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Introducing Tiger Leaping Gorge

A hike here has gone from obscure adventure to the ‘can’t miss’ experience of northern Yúnnán and is well worth the hype. The gorge (Hǔtiào Xiá), one of the deepest in the world, measures 16km long and is a giddy 3900m from the waters of Jinsha River (Jīnshā Jiāng) to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hābā Shān (Haba Mountain) to the west and Yùlóng Xuěshān to the east.

The best time to come is May and the start of June, when the hills are afire with plant and flower life.

Plan on three to four days away from Lìjiāng doing the hike though it can be done in two. Many travellers have lingered up to a week.

The first thing to do is to check with cafés in Lìjiāng for the latest gossip on the mini-trek, particularly the weather and its possibly lethal effects on the trail. Most cafés give away hand-drawn maps of the trek. They show paths, walking times and some places to stay, but remember that they aren’t to scale.

Transport is easier than it once was. Finishing south in Qiáotóu allows for quicker transport back to Lìjiāng, but heading north towards Dàjù gives you the option of continuing on to Báishuǐtái. Most people take a Shangri-la–bound bus early in the morning, hop off in Qiáotóu, and hike quickly to stay overnight in Walnut Garden.

Development is taking its toll on the gorge. After three years of Herculean blasting and building, a road now leads all the way through the gorge from Qiáotóu to Walnut Garden and a dirt track swings north to Báishuǐtái, joining the road to Shangri-la. Tour buses shuttle up and down the gorge and kitschy stop-off points are being constructed. This currently isn’t too much of an annoyance for trekkers as the high path climbs way above all the activity.

This does mean that you can still see the gorge (if you don’t want to trek) by taking a bus to Qiáotóu and then catching one of the ubiquitous microbuses that shuttle people to the main viewpoint 10km away. The cost will depend on your bargaining skills, but aim for as close to Y15 as you can. You could even take a taxi (Y50) the 23km from Qiáotóu to Walnut Garden and hitchhike back.

Admission to the gorge is Y50.