Tumbling off the side of Kawa Karpo peak is the 12km-long Míngyǒng Glacier. At over 13 sq km, it is not only the lowest glacier in China (around 2200m) but also an oddity – a monsoon marine glacier, which basically translates as having an ecosystem that couldn’t possibly be more diverse: tundra, taiga, broadleaf forest and meadow.
The mountain has been a pilgrimage site for centuries and you’ll still meet a few Tibetan pilgrims, some of whom circumambulate the mountain over seven days in autumn. Surrounding villages are known as ‘heaven villages’ because of the dense fog that hangs about in spring and summer.
The trail to the glacier leads up from Míngyǒng’s central square. After 70 minutes of steady uphill walking you will reach the Tibetan Tàizǐ Miào (太子庙), a small temple where there are snack and drink stalls. A further 30 minutes along the trail is Lotus Temple (莲花庙; Liánhuā Miào), which offers fantastic views of the glacier framed by prayer flags and chörten. Horses can also be hired to go up to the glacier (¥200).
If you’re coming from Yǔbēng, you could also hike to Míngyǒng from Xīdāng in around three hours if you hoof it.
Míngyǒng village consists of only a couple hotels, restaurants and shops. You can overnight in the newly renovated Renqin Hotel which also serves meals.
From Déqīn, private minibuses to Míngyǒng leave regularly from the bridge near the market at the top end of town (¥20 per person), or you can hire your own for around ¥120.
The road from Déqīn descends into the dramatic Mekong Gorge. Six kilometres before Míngyǒng the road crosses the Mekong River and branches off to Xīdāng. Nearby is a small temple, the Bǎishūlín Miào, and a chörten. There is a checkpoint here where you will need to show your national park ticket.