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108 braids... the devotional representation of a sacred Tibetan number. Photo by Rebecca Thom, China Semester.

Setting off on Our Midyear Retreat

Tomorrow we’ll be waking up to a conductor’s shouts and the rumbling of train wheels slowly turning beneath our feet. Hopefully we’ll have gotten enough sleep, for immediately after disembarking in Lijiang we will be hopping from bus to bus, our destination a small village called Qiaotou at the entrance of the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

The Gorge is one of the deepest in the world: well over two miles from river to mountaintop in some places. The high trail that we’ll be taking has an elevation gain of just more than half of that, but it still amounts to climbing up the Empire State Building over six times (and climbing down again at the end). Wish us luck.

After just about two full days surrounded by gigantic nature, we head off to Shangri-La. Previously known as Zhongdian, this place was famously renamed after a fictional city in a British author’s novel for the sole purpose of boosting tourism revenues. Much of the ancient town burned down a few years ago, but it still should be interesting to check out for a night. The next morning we’ll visit out a nearby Tibetan monastery before getting on a long and winding bus ride up to sky-high Deqin County. We’ll find our way to a hostel near the renowned (for the views, not the temple itself) Feilaisi, where we’ll call it an early night.

Early the next morning, we’ll wake up praying for clear skies. The sunrise casting light on Meili Snow Mountain is said to be magnificent. Afterwards, we’ll just play it by ear. We should arrive at our relatively nearby homestays in Hongpo village before dinner. Hongpo is in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, so while it’s still in Yunnan Province, Tibetan culture has overwhelming sway. We’ll be spending a few days helping with preparations for Chinese New Year before celebrating with our homestays and the rest of the village. Tibetans actually have their own new year, but it’s around the same time and Han culture had heavily influenced  celebrations. We’re all looking forward to the eye-opening sights, thought-provoking experiences, and time for reflection that are sure to come from this two-week step out of Kunming.