China is made up of 55 minority groups covering 9% of the population whom over the last few generations have been marginalised into mountain and border regions. Accompanied by Dr Charles Ramble explore these remote lands, fast disappearing under the wheels of China’s economic juggernaut.
The journey begins in a small backwater in the heart of Laos, at a confluence of the mighty Mekong River where the royal town of Luang Prabang remains one of Asia’s last unspoilt havens. Luang Prabang is described by UNESCO as the best preserved town in Southeast Asia. This magical place, the former royal capital was once part of the kingdom known as Lane Xang, Land of a Million Elephants, it is the cultural and spiritual heart of Laos. With its gentle pace and population of monks, Luang Prabang is a treasure trove of 33 glittering Buddhist temples dating from the 16th century, exquisitely gilded and frescoed, with multi-tiered roofs sweeping to the ground.
Take the beautiful northern road, through endless rice paddies and lush jungle to the misty mountains of the Hmong hill tribes whose settlements are perched precariously on high cliff faces. Here the party will enter China through a small ‘back door’ border crossing with the Himalayan foothills beyond. Yunnan Province (literally translated as ‘South of the Clouds’), is home to some of China’s most diverse variations in flora, fauna and ethnicity. The sleepy town of Jinghong resides on the banks of the Mekong and serves as a useful base from which to explore outlying Dai minority villages, ancient temples and botanical gardens. From Jinghong take a short flight direct to Dali which lies at the base of the Cangshan Mountains and is the historic home of the Bai minority. Enjoy a cruise on Erhai lake and visit the Three Pagodas of Sacred Worship. From here enjoy a wonderful drive through rolling emerald rice paddies to the village of Shaxi, which lies at the foot of Shibaoshan (Stone Treasure Mountain), an area which receives few visitors. Continue north to the beautiful town of Lijiang on the edge of the Tibetan plateau where the dominant Nakhi tribe have developed a distinctive cultural tradition centred on life in the isolated but spectacularly beautiful Lijiang Valley.
Fly to the medieval capital city of Lhasa where the sumptuous Potala Palace dominates the town and where every facet of Tibetan ritual is practised. From Lhasa begin an awe inspiring journey crossing the spectacular mountains of the Himalayas dotted with beautiful palaces and ancient monasteries to Gyantse and en route cross two giddying Himalayan Passes. Enjoy a picnic lunch on the shores of the beautiful deep blue green Yamdrok Lake. Gyantse is a town of walls within walls. Walk through the Pelkor Chode and the Kumbum, whose protective eyes look beneficently down on the pilgrims and townspeople. At Shigatse explore the huge Tashilhunpo Monastery, seat of the Panchen Lama, and once home to over 4000 monks. Here, tiers of white-washed buildings lift the eye to the red halls with their gold-sheathed roofs. Return to Lhasa before taking one of the world’s most dramatic train journeys from the Tibetan plateau across the vast country of China to Beijing on the Qinghai – Tibet railway; a quite miraculous feat of engineering and one of the world’s great train journeys.
Maximum Party Size: 20