From Kunming (Yunnan) we take the 30 minute flight to Lijiang, capital of the ancient Naxi kingdom Jang Sadam. The charming old town has been restored after the terrible destruction caused by an earthquake in 1997.
Legend has it that the Mu dynasty of Naxi kings are descendants of the Tibetan minister Gar and Tang princess Wencheng who later was to marry the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo. Perhaps that is why the Tibeto-Burman Naxi are considered "cousins" of the Tibetans. In the old days there were many mixed marriages between Tibetan caravan traders and Naxi women.
We drive through peaceful Naxi and Yi villages with spectacular views of the Shikha and Haba ranges across the river valley, before descending to join the Drichu (Yangtze). As we touch down on the Yangtze basin, south of Gyalthang, the Drichu makes a U-turn to form the first bend. Here the river prepares to enter the narrow canyon created by Gyalthang’s Mt. Haba Gangri and Lijiang’s Jade Dragon Range.
Legend has it that this section of the river represents the escape of a princess forced to marry Gyalthang's Mt Haba. For when the Drichu squeezes past the Haba and Lijiang's Jade Dragon ranges, the river is at its narrowest - some 20 meters - and in its fullest fury. This most breathtaking sight is aptly named after a Tiger’s leap to freedom from a Yi hunter.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge area offers many trekking possibilities. As one of the world’s richest biodiversity spheres with river and mountain presence, it offers exhilarating wilderness trekking experiences from two to six days.
A fascinating extension would be trekking up to the base of Mt Haba Gangri (approx. 4,300 m) combined with a taste of Tibetan frontier culture on the Gyalthang plains. From where we fly back to Kunming.