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Report from trip in Yunnan

    This will be a tour for those who love natural beauty and traditional cultures rather than big cities and luxury. We will stay in a variety of accommodations, from tourist hotels to simple country guesthouses---maybe even in a Tibetan village or a monastery--so that we can be very close to local life. This special tour will take you far off the usual "beaten track" to areas that have seen very little tourist development.

    We'll meet in Kunming, the fast-growing capital of Yunnan, then travel south on the old French colonial rail line into the valley of the Red River. There, we'll explore a rugged land of forested mountains and fertile river valleys. These remote hills shelter the villages and towns of the Hani, Yi, Dai, Yao, Miao and Zhuang ethnic minority peoples, each with its own special dress and customs. The landscape is dramatic: over the centuries, rice farmers have carved the steep hillsides into an amazing series of terraces, and the changing panorama of mountains and clouds will challenge the photographer to capture its feeling. In the open-air markets of the villages and town, we'll find local women in colorful traditional dress offering local specialties and exotic produce. As we explore, even the smallest hamlet may surprise us with a special festival. We'll spend several days in this area, hiking through the countryside to explore the rice terraces close-up and visit local people in their homes. This is an area that has seen few foreign tourists as yet, and I expect our group to enjoy a friendly and very curious reception!

    From Yuan Yang, we'll travel north by road through the western Yunnan towns of Dali and Lijiang, popular stops on my regular "Ancient Capitals and Scenic Wonders" tour, to reach the highland realm of the Tibetan people. As we ascend into the eastern ranges of the Himalayan mountains, we'll cross the mighty upper Yangtze River and follow one of its tributaries up to the remote town of Zhongdian, also known by its Tibetan name, Gyelthang. There, amid a landscape of high snow mountains, broad grasslands dotted with stone villages and hay-drying racks, and Buddhist temples and stupas topped with fluttering prayer flags, we are clearly in the Tibetan cultural realm. We'll visit local people in their homes to see how they make their powerful homemade barley wine, and experience the atmosphere of an active monastery where we we'll be surrounded by monks chanting their prayers. If you're very adventurous, you even can try the local specialty, yak butter tea!

    From Zhongdian, we'll travel farther north by road through a stupendous landscape of deep river gorges and jagged peaks, once again meeting the powerful upper Yangtze River, to end up virtually at the border of Tibet. Along the way, our group may have a special opportunity to spend the night in a riverside Tibetan home or on the grounds of a mountainside monastery. Finally, we will reach Deqin, set on a remote plateau high above the upper Mekong River. Local people claim that this area was the inspiration for James Hilton's portrait of Shangri-La in the novel Lost Horizon. Whether this is true or not, the jagged 24,000-foot Meili Snow Mountain and the French-style Christian church in a nearby village both resemble features of the book's mythical paradise. If the changeable mountain weather permits, we'll cross the Mekong on a local ferry and hike on the flanks of the great mountain to view its tremendous glacier, one of the lowest and longest in Asia, and visit the "heaven villages" on its slopes, so-called because they are frequently wrapped in thick fogs from the climatic interaction of the glacier and the warm air in the the gorge below.

    From Deqin, we return to Kunming by road and air to catch our homeward flights through Beijing or Hong Kong. A special extension is available to see the ancient monuments of Beijing, including an unrestored section of the Great Wall, and visit a local family in their courtyard home.

    Why do I call this special adventure an "exploratory trip"? That's because I will be discovering these areas right along with you. Also, because conditions on this trip are likely to be a little less comfortable than on my regular group tours. Yuan Yang and Deqin have only just begun to receive outside travelers, so transportation and tourist accommodation facilities are not as developed as they are in larger cities. We'll be traveling long distances by road, often on narrow and winding mountain roads and sometimes on rough surfaces. In mountain areas, roads can be closed unexpectedly by bad weather or other factors and we might have to change our travel plans on the spur of the moment to adjust to local conditions. In most places, we will stay in comfortable tourist class hotels with private bathrooms, but in rural areas such as Yuan Yang, or in a Tibetan village or monastery, our accommodations might be modest and lack some of the amenities of normal tourist hotels. For example, we may need to share bathrooms and showers, or sleep in "dormitory style" rooms. Finally, we will visit some areas of very high elevation. Zhongdian and Deqin lie at over 10,000 feet, and along the road we will cross passes at elevations of 12,000-14,000 feet. To give us the most flexibility possible to adapt to local conditions, I will limit the size of this group to no more than seven people.

    If you have visited China before and would like to return to experience something new and different, or if you are a particularly adventurous first-time visitor, please consider joining US on this special exploratory tour.

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