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August 27th, 2014

6 Facts about Tibet

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Nature and religion define Tibet, so if you’re interested in viewing sacred sites or beautiful nature, it  should be on your list of travel destinations. Tibetans have a distinct culture and religion that sets them apart from the rest of the world. Along with rich history, Tibet has some of China’s most striking natural scenery, including vast grasslands, blue lakes and sky-high mountains.

tibet road to gyantse

1.Foreign travel to Tibet used to be restricted.
Tourists were first permitted to visit Tibet in the 1980s. Since then, people have been traveling to Tibet to learn about Buddhism and see the pure nature. The main tourist attractions are the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple , Namtso Lake, Samye Monastery, and Mt. Everest. Some areas remain restricted to tourists.

2.Tibet is considered one of the most secluded regions on earth.
Tibet is the least populated province in China, mostly due to its mountainous and harsh geographical features. The mountain ranges that surround Tibet create a barrier from the rest of the world, leaving some places in Tibet uninhabited. The mountains in Tibet average 22,960 feet high, earning the nickname “Roof of the World”. In Tibet, there are five mountains over 26,240 feet, including the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. Tibet is a great playground for hikers. Also, frequent flights to Lhasa, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, and several highways to Tibet have made Tibet easily accessible.

Tibetmonks

3.Buddism is the foundation of Tibet’s culture and everyday life.
In Tibet, Buddhism is not just a religious belief, it is a  way of life. You can see the influence of Buddhism throughout this region. Tibetans view the environment as a place where humans and nature coexist, therefore most of their land is colorful and pure. There are a great  amount of sacred sites, such as monasteries, nunneries, and palaces, to explore while in Tibet.

4.47% of the world’s population depends on the flow of fresh water from Tibet.
The Tibetan plateau has the third largest store of water and ice in the world. Tibet is the sources of many of Asia’s rivers. Tibet’s glaciers, rivers, forests, lakes, and wetlands provide key environmental resources to Asia.

5.Tibet is sometimes called the “Sea of Dances and Songs”.
Tibetans love music and dancing. Every night local people get in a circle around a fire and dance the night away. While visiting Tibet, you can participate in a nightly dance while sipping on one of their  national drinks, salted butter tea or Tibetan chang. Chang is an alcoholic drink that is made of barley, rice or millet. Tibetans of all ages drink chang at funerals, dinners, and celebrations.

tibetlhasa

6.Tibetan people believe Lake Yamdrok carries deep spiritual meaning.
Many pilgrims visit the lake prior to making important decisions, they believe the turquoise water of Lake Yamdrok carries deep spiritual meaning. Lake Yamdrok is one of the many beautiful place to visit in Tibet. Clear blue lakes, deep valleys and rivers, snow covered mountains, and green forests can all be found across the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 24th, 2014

Stand In The Majestic Roof of the World:Tibet

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Why Tibet?
People have many kinds of travel styles and adventure levels: some people like to get away and relax on a beach, some seek thrills like bungee jumping or scuba diving, while others enjoy visiting historic sites and learning new information. Here at WildChina, we like to keep our adventure level high and our travel style a mix of exploration and luxury. One place that brings out our adventurous side is Tibet.
Tibet is not the first place that pops in your head when planning a trip to China. It is very different from the China you see on TV or in the media. The mountain ranges that surround it make it one of the most secluded regions on earth, giving this region its own cuisine, faith, and landscape. Along with rich history, Tibet has some of China’s most striking natural scenery, including vast grasslands, blue lakes and sky-high mountains as well a great amount of sacred sites, including monasteries, nunneries, and palaces. If you’re interested in viewing sacred sites or beautiful nature, Tibet should be on your list of travel destinations.

“Rich or poor, all come full of devotion and with no inner misgivings to lay their offerings before the gods and to pray for their blessing. Is there any people so uniformly attached to their religion and so obedient to it in their daily life? I have always envied the Tibetans their simple faith, for all my life I have been a seeker.”
― Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet

Religion-Tsedang:
Buddhism developed in Tibet and the surrounding Himalayan region in the beginning of the 7th century. Tibet’s long history of Buddhism has inspired the building of many religious sites. In Tibet’s largest city, Tsedang, you can find Buddhist monasteries, monuments, tombs and royal burial sites. Samye Monastery, the oldest standing Tibetan Buddhist monastery, is a Tibet highlight. Samye is both a monastery and a village and used to be a school for Tibetan Buddhism. Some Tibetan Buddhists travel on foot for weeks to reach this popular pilgrimage destination.

Note: Out of respect, always walk around Tibetan Buddhist religious sites or monastery in a clockwise direction and don’t climb onto statues or other sacred objects

Tibetanmonks

“Tibet has not yet been infested by the worst disease of modern life, the everlasting rush. No one overworks here. Officials have an easy life. They turn up at the office late in the morning and leave for their homes early in the afternoon.” ― Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet

Culture-Lhasa:
Tibetans live a easygoing life. They like music, games, and dancing. In Tibet you can participate in a nightly dance with locals, sample yak cheese, yoghurt, or butter, while sipping on the national drink, salted butter tea.
Tibet’s richest cultural marvels are found in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa. Buddhism is not just a religious belief, for many it is a way of life. Lhasa has been the center of Tibet’s political, religious, economic and cultural activities since the Fifth Dalai Lama moved the capital here in 1642.
This city is home to Potala Palace. This palace has served as both the winter residence of each Dalai Lama and the religious and political center of Tibet for 300 years. In 1645, it was built without either nails or the use of wheeled equipment. Today, it provides dormitories for the staff of the Dalai Lama schools, chapels, print house and tombs.

 Lhasa

“The country through which we had been travelling for days has an original beauty. Wide plains were diversified by stretches of hilly country with low passes.We often had to wade through swift running ice-cold brooks. It has long since we had seen a glacier, but as we were approaching the tasam at Barka, a chain of glaciers gleaming in the sunshine came into view. The landscape was dominated by the 25,000-foot peak of Gurla Mandhata; less striking, but far more famous, was the sacred Mount Kailash, 3,000 feet lower, which stands in majestic isolation apart from the Himalayan range.”
― Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet

Landscape-Gyantse:
Tibetans view the environment as a place where humans and nature coexist and overconsumption of resources is looked down upon. Because of these Buddhist beliefs, the nature in Tibet is pure and well preserved. Gyantse is a great city to visit if you enjoy nature. Located 14,500 feet above sea level, the turquoise Yamdrok Lake is a famous stop for Tibetans and travelers. While visiting Yamdrok Lake in Gyantse, you can see views of Mount Donang Sangwari (17,400 feet) and the white peaks of Nojin Gangzang (23,000 feet). Be careful of altitude sickness; the mountains in Tibet average 22,960 feet high, earning the nickname “Roof of the World”.

The land, faith, and culture make Tibet an unforgettable experience.

In October, WildChina is going on a journey to Tibet. On our Soul of Tibet trip, we explores sacred sites and nature, while experiencing Tibetan Buddhism. Want to up your adventure level? Contact info@WildChina.com for more information.

 

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August 15th, 2014

Yunnan’s Ancient Tea&Horse Caravan Road

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Where in China can you experience a mix of history, culture, and nature?      
You can explore some of China’s most diverse cultures, ecology, and landscapes in Yunnan Province, just south of the Tibetan Plateau. Yunnan features green low-lying valleys, white-capped mountains, and a vast assortment of ethnic communities. This diverse terrain is home to the beginning of The Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road, or “The Silk Road of Southern China”.

The 3,100-mile route of the Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road started in Southern China, passed through Tibet, Burma, Nepal, and ended in India. China’s desire to import horses from Tibet and Tibet’s desire to import tea from China was the main motivation of the trade along the Tea and Horse Caravan Road. Traveling this route was difficult due to its diverse terrain, and one minor misstep could be fatal for both trader and animals.

H&TCRoad

Today, the Tea and Horse Caravan Road attracts people from all over the world with its assorted teas, mixed cultures, stunning landscapes, and ancient centers of trade. By traveling along this route, travelers can experience both ancient and modern China by learning about the culture of local ethnic communities, hiking in the ancient tea tree forests, and exploring the scenic mountain, rivers and valleys.

How can you get there?
WildChina can take you on a 13 day journey along the route of the Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road in Yunnan. The first stop, Xishuangbanna, is the original place of pu’erh tea production. In Xishuangbanna, you can buy premium pu’erh tea at Menghai market, meet the descendants of the first tea cultivators, and stay in an Aini Village homestay. We pass through Dali as we follow the route through sloping valleys, golden barley and canola fields to Shaxi. After Shaxi, we see Lijiang’s Old Town and the legendary Yangtze River on our way to Shangri-La. In Shangri-La, we explore Songzanlin Monastery, the largest Tibetan lamasery in Yunnan, the Napahai Lake, and visit a nearby artisan village.


TeaAndHorseMap

Are you a spontaneous planner?
Join us this October in Yunnan! This is our last small group trip of the year, led by Jeff Fuchs, the first Westerner to have ever traveled the whole road. Our journey to China’s  Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road begins October 15 and ends October 24. If you’re interested in retracing the steps of those who traveled this ancient road, contact info@wildchina.com.

Like to make plans in advance?
If you’re interested in tea or Yunnan cuisine, keep your eyes open for our 2015 small group departures which include a tea-based journey of China and Taiwan with Jeff Fuchs and a special gastronomic tour of Yunnan with expert Fuchsia Dunlop.

 

 

 

 

 

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April 30th, 2014

It’s all about the tea…WildChina Expert Jeff Fuchs on the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Musings from WildChina Explorer and Expert Jeff Fuchs on the importance of the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road, and why we should all bump it up on our travel list…

WildChina Expert Jeff Fuchs chomps on an apple in Yunnan, tracing the Tea & Horse Caravan Road

The Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road has long held the attention of explorers and vagabonds alike for the fact that it represents one of the globe’s great and daunting adventures. A cultural odyssey as much as a physically demanding pathway that brought tea, salt, horses, and all manner of goods from the fringes of the old dynastical empires into and onto the Tibetan Plateau. Pre-dating the Silk Road, the Tea & Horse Caravan Road and its meandering pathways through indigenous zones, ancient tea forests, and stunning geographies offer up a deeper look into the very historical fabric of southwest China, Tibet, and beyond.

Across snow passes, over some of the planet’s great waterways, the route takes in three- dozen cultures, two dozen languages…all with their own histories with tea and the great trade route.

Tea figured greatly upon this ‘highway through the sky’ as it was – and to some extent remains – one of the great panaceas and commodities of time. Tea was more a fuel and medicine to the ancient tribes and its safe transport was one of the great vitals of the trade world.

Tea growing in Xishuangbanna, on the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road

This WildChina journey along the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Road seeks to dig into and take the journey back to its roots. Authentic touches of exploration off the beaten path, serious tea-highs from some of the planet’s purest ancient tree teas, and home stays that are entirely integral with delving deeper into a culture and land are on offer. Walking through some of the oldest tea forests on the planet, and then sampling them in a cup bind the leaf to its drinker and by extension to any that partake in a cup.

Xishuangbanna, boiling tea on the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Route.

We’ve enhanced sections to take you deeper still into Yunnan’s diversity and created more of a full-on adventure. Daily tea samplings, from fresh bitter harvests, to locally prepared specialties (including the Tibetan’s famed and pungent butter tea) from local regions.

I’m delighted that this journey has continued and been intensified to add a more authentic feel that reflects life and travel upon the Tea & Horse Caravan Road. In traveling upon this most ancient of trade routes, it is important to retain some of the original feel of travel, life, and interaction for our guests.

It is vital that such a journey keep its vitality and spontaneity. It is only in this kind of travel and attention to detail that a route’s history, legend, and truths can remain intact.

All photos by Jeff Fuchs

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If Jeff’s descriptions of tea got your heart beating a little faster, check out the itinerary & October dates for the 2014 trip here. You can also download the flyer to share around here. If you want to read more about Jeff and his travels, check out his blog here. And finally, if you have any questions, shoot us an email here: info@wildchina.com

 

 

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November 29th, 2013

Breaking the Winter Cycle: Tropical Xishuangbanna

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Hammock in Tropical Xishuangbanna 

If cold weather is not your thing, head south to the subtropical region of Xishuangbanna.

Nestled in the southernmost tip of Yunnan province, just between neighboring Myanmar and Laos, this region hosts a vibrant intermingling of cultures and landscapes. With average daily highs of 26 degrees Celsius in January, the forests and villages here are immune to the annual chill that is felt in the north.  It’s no wonder Xishuangbanna was picked as Travel+Leisure’s 2012 Hottest Travel Destinations.

What better way to spend the winter than in the mountains and rainforests of Southeast Asia?

The winter months are the ideal time to visit this part of the world, as they mark the end of the wet season. Imagine finding your inner naturalist as you walk among the regional flora, keeping an ear out for the song of the elusive black-crested gibbon.

The home of peacocks, wild oxen and various primates, Xishuangbanna is also the only place in China that still has a wild Asian elephant population.

Xishuangbanna’s biodiversity is matched by an equally astounding cultural presence. Of more than a dozen different ethnic groups living here, the most prominent is the Dai population, which makes up nearly a third of the region’s one-million inhabitants.

Dai culture is markedly different from that of other Chinese populations. The language spoken here is more similar to that of the Thai, which draws heavily upon Theravada Buddhism and the indigenous practices that predate it. Both geographically and culturally, this is the one part of China that really belongs to Southeast Asia, and that feeling is impossible to miss.

If you are looking to get a taste of this unique cultural identity, your best bet is to take a trip into one of the many villages that dot this region. Here, you experience life as it has existed for centuries – something that is increasingly precious in a country that is rocketing into the 21st century. Visit the age old Buddhist pagodas, or step into a villager’s home for a cup of tea. This is, after all, the corner of the world where tea originated.

If you’d like more travel ideas or to join WildChina on a trip to China’s subtropical south, see our journey:

Pushing China’s Southern Boundary: Trekking in Xishuangbanna.

 

On the road in Xishuangbanna: Manfeilong Stupas. Photo Credit: Chris Horton

On the road in Xishuangbanna: Manfeilong Stupas.
Photo Credit: Chris Horton

 

 

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November 8th, 2013

Interview: Bill Bleisch, 2012 WildChina Explorer

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

 
Bill Bleisch has been involved in environmental efforts in China and its neighboring countries for nearly two decades. One perennial focus of his work has been the way in which habitat loss stemming from patterns of resource management, industrial development, and environmental degradation has contributed to the rapidly declining state of wild gibbon populations. Once abundant throughout Southeast Asia, this family of apes has become critically endangered. Unfortunately, while much international attention has been given to other endangered animals,  very limited resources have been mobilized in the effort to protect these primates from extinction.
 
In his efforts to spread awareness about the existence and peril of southern Yunnan’s black-crested gibbon, Bill Bleisch spent time exploring their remaining habitat in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan. In 2012, he received a WildChina Explorer Grant to continue this research in hopes of establishing a trekking route through the Ailaoshan mountain range.
 
Bill on the trail
Bleisch on the trail
 

How did you first become interested in China?

Like many American kids, I was first introduced to China through the food.  My mother taught my sister and me to use chopsticks whenever we went to a Chinese restaurant.  People in China ask me how I learned to use chopsticks and I explain that my mother taught me.  Then I have to explain that she is not Chinese.  Later, she took a Chinese cooking class and we used to go to the Oriental market and gawk at all the interesting delicacies.   I had a collection of miniature figures from China – a fisherman, a nine-eaved padoda, an arched bridge, two scholars playing weiqi.

Later, when I was about 12, my father and I made a deal that I could stay home from Sunday school at church as long as I spent Sunday morning reading religious texts.  I happily agreed.  I read the Dao de Qing, the Analects of Confucius, Mencius, the Book of Changes, the Book of Songs,…   I took a Chinese course one summer, but it was too difficult.

It was not until I finished graduate school that I had the chance to come to China.  I received a grant from the Chinese Adventure Capital Fund, a fund managed by the Durfee Foundation and set up in honour of R. Stanton Avery, the inventor of the stick-on label, who had previously travelled in China in 1929 as a young man.  His family wanted others to have the chance that he had had to see China first hand.  I came to China in 1987, to survey gibbons in the Ailaoshan and Wuliangshan Nature Reserves.

BillBleischScouting a route along the ridge of the Ailaoshan range

What was the goal of your expedition in Yunnan’s Ailaoshan region?

My personal goal for these recent trips sponsored by WildChina, has been to bring something back to the Ailaoshan and its gibbons, 26 years after my first visit.  I had the idea that a trekking trail through gibbon habitat could increase public interest and commitment to protecting the gibbons and reconnecting their forest habitat.  The idea of a long trail in China came to me while my son and I were hiking the Appalachian Trail, which is a long trail along the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains.  The AT, as it is known, was started by local hiking clubs, but is now a National Scenic Trail managed by the National Park Service.  I know that there would be interest in such a trail in China if could be opened. So the goal of the four trips this year was to map out a stretch of trekking trail and start building local support for the idea of a long trail on the Ailao Mountain ridge.

 

What role does exploration play in spreading awareness about social and environmental issues?

I think exploration, at its best, has always been the key to building awareness of the world beyond our own everyday lives.  European explorers brought back the news that China had an advanced civilization in the 13th  century.  Later, it was the  explorers that convinced people that the world was round, not flat.  In this century, opening people’s eyes to the environmental and social problems that exist in remote rural areas is one of the best things that exploration can do.  That’s why a real explorer must also be a good story teller – either through written word, photographs or film.

 

Bleisch team on the trailBill and his team blaze a trail through the forest
 

How would a new trekking trail contribute to the preservation of the black-crested gibbon’s habitat?

I have to tell you that this is controversial.  There are those who are dead-set against opening any habit of endangered species to tourism. There is certainly good evidence that noisy tourists inside nature reserves scare wildlife away from heavily used tourist trails.  That is why the Ailaoshan National Nature Reserve is still officially closed to tourism.  (We work with the Xing Ping Provincial Ailaoshan Nature Reserve for now.) There is another view, however.

Nature reserves need support, both from local people and from the general public. The reserves have a hard time winning that support unless people have first hand experience of benefits.  Trekking by well-informed hikers is a gentle form of tourism that can build that support.  Just look at the passion with which people fought for the completion of the Pacific Crest Trail and its protection in the USA.   Trekking can  also provide direct benefits to local people in remote areas, something they do not see from big hotels or scenic hot-spots.  Local people can sell food and supplies along the trail, or open a nongjiale-style hostel.  Also, in provincial nature reserves, which have little funding, trekkers can serve as the eyes and ears of the nature reserve, reporting illegal hunting or logging that they find inside the reserve.  Their very presence can be enough to scare off poachers.  And experience in the USA has shown trekkers will fight to have protection extended beyond the boundaries of the nature reserves, many of which are too small and isolated from other natural forest.

But it can do more than that.  The trekking movement also taps people’s desire to get bck to our roots, back to basics, back to the wildness.  On a trek, you learn very quickly how to get along without many of the luxuries that we take for granted.  If you don’t really need it, you don’t carry it.  Eventually you ease into a new standard of comfort and start to find joy in the simple beauties along the way.  Many even find a kind of spiritual fulfilment on a long trek.  Tibetan pilgrims do these long walks regularly, Europeans called it the “pilgrim way,” native Americans called it a spirit walk. Perhaps in this is part of the antidote to the pointless conveyer belt of consumerism that is driving unsustainable development, global climate change, and senseless destruction of wildlife habitat.

 

Group shot by cascadeThe group rests by a cascade
 

What other efforts are being made to help these primates recover from the brink of extinction?

Many people deserve a great deal of credit for turning things around for primate conservation in China over the last 25 years.  The State Forestry Administration and the Yunnan Provincial Forestry Bureau, and especially the staff on the ground – the nature reserve staff and also the poorly paid and poorly equipped forest guards (hulin yuan) – they are often the real heroes in primate conservation now.  Field researchers, mainly Chinese scientists, have contributed a great deal.  NGOs have also made a big contribution.  They all work together now.  For example, my friend Professor Jiang Xuelong and his students, with support from the China office of Fauna and Flora International, have worked with the nature reserves in Ailaoshan to carry out a complete census of the gibbons there and develop an action plan for gibbon conservation.

All of these efforts are adding up, but there is still more that needs to be done; to protect and restore the forest habitat, and to rebuild forest connections between isolated groups of gibbons, so they can find suitable mates and pair up to breed.  Some of that work must be done outside of nature reserves, and that means that local people and local government must be more involved.

 

western-black-crested-gibbon- Fauna and Flora
Western black crested gibbon (Photo Credit: Flora and Fauna International)
 

Have you been involved in any other conservation efforts outside of southwestern China?

WVB: I have had the great good fortune to work in over 25 nature reserves all over China, in Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou, Guangxi, Fujian, Hunan, Hubei, Hainan, Qinghai and Xinjiang.  I have also worked in Vietnam, Myanmar, Lao PDR, and Malaysia at one time or another.  I have been part of teams for conservation research on the Grey Golden Monkeys in Guizhou and the Tibetan Antelope in Xinjiang, but most of my work has been helping local nature reserve staff to develop their skills and to write their own management plans.  That includes helping them to focus on the conservation problems that need the most attention.

 

What’s next? Do you have any upcoming adventures planned?

There are so many exciting things that need to be done, and I hope I have time for them all.

Right now I am on my way to Luang Namtha in Lao PDR were we have started a project designed to answer the question I posed above – is trekking tourism good for wildlife conservation, or does it just scare the animals away?  I think it may help. Lao is a very poor country that cannot afford the kind of patrolling that China has, so tourist guides and trekkers may be the best defence the animals have there.  The trekking companies provide payments to the villages, which should be an incentive to keep the forest intact.  Most of the trekkers are from Europe or the USA. They are not usually so noisy and they do not ask if they can eat the animals that they see.

I will be back in Yunnan for the official launch of the Ailao Shan Trail in Xing Ping County on November 26 – December 1.  Of course I want to hike the complete Ailaoshan Trail as soon as I am given the chance.  And I want to see it extended, to Dali in the north, where it can connect with the Ancient Tea Horse Trail, and to the south along the spine of the same ridge, where there is more gibbon habitat, but where much forest needs to be restored.  Those are Hani and Lahu minority areas, so very interesting culturally.

I want to be a part of mapping out the trail, and to hike as much as I can.  Perhaps eventually the trail and the forest can stretch all the way from Dali to Feng Shui Lin Nature Reserve and the Vietnam border.  Then China would have a National Scenic Trail to rival the famous long trails in the USA; the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.  I may not live long enough to see the trail completed, but now I am sure it will happen.

 

Bleisch has been the Chinese program director for Flora and Fauna International, which works to protect some of the most endangered species in the world. He also spent time as the program director of The Bridge Fund, which works to improve the lives of Tibetan communities through their support of various educational, environmental, cultural, and economic initiatives. Now, as program director for the China Exploration and Research Society, he continues to promote the cultural and environmental protection China’s minority regions. 
 
Don’t forget to apply to the 2014 WildChina Explorer Grant for the chance to win $3000 of funding for your own Chinese adventure!
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November 5th, 2013

Breaking the Winter Cycle: Lhasa, Tibet

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

 
For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this time of year is one of mixed feelings. On one hand, the changing of the seasons is a welcome period of transition, in which we put on sweaters and watch the leaves change. On the other hand, we know that just behind the nutmeg-scented, flannel embrace of fall looms the unforgiving wrath of winter. Forced indoors by the deep freeze outside, we find ourselves confined to a state of seasonal hibernation. For those of us who like to explore, this can be a trying time indeed.
 
This year, why not break the cycle?
 
While people don’t often think of China as a winter destination, reduced crowds, local festivals, and mild weather (depending on your destination) make this season an ideal time to explore the “Middle Kingdom”. That is why we’ve put together a series highlighting some of the best places to visit during this time of year.  
 

Lhasa, Tibet

People don’t often associate Tibet’s capital with winter travel.  Some would argue that the “roof of the world” just doesn’t seem like a good place to be in January. It may come as a surprise, then, that winter is an ideal time to visit Lhasa. Though you’ll still need to bring a jacket, daytime temperatures rarely fall below freezing. If you don’t mind the cooler weather, you will not be disappointed. The light this time of year is nothing short of fantastic, with the low-hanging sun casting long shadows across the markets and monasteries. This luminescence, along with the snow-capped peaks that surround the city, make Lhasa a photographer’s playground in the winter.

 

Potala PalacePotala Palace, former winter residence of the Dalai Lama

In addition to this unique seasonal beauty, another reason to visit Lhasa during this time of year is the significant decrease in tourism that takes place during the winter. This means less crowds, cheaper accommodations, and easier access to train tickets. This also means that you will be able to experience Tibetan culture more freely. As winter puts a break on much of the farming activity in the region, Tibetans use this time to make pilgrimage to Lhasa. This influx of pilgrims will begin arriving in December, and will often stay through the Tibetan New Year, which takes place around late January.

The tens of thousands of Tibetans who descend on this city during this time, along with the reduction in tourism, make winter the one time of the year where locals actually outnumber the tourists from China and abroad. The difference that this makes cannot be overstated. Instead of being surrounded by other foreigners, you can spend your time in Lhasa immersed in the rich cultural and spiritual life that has long made Tibet a focus of the global imagination. If you don’t mind a little chilly weather, winter is the perfect time to gain a truly authentic experience of Tibetan culture.

 

jokhang courtyardJokhang Courtyard, Lhasa
 
If you would like to make your own winter pilgrimage to Tibet’s capital, find more information here.

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September 18th, 2013

The WildChina Explorer Grant is Back!

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

When you were a kid, did you ever try to dig your way to China? Have you always dreamed of exploring the Middle Kingdom? Now is your chance to bring these dreams to life. For the fourth year running, WildChina is holding a competition that allows you to design your own Chinese adventure. The proposal that is most imaginative in pushing the boundaries of Chinese exploration will be awarded up to $3000. Anyone and everyone is invited to apply!

Yaqingmonastary

Photo Credit: Zhang Shanghua, 2012 WildChina Explorer Grant Winner

Here comes the nitty gritty

2014 WildChina Explorer Grant Application

Purpose:

Established in 2011, the WildChina Explorer Grant gives adventurers the chance to turn their outdoor visions into real advancements in China exploration. WildChina’s own story is one of exploration, self-discovery and challenge. High up on the slopes of Tibet’s Mount Kailash, WildChina founder Mei Zhang, braved the high altitudes and harsh landscapes to experience the beauty of snowcapped mountains alight with the sunrise. The breathtaking view brought Mei a sense of fulfillment—though she stood alone and exhausted from her journey. Disappointed by how little support was available for travelers looking to get off the beaten path in China, Mei was inspired to start her own travel company dedicated to offering stress-free and responsible travel to adventurous destinations. The creation of the WildChina Explorer Grant is one more way that WildChina supports other explorers in their quest for authentic and life-changing travel experiences, while continuing to protect local cultures and environments.

Eligibility and Logistics:

All applications must be submitted by 5:00PM Eastern Standard Time on Monday, December 2nd, 2013 to be eligible for the WildChina Explorer Grant of up to $3,000. After reviewing these applications, WildChina will interview finalists before their applications are presented to the judges. The final selection will be announced in January. An additional sum may be awarded to runners up, depending on their ability to excite or inspire the selection committee. The expedition is to take place by the end of August 2014. In the case of multiple individuals applying for the same expedition, one application may be submitted but it must contain personal statements from each applicant.

Selection:

The final selection shall be made by a committee of experts in Chinese culture and exploration. They will assess each application based on its originality and relevance to the WildChina vision. In particular, we will be looking for:

  • Expeditions seeking to rediscover a long lost route, highlight a culturally significant issue, promote aid in a remote community, or otherwise deal with discovery or rediscovery.
  • A genuine excitement for exploration
  • A demonstrated interest in China
  • A risk management plan
  • A commitment to sustainable travel and the incorporation of Leave No Trace (LNT) principles
  • An explanation of how participation in proposed expedition will facilitate future contributions to the growth of WildChina’s expeditions
  • Expedition proposals that get people excited about adventure! WildChina has always been committed to supporting expeditions that our travelers are excited about. In light of this, the amount of support that each applicant’s video receives on our blog, our Facebook page, and our Twitter, Weibo, Pinterest, Youku, and Youtube accounts will be taken into consideration, so do not forget to tell your friends to support your video

 

Only applications submitted in entirety by the December 2nd deadline will be considered. Applications should be submitted to explorergrant@wildchina.com for review and potential approval. Video submission will be either by Youku or Youtube. If a video is submitted in Chinese, it must be uploaded onto Youku and then the URL must be included with the rest of the application. For all other languages, the video must be uploaded onto Youtube and then the URL must be included with the rest of the applicant’s application. Failure to include both this introductory video and a corresponding link will result in an ineligible entry.

Application:

Each WildChina Explorer Grant applicant must submit a standard application including all of the following:

 

  • Purpose and goals of expedition (less than 1 page, 12 point font)
  • Specific budget requirements with an itemized breakdown of projected cost
  • An itinerary for the expedition
  • A risk management plan including expected risks
  • A brief statement regarding the experience level of the participants
  • A brief statement about how the applicant will share this experience, in a substantial and meaningful manner, with WildChina
  • A 90 second video that introduces your proposal. The theme this year is “Adventure: Define adventure and how your proposal seeks to create an adventure.” If the video is in Chinese it must be loaded onto Youku by the applicant. For all other languages the video must be loaded onto Youtube by the applicant. In either case, the URL for the video must be included with the rest of the application

 

Terms:

  • Grant recipients will receive 70% of the approved budget in advance. The final 30% will be given upon submission of an expedition report. Recipients of the WildChina Explorer Grant will also be expected to give an oral presentation to the wider WildChina network as part of the WildChina speaker series’ Where the Wild Things Are. This event will be held in Beijing in honor of the expedition.
  • Grant recipients should additionally be prepared to make an oral presentation of their report to the Beijing WildChina office staff.
  • WildChina has the right to replicate and use all trip ideas and aspects to generate trip product material.

 

 

Are you the next WildChina Explorer?

BillBleisch

Photo Credit: Bill Bleisch, one of our 2012 winners

To download the full application and find out more about past winners, visit the WildChina Explorer Grant homepage.

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July 19th, 2013

Get Lost in Gansu

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

It’s not hard to lose yourself in the mesmerizing beauty of the Gansu wilderness… the immense mountains and sweeping meadows of China’s northwest promise a majestic realm far from the hustle and bustle of coastal cities, and offer a tantalizing glimpse into what life is like on the “roof of the world.”

Stay the night at the Norden Camp under the infinite sky, surrounded by a rugged landscape painted in hues of powder blue and lush green. Wander through the Labrang Monastery, passing red-robed monks, marveling at the intricate architectural detailing throughout the vibrant complex. Visit a Norlha workshop and learn how yak wool – khullu – is transformed into luxurious woven textiles as a part of a sustainable social enterprise; venture out to see the striking Milarepa Temple in Hezuo City.

Our WildChina travel consultants especially love trekking to the Sangke Grasslands, vast and breathtaking plains that are roamed by Tibetan nomads. Take a peek into their modest tents and try a bite of what’s stewing in their pots – these intimate interactions are precious experiences that will linger long after you leave the highlands behind.

Under Gansu’s simmering summer sun, there are endless sights to be seen and countless adventures to be had. What are you waiting for?

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Looking for a last minute summer getaway? Contact WildChina about traveling to Gansu! Email us at info@wildchina.com.

All photos by WildChina’s Gloria Guo.

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May 2nd, 2013

Venturing off the beaten path in Tibet

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

Tibet is located in the heart of the Himalayas, and is one of the world’s most hidden and valuable treasures.

Traveling to Tibet can take you back in time to the Guge Kingdom’s ancient civilization, give you the chance to hike up the remote, arduous, and scenic black peaks of sacred Mt. Kailash and amble along the towering, fortress-like crisp white walls of the Potala Palace.

Northern Yunnan is also home to many Tibetans–some of whom have made the spectacular panoramas of Abujee their home.

Khunu, a yak wool clothing company that sources its material from Tibet, was founded on the combination of an audacious spirit, the appreciation for far off cultures, and the desire to develop functional and fashionable products of the highest quality while facilitating direct and equitable market access for isolated Tibetan villages.

The word “Khunu” represents the name given to the first true Mongolian dynasty a thousand years prior to the rise of the legendary Ghengis Khan in the 13th century. Vast, majestic scenery populated by a hardy people who respect and live in harmony with their environment embodies what this brand is about.

For us at WildChina, Tibet is a must-see for any adventurous spirit.

Here are few ways to venture off the beaten path and delve into the spirit of Tibet:

1) Guge Kingdom

Guge Kingdom

Photo credit: China Daily

For the history-loving explorer with the desire to go above and beyond the typical itinerary, WildChina recommends an expedition to the remarkable Lost Kingdom of Tibet. This is an opportunity to see unforgettable sights that are as far away from coastal eastern China as you can get.

Immerse yourself in the far western area’s mysticism and beauty to unearth the hidden sites and artifacts of Tibet’s ancient civilization.

Walk in the shade of the pyramid-shaped Tholing Monastery and breathe in the crisp fresh air in front of an uninterrupted view of the Himalayan border stretching between India, Tibet, and Nepal. Head past Lake Mansarovar to the Ruins of the Guge Kingdom for a historic site steeped in mystery.

2) Abujee

Meaning “delight” and “wonder”, the name Abujee perfectly embodies the beautifully serene, uncluttered landscape of this mountainous Tibetan region of northwestern Yunnan.

Known to few, the picturesque scenery of Abujee offers snow-capped mountains, lush forests, and deep, clear lakes. An area sacred to the nomadic Yi and Naxi ethnic minorities in the area, travelers to this remote region are treated to a private experience away from the prying eyes and jostling crowds of coastal China.

Make your way past sacred temples, mountainous terrain, nomadic settlements, and above the tree line towards breathtaking views.

3) Mt. Kailash -

Situated in a far western corner of one of the most remote plateaus in Asia, Mt. Kailash (at a height of at 6,638 meters/21,778 feet) is a striking peak in the Himalayan mountains of western Tibet.

It has long been a sacred pilgrimage destination for no fewer than four major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bön.

The peak has a recognizable deep black tint and symmetrical diamond-like shape. With a surrounding landscape that is rugged and dry, Mt. Kailash overlaps the crystalline streams of several lakes, including the vast Lake Manasarovar.

Stop by isolated monasteries and take the time to savor the endless horizon and staggering snow-capped peaks. Camp out each night under the stars in the company of annual pious pilgrims who walk around the mountain for good fortune.

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Is your interest piqued? Send us an email at info@wildchina.com for more information on traveling to Tibet!

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