A wonderful trek from
Dali up to Yongning in Yunnan
Info 2006. Back to: Trek, Destionations, Yunnan
Here we are, it's time to do something else.....a nice
experience in northern Yunnan, a really beckoning and
warm-hearted province .
Here, near the Lugu lake, our trek ends, with almost 500km
of walking... with the feeling to have lived "something",
inwardly fulfilling and humanly speaking. (A more detailed
version in French with plenty of pictures are available at my
personal website: Click
From Dali to Lijiang
Ten o‘clock in the morning and it is time to go. We left
the MCA Guesthouse where the day before, we spent a
really nice time with other travellers. We went through the
old city and we went on a tarmac road. Little by little
we left the place that brought us the first genuine
Chinese "vibrations" . A few kilometres further we turn right
to walk on labyrinthine dikes which separates the land
into different cultivated fields. In these fields, we spent
many hours trying to find a straight route out. At such a slow
and easy pace, we have time to enjoy the
surrounding scenery and to talk to the native people, who
are either pounding away in the fields or bustling in the
villages we crossed. Most of them were intrigued to see two
foreigners with laden backpacks and high-tech gadgets walking
on these fields rather than in a car or bus.
So why are we walking? It is simply to discover the world
on foot and walking is definitely a good way to do so.
Greetings from the locals energizes our walking. Our first
priority walking into villages was to look for water as we
could not carry too much water with us. For this reason we
also have a water filter pump that can be used on river water.
To the villagers, we speaks in Chinese to ask for water "you
mei you shui" or "wo men zhao shui haishi shangdian". Trying
to speak Chinese is all part and parcel and the fun of the
Some of the tracks separating the fields are so narrow that
we felt like we were tightrope walkers. And it was next to
these fields at the shores of Erhai Lake that we have our
first "off-road" dinner and camp. Our first night of
freedom in the Yunnan province!
On the second day we walked alongside a tarmac road, after
a few kilometres in the fields, From the roadside, we head
towards the soaring hills at the end of Erhai Lake. We managed
to find our way in the hills and got to the top after some
drenching walk. From the top, we turned back to spend a few
minutes to enjoy the panorama of the fields that we left a few
Looking ahead and downhill are fields on rolling hills. The
hills are like mushrooms sprouting chaotically from the
ground; however there is a certain harmony to the chaos that
made it soothing to look at. We went ahead to the other side
of this hill and found a snug place to spend the night,
camping in the open.
In the morning, we went down the valley trying to reach a
dark green track snacking the light green fields which we
spotted the day before from the top of the hill. Along the
way, we asked around, looking for the river which we found
from directions given by a Han hawker whom we bought bread
from. We then followed the river through a tiny forest
flanking the river. There were lots of squirrels leaping from
tree to tree, keeping us company in the forest.
Later a Han farmer had lunch alongside us. He was amazed
with our camping stove and solar panels but it did not take
him long to figure out what they are. I attempted a
conversation with him with my basic Chinese, which, of course,
is rather hilarious.
After lunch, we continued alongside the river until the
path ends at the bottom of two mountains. We would have
continued on this track alongside the river to cross the
valley but had to switch to walk the tarmac road as the river
dried up further on. As such the track was strewn with
pebbles, rocks and boulders; some of them were so huge that we
had to climb over them.
We decided to set up tent in a stark field, a few
kilometres down the road. I had an idea of collecting some
leaves to make a soft rest under our tent for a more
comfortable sleep. I jumped into a field to the right of our
campsite to collect leaves, only to discover that it was all
muddy and soft. I ended up sinking into the mud up to
calf-level, which of course ruin my trousers- and still
sleeping on hard ground for the night.
We alternate between concrete roads, muddy trails and
narrow dikes snaking in the fields or streets going through
villages. In one of these villages, the kids were absolutely
surprised to see us, 2 French tourists. They swarmed around
us, creating a circus. Some tried to speak to us and were
surprised that we could speak a few Chinese words. They were
absolutely delighted to be able to see themselves in my
camcorder's LCD. We had some great fun and warm-hearted
moments together. That night, we set up tent in a cultivated
plot so as not to alarm the villagers.
We set off very early in the morning as we did not want to
be found by the farm owner that we tampered with his crop (to
set up tent). We passed the village and headed towards some
hills on the right of the trail. It was here that we had the
best memory of the whole trek.
Before climbing the hill we walked across a nice village.
We met a lot of kids heading towards school and like the day
before the camcorder did its trick in entertaining them. Their
laughter attracted the attention of the adults. One of them
invited us to a meal but we were not hungry as it was still
early. Anyway we did accept the offer to have tea- real
Chinese green tea. We went to a community dining hall where
quite a few of the villagers brought and shared their meals.
We were received as kings and were the centre of attraction.
We had a great time, spending over two hours, taking lots of
pictures of the villagers and had the most tasty, lavish meal
of our trek. It was a fantastic and incredibly memorable
experience. The spontaneity, friendliness and hospitality of
the villagers were in abundant display. We were quite sad to
have to say goodbye and move on.
That afternoon, we walked alongside a muddy trail,
zigzagging up the hill. We spent the night next to this trail.
We climbed up to 3000m high during the day before heading
downhill for a few hours. It was the only overcast day of our
trek. We passed a coalmine where everything was covered with
black soot- the miners, the houses and the surroundings-
similar to the setting of the French novel "Germinal" written
by Emile Zola. We set up tent in a pine forest with the plain
a few kilometres further.
We walk alongside a river to reach the plain skirting a
hill in front of us. On the way, we met a few Chinese working
in an old hydroelectric power plant. Further on, we came to a
stunning artificial lake, with a thin albeit
mystical haze complementing the scenery. We stayed at the
shore for a few minutes enjoying the scenery.
We continued alongside terraced farms surrounding a
gorgeous village. That evening we set up tent close to a lake
where we enjoyed the calls of wild ducks.
According to the google maps there are supposed to be flat
lands up to Lijiang except a hill ahead of us. When we came
close to the hill we saw a crack and we thought we could
probably walk through it. As we got closer we knew we could
not get through but our curiosity took us to the entrance of
the crack where we could see a cobblestone path going into it.
However a few metres further down, the path was blocked by a
gate; meaning we must backtrack and climb the hill. We did
that; and it was rather scary as the climb was really steep.
Near the top, we saw a concrete canal in the
upper part of the canyon. As we did not want to
walk alongside the road, we forked on the left going
through some bush. However after a while we gave up as it was
tough walking through the bush; we went back up to the road.
Wearily we kept climbing, hoping to find a marked path.
Finally we found it and we followed it up to the canal. It was
a narrow vertical walk from where we could see the canyon that
we couldn't go through a few hours before. We were
walking as if we were some tightrope walkers! Anyway the
breathtaking view compensated for all the hard work. We headed
down again from the top and we finished the trek walking two
hours on a tarmac road all the way to Lijiang.
Rest in Lijiang
We stayed a week in Lijiang to relax and recuperate,
especially my blisters. Lijiang is a really laid-back town
with cobblestone and narrow streets lined with rickety houses.
There are Chinese lanterns hang up at night with Naxi girls
singing on both sides of a stream snaking in the
We extended our visas for one more month and spent our
Christmas in Lijiang. We headed towards the north-west and the
Tiger Leaping Gorge, a highly touristy spot in the
spring, on the morning of 27 December.
From Lijiang to the Tiger Leaping Gorge
We left Lijiang old town reluctantly. We speedily passed
through the new town, heading to the north, with YulongXueShan
in the background. This mighty mountain meaning "Jade Dragon
Snow Mountain" overlooks the area.
A few hours later were back in the nature. The scenery is
now different with more hills.
We climbed our first hill, skirting what looks like a stone
quarry. And we can enjoy the view, a murky lake
surrounded by hills, fields and convoluted separations are
We head to the right and began our first tough climbing. As
it was getting dark, we set up tent near a shepherd's house.
The intrigued shepherd came to investigate. Afraid that he may
ask us to leave, we gave him a cigarette and a chocolate bar.
He left us alone.
The next day, we climbed further and had a stunning view of
a lake. When we got to the top of a hill, we found that there
are more to climb further on. We passed through a forest that
looks like the Fangorn forest in "Lord of the Rings"; we were
surrounded by lichen-covered oaks. The lichen also
droops from the branches and reinforces the mystical
atmosphere. We were like Frodo and Sam carrying the ring
up to Mordor!
We got to another village where we bought some stuff- fruit
juice, industrial sausages and others that I could not tell
the contents. After having a brief talk with the villagers we
went on a muddy road alongside the YulongXueshan range. The
road ends in another village. We continued on the path but it
soon disappeared. We have to cut through a dense forest with
no clear trails; it does not appear that anyone walks this way
at all. Out of the forest, we finally found a trail downhill.
The 3rd day we walked downhill for several kilometres
following a muddy road, until we reach the bank of the Yangtze
River. We then followed it up to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. We
stopped at a friendly guesthouse where we enjoy a pizza with
Tibetan yak meat- definitely not something one can find in
Europe! There is also banana pancake with just about
everything on it (chocolate, honey, raisins, sesame seeds...).
Nothing better to fill up energy with!
The Tiger Leaping Gorge
We started on the high trail that overlooks the Tiger
Leaping Gorge with breathtaking scenery. The gorge looks like
a crack in the mountains. Even though it was tough climbing
with heavy backpacks, we thoroughly enjoy the walk.
We spent the night in the Half-Way Guesthouse. On the way
we saw a sign listing all the things they offer and the
funniest item was "panoramic view of the gorges from the
toilet" And it is true- the toilet view is really
breathtaking. They also make an unforgettable apple pie. Even
though you may not like impressive cliffs, just go there to
enjoy the apple pie!
The next day was really short because we decided to
celebrate the New Year inside the gorges. In the afternoon we
went down to the river and it was really worthwhile doing so.
Part of the path is really narrow (less than 40cm) and one can
see the river 100m below. Closer to the river, the view
dominated by 2 impressive stone walls, is even more
breathtaking (they look like the 2 Argonauts in "Lord of the
Rings"). Beside the river one will hear the
For a New Year Eve fiesta, it was really short- the
shortest in my life. At 12h10 I was already in bed! Hiking is
We started the New Year the same way we finished the
previous year- on foot. We walked alongside the tarmac
road up to Daju. Compared to the previous days, the walk
was disappointing. We crossed the Yangtze River taking a small
Daju to Baoshan
During the day, we climbed 1000m where we looked back at
the end of the gorges behind us. At the end of the day we
walked through a nice pine forest where we set up tent.
Today was the longest of our trek- we walked more than
40km. As we do not have a guide we simply follow a
muddy trail up to Baoshan, fearing that we may lose our
way. We arrived there rather late, with our headlights on.
Unfortunately we could not enjoy this scenic village;
anyway we were too tired to enjoy it.
Baoshan to Yongning (Lugu lake)
We spent some time the next morning looking around the
village. The village is rather amazing- part of the
village is built on a mountainside and the other part
called Shitousheng is perched on a rock and surrounded by
light green rice terraces. The terraces look more like a
painting than farmland. WOWOW, these farmers are artists for
In the afternoon we head towards the north walking up
towards a mountain that looms ahead. We were quite sure that
there are no trails to go over the mountain. After 2 attempts,
we lost our way and so we decided to backtrack and to skirt
the mountain. We got lost again and spent quite some time
trying to find an easy route. We then decided that we should
look for flat land to set up tent. We found what seems like a
horse paddock. However the landlord kept staring at us from
his house; so I decided to ask his permission to camp on his
land. And I also joked in my broken Chinese that perhaps we
can sleep in his house. 10 minutes later we were settled in
his house. We shared a nice green tea around his fireplace.
The next day our host told us that there is a pass in the
mountain with 2 tunnels. I remembered reading about that
on the chinabackpacker.com
website when I was dreaming, preparing the trip from my
computer. So we went back towards the mountain and this time
we found the pass.
The trail is easy to follow and we walked up to Fengke,
another gorgeous village. We spent that night in what seems
more like a warehouse than a hotel; with rice and corn bags
stocked in the middle of the room. Anyway a mattress is
still a mattress and we slept very well that night.
We started the day crossing the Yangtze River by a small
boat. We wanted to finish the trek here as we do not have too
many days left before going back to France (what a pity!).
However when we arrived at the next village called Labo, we
were told by one of the villager that there are no buses in
the afternoon and the only way to reach the next village is to
walk.. Anyway a few minutes later, the same villager came to
tell us that he called a bus driver who could drop us off
close to Lugu Lake, at Yongning village. After thinking hard,
we decided to take the offer. We started this extra trip at
The road forward was completely destroyed and we started
regretting not to have gone on foot. A few kilometres further
the minibus stopped to take a horse and its owner!
As it gets darker, I asked the driver if he has light. He
answered affirmatively but actually the bus do not have any
headlight; what the driver meant was a flashlight! What a
funny but dangerous ride- the road was illuminated by a
torchlight! We went on for several kilometres until a flat
tyre stopped us. We stayed frozen at the back of the minibus
while the driver attempted to patch the inner tube.
One hour later we started on the ride again; but the tyre
was not hard enough and we had to stop again to try to inflate
it. However we did not complete the ride. As the torchlight
was really too dim to illuminate the road, the driver missed a
bend and we ended up with the two left wheels hanging off the
side of the road, with us still in the bus. Exhausted we
decided that's it for the day and we proceed to set up
tent. We never pitched a tent as fast as we did that
night. The rest of night was more... quiet.
We were woken up the next morning by the locals bustling
around the minibus. We decided that we won't continue by bus
and we reach Yongning after several hours on foot. Somehow we
were really happy to finish on foot... I still don't know why
we decided to take the minibus instead of walking because in
the end we did not save any day taking it.
Now we are back to our normal backpacker "life"
Open our eyes, open our heart and enjoy the trip...
Contributed by Dorian DE ROBERT from
France on Jan. 16 2006.