This Little-Known Hiking Path Explores One of the Deepest Gorges in the World

Far off China’s beaten path, in the remote southwestern province of Yunnan, a winding bus ride from the UNESCO world heritage town Lijiang, lies one of the world’s most beautiful and spiritual hikes. But, chances are you’ve never heard of it. While gaining in popularity among tourists and hikers throughout Asia, Tiger Leaping Gorge remains far from the well-worn circuit, and if you ask the hikers along the climb — few and far between — they would like to keep it that way, thank you very much.

More than just an epic hike through breathtaking and back-breaking landscapes, a trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge is a journey into a China rapidly changing. As China’s most ethnically diverse province, Yunnan is a mixture of Bai, Naxi, and Dai people, along with dozens of other smaller groups of ethnic minorities who maintain many of their original customs and traditional dress. Far from the lights and wealth of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Yunnan is a pocket where the country’s rampant modernization hasn’t yet completely permeated. And there’s no better way to take it in than hiking through it.

A through-hike of Tiger Leaping Gorge will take at least two days, and the easiest method to find your way is to simply continue going up. Just follow the signs spray-painted on rocks pointing the way to Tibet and the strings of prayer flags hanging from almost every village dwelling. A full hike of the gorge — one of the deepest in the world — will land you in Shangri-La, the high-altitude Tibetan border town named for the mythical land depicted in James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. Far from fictitious, the real Shangri-La’s beauty and mystery shine clearly through the mist. And its name alone makes it one of the most epic ways to end a hike.

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