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Cycle Yunnan's Tea Horse Trail


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An cycle exploration of the ancient Tea Horse Trail through Yunnan's stunning natural beauty including Tiger Leaping Gorge


Arrive in Shangri La

This is arrival day and you’ll be met by your Bike Asia leader in the evening to go over the trip ahead. For those arriving early, (not a bad idea in order to acclimatise to the altitude) the old Tibetan town of Zhongdian, Gyalthang in Tibetan (recently renamed Shangri La), is worth exploring. The town still retains its Tibetan feel and old world charm. After our meeting we’ll indulge in a traditional Tibetan feast. The next two night’s accommodation is in a comfortable centrally located hotel in the old town.PLease note: as Zhongdian is at an elevation of 3160m all the activities on day two below are optional. It is not uncommon for people to feel the effects of altitude sickness on arrival at this elevation so we have allowed time in Zhongdian to acclimatise and rest for those that need to. You may wish to book some extra accommodation in Zhongdian if acclimatisation is a concern for you. There is a lot to do in Zhongdian with numerous hikes, monasteries and an old town to explore.Altitude: 3160mOvernight: Hotel

Cycle Shangri La

In the morning we’ll set up our bikes and head out to the Napa Lake for a loop ride of the lake, surrounding farmland and keep our eyes open for the bird life attracted to this important wetland. In the afternoon you'll have time to visit Ganden Sumtseling Monastery (Songzanlin Si), South West China’s most important monastery. In the evening we’ll indulge in a traditional Tibetan feast.Altitude: 3160mDistance: 40km

Cycle to Baishuitai

After breakfast we load up the bikes to transfer 35km out of the busy town centre to our ride start point. Today is an epic day with spectacular scenery making up for the hard work on the climbs. Throw in some extraordinary long and fast downhills on smooth paved roads with hardly a car in sight and the ride starts of with the bar raised high. We stop for a picnic lunch with plenty of tasty foods to keep you fueled up for the big climbs. This ride is varied and spectacular as we wind our way up through valleys and across mountain sides completely covered with wild camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and osmanthus trees and bushes…an amazing sight. We arrive late afternoon with time to visit the spiritual heart of the Naxi Minority people: the ‘White Water Terrace’ rock formation that sits above the town of Sanba. It was created over millions of years by underground aquifers saturated with calcium carbonate and is shaped like local rice terraces with pools of clean water flowing over the white surface. Local Shaman often perform rituals in this sacred area. Tonight we stay in a local hotel, the only one in this tiny village!Altitude: 2380mDistance: 65km

Cycle to Tiger Leaping Gorge

In the morning we begin cycling with a few smaller climbs high along the side of a deep valley. We wind our way through farming terraces before a big descent brings us down to the small town of Haba for lunch. Haba has ethnic Yi people as well as Hui Muslims and also serves as a base camp for those wanting to climb Haba Mountain - a 5396m peak that rises 3500m above the Yangze as it flows through Tiger Leaping Gorge. Oppositte Haba Mountain, on the opposite side of the gorge, rises Jade Dragon Snow Mountain; a massif with several spectacular jagged peaks, the highest of which is 5596m. After lunch we’ll get back on the bikes for a 7km climb followed by another downhill – this one is around 25km - to enter Tiger Leaping Gorge and cycle to our lodgings for the night. Riding in the gorge is a highlight for many people on this trip with its overhangs, immensly high sheer rock faces, waterfalls and impressive views of the Yangze River at one of it's narrowest points. Our lodgings are in a comfortable local guesthouse with possibly the most spectacular views in all of China!Please note: Travelling in the gorge does pose some risks. There are often landslides in summer, and while we pay close attention to local information regarding landslides, their occurrence is outside our control. In the event of a landslide we may have to alter the itinerary – this may take several hours or up to a whole day. We are always in communication with local contacts with regard to local conditions and are committed to keeping you informed but will always reserve the right to alter the itinerary where we see fit in order to ensure the safest possible experience.Altitude: 1950mDistance: 75km

Tiger Leaping Gorge - Free Day or Optional Hike

There is no place more fitting to spend a day of rest and relaxation than immersed in the beauty of Tiger Leaping Gorge. For the energetic there are plenty of hiking opportunities; walk the plunging forest tracks to the gorge itself or venture off on the high trail to plunge yourself into a gushing waterfall. Otherwise sit back, relax and soak in the truly awe inspiring views of this remarkable natural wonder.Altitude: 1950mDistance: No riding today

Cycle through Tiger leaping Gorge, transfer to Lijiang

The views are truly breathtaking as we cycle through Tiger Leaping Gorge with the Yangtze River raging far below. Once through the gorge we meander our way along the Yangtze River passing mud brick villages on quaint tree-lined, tar-sealed roads. This area is home to many minority groups including Dai, Yi and Naxi people. Finishing our ride by the banks of the Yangze, near the ‘first bend in the Yangtze River’, we load up the bikes for a drive to Suhe Town on the outskirts of Lijiang. A change of pace for the evening, Suhe is one of the traditional Naxi villages that sees far less tourists than Lijiang, but has a bustling cosmopolitan vibe to go along with it's old world charm. Set below the soaring peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, this is a pleasing contrast to the quieter rural places of previous nights.Altitude: 2400mDistance: 45km

Cycle to Shaxi Old Town

We leave behind the bustle of Lijiang and head out of town to begin our ride through farmland and orchards on quiet back country roads. A big descent brings us back onto a main road for a section into Jiannchuan. We'll stop near Jianchuan for lunch before continuing along the main road for a shorter section before making our way over a series of short climbs before a final long descent into Shaxi. A perfect place to get lost in the narrow, cobblestone alleyways, get a close look at intricately carved wooden entrances and hopefully catch glimpses of the well-fenced and attractive courtyards of many of the homes in Shaxi. Sideng Square froms the centre of the old town, which was formed as part of Tea Horse route during the Tang dynasty in 618. Sahxi is UNESCO listed as it is one of the most intact tea horse trading towns left remaining in China. Highly recommended is a visit and hike through the “Shibaoshan Shiku” Stone Treasure Buddhist Grottoes. These are old Buddhist shrines and statues carved into the mountain rock, some still carrying the last of fading pigments. These are a legacy of the trade route from Yunnan into Tibet and Burma which, although it was designed to carry tea and horses, also spread Buddhism throughout the region.Please note: as the day can be potentially a long ride, it is unlikely there will be time to cycle all the way and visit the grottoes too. Your guide will asses the abilities and interests of the group and advise whether it is more suitable to transfer the group part of the way, to both shorten the cycling distance and allow time to visit the grottoes, or cycle all the way to Shaxi without visiting the grottoes. Altitude: 2100mDistance 80km

Cycle to Eryuan Hot Springs

We hit the road with a smooth run through an intimate valley, passing by quaint villages, forest and farmland. The views get progressively more expansive as we climb to the top of a pass, all the way cycling through a heavily wooded forest of pine trees. The view is spectacular but it’s a testing climb so the support vehicle will be ready for those that need it. The road down is endless hairpins on a smooth sealed road. Finally, we cycle down through a ravine into Eryuan, the location of our hotel for the night and their relaxing hot springs. We'll soothe our muscles in the naturally occuring spring water.Altitude: 2060mDistance 100km

Cycle to Dali Old Town

Today we share our cycling with bell-laden horses and carts as we continue travelling on toward Dali. We follow a circuitous route that takes us between the huge Er Hai Lake and the towering Cangshan Mountain, skirtting the shores of this inland sea, passing through fishing villages, farming communities and ancient temples. This is a spectacular finale as we head up the hill toward the ancient walled capital, Dali. Home to the Bai people, the architecture in the old town and surrounding villages shows off these people's fine woodworking and artistry, with some of the more asthetically pleasing craftmanship you'll find in China. The old town is a haven for tourists these days as there is alot to explore in the area; and the fine weather and beautiful landscapes make it tempting to linger in Dali longer. We’ll feast and celebrate the completion of our ride with a beer or two.Altitude: 1975mDistance: 60km

In Dali, trip concludes

Today is departure day and we say farewell! You may wish to stay on in Dali to explore further, make your way to other destinations in China or begin your journey home. Dali is serviced by an airport linking Kunming and many destinations in China. There is also a high speed rail and regular buses linking Kunming too. Let us know if you need any advice or suggestions for your onward travel.

Additional Information

Yunnan, home to many diverse minority groups, is arguably one of China's most scenic and culturally rich regions. On this trip we will guide you along sections of the ancient Horse Tea Trail, a thoroughfare of commerce which traced some 2,250km from China’s Sichuan Province up into the high altitude capital of Tibet, Lhasa (3,700m). Starting in the spectacularly situated Shangri La, we’ll have some time to acclimatise with a warm up ride before setting out across the epic landscapes of soaring mountains, plunging valleys and ancient towns and villages. We cycling back-roads below the snow-capped peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to the incredible Tiger leaping Gorge where we stop to enjoy an optional hike or simply relax and take in the beautiful scenery. Back on the bikes we'll visit ancient temples and frescoes in Shaxi, soak in hot springs in Eryuan before cycling around Er Hai Lake to the ancient Bai minority capital, Dali.

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