Leaps and Bounds

The unparalleled beauty of one of world’s deepest gorges

By: By Christopher Batin


China Odyssey Tours
While most of its tours are custom designed, China Odyssey Tours’ suggested itinerary for a four-day Lijiang tour includes visits to Lijiang Ancient Town, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the Museum of Naxi Dongba Culture, Tiger Leaping Gorge and more.

Founded in 1987, China Odyssey Tours is a branch of Tang Dynasty Tours Co. Ltd, a travel organization licensed by the Chinese Government. The tour operator is also a member of the American Society of Travel Agents and the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

Commission: Varies, depending on group size

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Of the many tours to enjoy in and around Lijiang, China, few are as spectacular as the Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the great natural wonders of the Yunnan region in Southwestern China. Clients will find it between the massive Yulong and Haba mountain ranges, which are about a two-hour bus ride from Lijiang.

Tiger Leaping Gorge helped the Old Lijian area become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. // (c) Christopher Batin
Tiger Leaping Gorge helped the Old Lijian area become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The mountains surrounding Tiger Leaping Gorge resemble no other on earth and sport an impressive Tibetan or Himalayan signature — skyrocketing peaks. On a recent FIT tour, I had to ask the driver to stop the vehicle several times along the access road, so I could take photos of the gorgeous mountain scenery. From mountaintop to river bottom, it is one of the deepest gorges in the world at more than 12,795 feet, and sunlight seldom reaches the river bottom within the canyon.

The mountain and river have the makings of a fatal attraction. Rafters who tried to navigate the gorge in 1986 were never seen again, although others have since navigated it successfully.

Visitors should expect a lengthy descent from the parking lot to the first of several concrete platforms above the water’s edge. Depending on crowds, clients should plan on at least a 15-minute descent to view, and a 20-minute climb on return, although locals will carry the out-of-shape clients in a portable chair for a price that can always be negotiated. Once there, the roar of the whitewater is thunderous and nearly deafening. Expect to take turns with others for the best photo locations on the platform.
Look for a life-size stone tiger and a flat rock where, many years ago, a tiger supposedly jumped about 30 yards across the narrowest part of the gorge to escape a hunter.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is an attraction that helped qualify the Old Lijiang area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gorge area officially opened to foreign tourism in the early 1990s. The local government is opening up additional trails to backpackers and tourists, but be sure to offer your clients a choice of tours here: Most will be happy to view the gorge from the tourism platforms, but unparalleled views can be obtained on trails that continue high into the mountains, above the gorge. This hike is considered one of the top 10 hiking trails in China and can be arranged either in advance or on site. While this can be a do-it-yourself hike, I recommend a local guide for the overland treks, with an overnight stay in the village of Walnut Grove. If your clients are in shape, this is a must-take tour.

While the best tour-package hotels are located in Lijiang, those who want to experience spring’s wildflowers and snowmelt whitewater might want to consider an overnight stay at one of the hotels at the entrance to the gorge. The area is a melting pot of cultures from around the world that congregate in the newly opened restaurants and cafes along the access road.

My guide said Tiger Leaping Gorge is almost as famous as China’s Three Gorges and, like that area, it is the subject of hydroelectric dam controversy. At this time, the Chinese government is uncertain whether or not it will build a dam in the area. If they do, this magnificent site would be lost forever, so make a point to recommend this stopover to your clients on their next tour of Yunnan Province.

The gorge is an established destination, which is included in China Odyssey Tours’ four-day Lijiang package for about $460. Tiger Leaping Gorge is serviced daily by tourism buses and FIT via most China wholesalers and tour agencies.