for the ticket booth, will provide beside the gorge pass also an old hipster style map, hand drawn! The full hike will take two days with an half way stop over in one of the few hostels along the mountain trail located on the higher side of the gorge where you will experience a magnificent view for literally 48 hours. Hard to get used to it.
Contemplate your life at the Tiger Leaping Gorge
You will be stunned by the sunset and sunrise over the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains, a long chain with peaks over 5000 metres covered by snow even in the summer season. Below you the Tiger Leaping Gorge and on the other side the Haba Mountains. A real spectacle not to be missed. Wake up early in the morning to enjoy the sun moving slowly over the mountain, take a pot of tea and relax
The road built in the valley along the river is frequently blocked by landslides.
Do you want to touch the freezing water?
At the point where the trail joins the road, it is possible to go down to the water’s edge, near the Rock Tiger Leaping to contemplate the power of the stream.
It’s really a ride for those who love nature and the simple life of the Naxi’s mountain people.
I really enjoyed the two days hiking and I came to realize and appreciate the weight of my DSLR camera! Should I buy a mirror less camera for my next hiking?
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Travel & Photograph Tips
- Ask for a map when paying the entrance fee: 65 RMB
- It is strongly advised to do this walk outside the rainy season to avoid possible landslide and frequent storms.
- Do not forget to take winter clothing with you, even in the hot/dry season. You will need them as you will climb on high altitudes
- For your night in the mountain, opt for a guest house with a balcony to watch the sky in this amazing landscape.
- There is another entrance ticket to walk down to the river; yeah! another one again!! (get used to it because the viewpoints are never for free in China LOL)
- If you do not feel like walking or cycling, you can join a tour group or drive yourself on the road at the bottom of the valley. There are few guest houses along the road where you can spend the night, they are however touristy
- Take some landscaping photos including the terraced farms, typical of this mountains
- Flags can be the main subjects of your images, together with the local Naxi houses ad buildings
- Do remember to include the local Naxi in your photos, they will give an incontrovertible evidence of the place you are visiting
From Kunming to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, it has been a long trip in Yunnan
It has been a long trip in Yunnan, a trip that took us to so many interesting places!
Would I suggest to visit the Yunnan region?
Most definitely, and guess what? The sooner the better. Tourism has already changed the local life however walk away from the designated path and you will find some real gems.
Places we have visited in this Yunnan travel itinerary: