Orientation & Travel
With another Hanover resident who holds a deep commitment to Tashi's home region, he has started Crossroads Center, a non-profit that is committed to fostering cultural and educational exchanges between his Gyalthang region and US institutions of higher learning. Our Rassias group started the process in the summer of 2007.
An important component of a complex program such as this is special leadership. Tashi and his relatives, who seem to be in every town and who often hold top official positions, are always there to help us. But also, one of our staff is always a local person, familiar with the customs and language of the region. Our master teacher for the last three summers has been Gordon Spaeth. Gordon is a Dartmouth Graduate where he majored in Chinese and spent several semesters there. Since his graduation some years ago, he's been back to China many times, both for study and work. He's a member of our local school board where he is an ardent voice for second language teaching and the father of two.
Yunnan, which means South of the Clouds in Chinese, is one of China’s least visited and most intriguing provinces. Located east of the Himalayas, north of Indochina and South of the clouds – is at the crossroads of Asia. Yunnan is a botanical as well as an ethnological marvel; a pristine enclave of rich diversity waiting to be discovered. We will follow the footsteps of Joseph Rock, a botanist, plant collector, naturalist, and explorer, who beginning in 1924 explored northwest China in the Tibetan region, observing local customs and collecting plant material for Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. He later revealed the landscape of the Deqin (Dechen) region to an international audience through a series of articles in National Geographic.
Our travel itinerary begins in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, then moves on to Dali, the seat of the great Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms that eluded imperial control until the arrival of Kublai Khan’s armies in the 13th century. Continuing north, passing through Shaxi, a well-preserved town at the ancient trade caravan route linking south China to Tibet and India.
Leaving Dali, we will head to Lijiang, the ancient Naxi kingdom where the majority of the local populace, established a matriarchal society, speak a distinct Tibeto-Burman language and boast a unique pictorial -script and an ancient musical tradition.
Days 2-3: Arrival in Kunming
Arriving by air from Beijing to Kunming., we will be met by our Crossroads Adventure representatives and be brought to a charming Chahua (or Camellia) hotel, located in the heart of the city. The capital city of Yunnan province, Kunming (6,490ft) is a low-key city with year-round mild temperatures, and served as the country’s educational and cultural center during World War Two. Tonight we will enjoy a welcome dinner, followed by a program orientation briefing by Rassias and Crossroads Adventure Travel staff.
On our next day in Kunming, we begin our exploration of the region with a drive to the foot of Western Hill from where we hike up to the Dragon Gate from where you can have a great view of Dian Chi Lake that was a source of inspiration for Yunnan poets. Then we visit the Bamboo Temple, at the gaze of the Western Hill, famous for its stunning five hundred life-size clay Buddhist figures. After lunch back in town, we will take a walking Program in the city, around the Green Lake, a charming area surrounded by teahouses and cafes as well as small shops selling souvenirs and paintings. Considered as the liveliest venue in town, the Green Lake is a place where people of all ages come and practice Tai Chi, Chikung, Peking opera, western dance, or simply enjoy its laid-back atmosphere.
Day 4 and 5: Kunming to Dali
In the morning, we leave Kunming and head north to Dali (6,425 ft). Dali is situated on a fertile green sparkling plain, watered by 18 streams cascading down from the symmetrical 19 peaks of the Canshan Mountain Range on the shore of the ear-shaped Erhai Lake. But for its massive walls, it is hard to believe this charming, laid back city was the seat of the great Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms that eluded Chinese imperial control until the arrival of Kublai Khan’s armies in the 13th century.
This afternoon we will visit Xizhou, an ancient village famous for its delicate Bai Minority architecture and the batik heritage. In the evening, you will have a chance to explore Dali’s cafes & teahouses in the ancient town.
Day 6 and 7: Lijiang
This morning we take a boat cruise on Erhai lake, enjoying the wonderful scenery with its stunning mountain backdrop and beautiful islands. Then we leave Dali and drive north to Lijiang via the road to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, tucked between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain. This 18-kilometer gorge appears to be so narrow that, according to the legend, a tiger successfully escaped capture by jumping cross. Then we will continue south on the Yunnan Tibet Highway (which links northwestern Yunnan to Lhasa, Tibet) and reach Shigu (Stone Drum Village) to view the first great bend of the Yangtze River (the Yangtze flows south from Tibet into Yunnan and then turns north again for approximately 60 miles at Shigu). The history of the Chinese civilization would have turned out very differently without this northward bend of the Yangtze River.
By early afternoon, we arrive in Lijiang (7870ft), where will take a walk in the old Town, a World Heritage Site protected by UNESCO. It retains a great deal of Yuan, Ming and Qing period architecture. Lijiang is a township of pebbled paths, potted rhododendrons and whimsical architecture. Situated at the foot of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang is divided into two very distinctive sections: the Han administration and rustic charm of the Naxi part of the city that is often referred to as the "old city".
Day 8 to 27: Shangri-La (Gyalthang) - home stay, work in the orphanage, Rassias Mandarin Classes, excursions
This morning, we leave Gyalthang and drive north along the Upper Yangtze - through rhododendron and pine forests and past the Napha Reserve. We will stop and visit the charming village of the Gonjo on the banks of the Gonjo River. The town is renowned for wooden handicraft and the art of lacquering.
Right across the river is Sichuan province. Here you can see very modest bridge on the Gonjo River where Mao Tse-tong led his soldiers on the Long March. Further on along our journey, we arrive at Punzera, bordering on Sechuan (6, 890 ft ). You wander through a warm oasis valley on the Yangtze where oranges, pomegranates and olives grow. Punzera is also an important town on the ancient Tea and Mule caravan route. This is a great place to stop for lunch.
We then continue climbing along the Yangtze Basin, with a stop at the monastery of Dhondupling.. Climbing further, we finally reach Baima Pass, with excellent views of the jagged peaks of Baima Snow Mountain at about 14,100 ft and enter the Baima Nature Reserve. From the other side of the pass, you descend into the town of Dechen or Deqin as it is also known.
We get up early today and drive to the Namkha Tashi Monastery. If weather permits, we will have a great view of the first sunlight shining on sacred Mt. Kawakarpo with the height of 6,740 meters, circum-ambulated by pilgrims old and young from faraway. One of the most important pilgrimage sites in all of Tibet, Mt. Kawakarpo represents the Mind emanations of the Buddha, while Kailash in Western Tibet represents the Body, and Ne Tsari in central Tibet, the Speech.
Then we continue driving down to the Mekong valley and reach Mingyong village, and from the village hike 5 km to a small inn, where you will see the glacier of Mt. Kawakarpo closely.
In Gyalthang, we meet our host families and get to know this ancient city.
Many afternoons are spent working with the students of the local orphanage, but other activities might include hearing presentations from local people involved with the region such as The Mountain Institute, The Nature Conservancy, local government environmental officials, a private developer concerned with the ecological impact of the outside world on Shangri-La, as well as visits to local sites. Here are a few places we go.
We visit the Sumsanling Monastery with our Tibetan friends from the Tibetan Middle School, the largest Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Yunnan province, dating back to the 15th century. It once housed over 4,000 monks, and since the Cultural Revolution it has been rebuilt and is flourishing with some 700 monks in residence. After the Program of the monastery, we can meet with the living Buddha and get his blessings and prayer offerings for those who so wish. After a lunch break in town, we will visit the Traditional Tibetan Hospital and the Pharmacy. Don’t be surprised to meet American physicians or orthopedic surgeons who may be there to observe and study the method of the Tibetan doctor there who has been recognized as an expert on broken bone treatment. Dr. He is particularly adept at blending the traditional methods with that of modern western technology.
As the days of the Rassias program are numbered, we make extra efforts to improve our performance in the language class and drills to achieve marked progress with our spoken Chinese and our communication skills even with the village’s older people who struggle with mandarin Chinese as we do. In the afternoon, we teach English to the orphans or help them with math as well as prepare a final presentation. But, we also enter into a discussiosn stimulated by our special guest speakers on Eco-Programism – what does it mean in theory and how it is practiced by an authority and practitioner in informal setting, business development, and city issues.
Examples from prior summers wold include a slide presentation by a well-known botanist-photographer about Shangri-la's region rich biodiversity and a talk by He Chang, formerly the Director of Forestry of Deqin Prefecture and currently the Head of Nature Conservancy in Gyalthang and a discussion of local entrepreneurship by a local person who has experienced some success in this field.
As your last days in Gyalthang loom ahead, you might wish to divide up in smaller groups to do whatever you wish to do in Gyalthang before you leave. Any special place in town to visit again, people to say good bye to, a little restaurant you like to visit again or getting a few gifts you have been eyeing for your loved ones at home. Of course, you have to finish your language class and drill sessions too and finish your writing assignment and update your diary, and put final touches on our culminating presentation. Perhaps, some photography too. We will conclude the day with a Special fare well dinner in the old town.
A day and a half in Beijing completes our days in China. The Forbidden city, walks among the ancient hutongs, Tian'anmen Square and more take up these very full hours!