The Gaoligong Mountains are an untouched Eden of richly preserved nature. The mountains are one of the world’s most important regions for biodiversity outside of the tropics and contain half China’s wildlife.
Spanning five hundred kilometers along the Yunnan-Myanmar border, the Gaoligong Mountains rest near the tropical edge of the Himalayas. This creature-studded mountain range is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world.
In this geologically rich area, there are volcanoes, hot springs, and some of the largest remaining untouched tracts of evergreen, deciduous, and bamboo forests.
A few years ago WildChina’s founder Mei Zhang trekked through the Gaoligong Mountains to scope out the next big thing in Chinese tourism. Here’s our guide to the Gaoligong Mountains where you can have a special view of these natural wonders of Yunnan:
In the Air
Ornithologists flock to Yunnan Province. It’s a heaven for bird watchers. Researchers have documented at least 486 bird species in the area. The north-south orientation of the mountains and rivers provide natural corridors for seasonal migration.
Bird watchers will enjoy the southern reaches most where you can find the greatest avian diversity. The dramatic alpine peaks of the north still shelter select species that you can’t find on the south side. For those with a camera, there are feeding and watering stations set up in the forests with small, natural hiding places offering the precious chance to capture a shot of the otherwise elusive Gould’s short-wing, chestnut-headed tesia, or golden throated barbet.
In the trees
The Gaoligong Mountains are also the home for 154 mammal, 21 amphibian, 46 reptile species, and – if you’ve got your magnifying glass – 1,700 insects. Although these may take some strenuous hiking to find, a natural glimpse of a family of takins clambering along river bluffs, a hoolock gibbon launching through the trees near 60 km/hr, or red pandas playing in their own undisturbed habitat will be worth every bead of sweat and sore muscle to behold these exotic creatures.
The bufo sutarti toad has an interesting origin story. According to ancient Chinese legend there was an extravagant palace on the moon that housed a golden toad with three golden legs. For this reason, the moon palace was also sometimes called “toad palace.” Some locals and travelers see the bufo stutari as evidence and inspiration for this myth because the male toads become a brilliant shade of gold to attract females during the mating season.
On the ground
It’s the incredible range of biomes and plant life which make the animal species in Gaoligong so abundant. Tropical monsoon forests give way to deciduous broad-leaf and sub-alpine forests which eventually break into alpine meadow. These vertically distributed climatic zones hold 4,897 plant species, fifty-five of which are rare or endangered.
This means you can go from the jungle to alpine-like pasture reminiscent of the Alps in one day (if you’re up for the challenge). One hike to Nan Zhaigongfang Pass takes you up three thousand meters above sea-level and will take 8-10 hours. Along the way, you’ll have the privilege of watching the flora and fauna change with every step.
Gaoligong is also home to a wide variety of edible flora. Mushrooms are a staple often found featured in local Yunnan food. With a high average rainfall, it’s easy to see why they do so well here.To avoid the wet weather, come in the cooler and drier season from November to April.
On the human side
- The Gaoligong Mountains are home to geothermal wells. The old Silk Road station of Tengchong lies near the border of the park. It is best known for its local jade sales as well as geothermal hot springs which are said to have curing effects on skin disease and rheumatism.
- If you’re a coffee fanatic, Lujiangba defies Chinese traditional tea culture and instead produces some of the best coffee in China. Its unique place along the banks of the Nu River, sheltered from wind and cold by the Gaoligong ridge, makes it the perfect haven for producing over 70% of all Yunnan coffee.
- World War II graves and memorials are also in the area. They commemorate the 8,000 lives of Nationalist Chinese air fighters who died fighting against the Japanese. Also in the area is a memorial to the Fourteenth U.S. Air Force who whew flew over this mountainous area to support the Chinese troops. These American volunteer fighters are known better by their more local name, the “Flying Tigers.”
The Gaoligong Mountains are a sight to be seen and are worth the trip if you’re voyaging down to Yunnan. Especially if you’re a nature lover, you’ll be able to witness some exotic and unique flora and fauna unlike anywhere else in the world.
WildChina helps travelers discover the unexpected and wild side of China. If you’re interested in discovering the beautiful, verdant region surrounding the Gaoligong Mountains, consider our tour Yunnan: South of the Clouds.