Tag Archives: Xidang

Road constructions

I came to this area first time 2009 and the road from Shangri-la to Deqin was under construction then. Half a year after it was finished the construction started again and is now almost done (besides the tunnel Through Baima Mountain which is supposedly going to be finished next year). Also the road through the village here is paved now and now they are doing the rest of it from the village to the bridge crossing the Mekong.

So some days ago i fried my computer cable but unfortunately the road construction had decided to blow up the road the next day so no bus was leaving the village. You could get to town by hiring a car to the construction site, hiking over it and getting another one from the other side. But that was a bit too much trouble so I decided to wait for a few days. Yesterday the bus was running again so I went to Deqin and luckily found a cable there saving me a trip to Shangri-la (again). Deiqin is a two street town with really nothing to do so I sat at the bus station reading my book. There’s a lot of construction happening in Deqin as well as the number of tourists is expected to explode especially next year which is the birth year of Kawa Gepo, the highest peak of Meili Mountains and holy to the Tibetans.



At one o’clock I got a call from my Tibetan brother that he was driving his friend’s car to the village and i could have a ride with him saving me from 2 hours of waiting (or so I thought). We got maybe half way to the bridge when the traffic was stopped first time because of constructions but it was only half an hour waiting. Then just before the bridge the traffic was stopped again. Road to Mingyong was open but you couldn’t go to Xidang before 5 which meant 2 hours of waiting.

Road to Xidang

Road to Xidang

Most cars turned back to Deqin at this point. My brother waited for an hour before he realized that the car he was driving wouldn’t make it over the construction site anyways. So he arranged me a drive in the only other car still waiting to get through. And this turned out to be the sunniest day of the week with no shade on this side of the river. And then half an hour before we could get through huge part of the slope fell down to the road!

Road construction

Ah, this meant more waiting and waiting while they cleared the road. And the slope wasn’t very stable so there were several smaller slides every time the wind picked up. Finally after 6 they started letting cars through from the other side. Some tourists decided to leave the car and ran through the slide. And then it was our turn. And here we go…

Here we go

And made it through without any problems! 🙂


Back in Xidang

As Xidang is located in the Meili Snow Mountains nature reserve you need to buy a ticket to get into the area. In principle the tickets are for Mingyong glacier and Yubeng village but everyone entering the area has to buy a ticket. Last year when i left they had just introduced a combined ticket. It included all the sights (Moon Light bend -viewing platform, Feilaisi viewing platform, Mingyong glacier and Yubeng village) and it cost 230 yuan. This rule, of course, applies only to tourists. Tibetan pilgrims can enter for free. The other passengers in the car from Shangri-la had all decided not to go to Yubeng as it would take too much time and was too expensive. As it turned out, the ticket pricing had changed just that day and now you could also buy separate tickets for each site. After short negotiations i was allowed to enter also without paying the ticket as I promised I wouldn’t be going to Yubeng and one of the girls at the gate had heard of me living in the village before.

Xidang village

Xidang village

When I arrived to the house grandma was at the yard spreading barley grains to dry. When she saw me she started crying. I was also very happy to see her as she’s already 85 years old so it is always uncertain if there will be a next time. And so it was with grandad. He had died July 5th the previous year. One year after the death the family organizes big ceremony as the soul returns to see the loved one more time before leaving permanently. And that day is today but more about that later…



And mom, who is always busy with the farm work, hurried home from the fields. Tibetans are not big on hugging but we were all smiles.

Temple by the Mekong

Temple by the Mekong


The most popular tourist attraction in Meili Snow Mountains is Mingyong Glacier ’cause the trip can be done in a day. Most tourists stay a night in Feilaisi, hire a car in the morning, drive to the glacier and visit the temples there, and return to Feilaisi for the night. Feilaisi has magnificent views of the whole mountain range (weather permitting) but the village itself has turned into a cluster of hotels. Except for taking photos there’s nothing else to do. In the morning the tourists flock at the viewing platform taking photos of the first rays of rising sun hitting the peak of Miancimu. This viewing platform and a huge wall were built last year blocking the view from the hotels. From Xidang it’s also possible to hike to Mingyong.

Mingyong village and the glacier

A bit more adventurous tourists head to Yubeng. Xidang is where the road ends, so to get to Yubeng you have to either hike or ride a mule. The trek starts from Xidang Hot Springs. (Don’t be fooled by the name. There’re springs but no pools, just showers. The water comes from the spring, though.) The distance to Yubeng is 18 km but the hike to the pass takes 4-6 hours and it’s a steep ascend. From the pass to the village it takes about 1-2 hours. Yubeng consists of upper and lower village, and it takes around an hour to walk from upper to lower. In Yubeng you are in a valley in between three of the snow mountains. You can stay in the guesthouses in the village and do day treks from there.

On the way to Yubeng

Yubeng Upper village

Yubeng Lower Village

The day treks include Glacier Lake (Bing Hu, 8-10 hours there and back).

On the way to Glacier Lake

Glacier Lake

Holy Waterfalls. These are holy for the Tibetans so it’s a pilgrimage site. The locals are supposed to do this at least once a year. The pilgrims want to circumambulate the falling water three times. The water comes from a glacier so it’s freezing. Afterwards you’re not allowed to wash yourself for a week, at least not your hair. Because of the holiness of the waterfalls the road there is lined with mani rock piles. Every rock in the pole is a prayer. One year we visited the falls in late autumn. We were very disappointed to see that there were hardly any water in the falls, just some dripping along the mountain side. But the younger brother of my Tibetan family started to chant to the falls, and the water came. We were able to do the three rounds, and when he stopped chanting the water also stopped flowing. This trek takes around 5 hours.

Holy Waterfalls

You can also hike to Holy Lake which is located in 4 370 m.

From Yubeng you can return to Xidang either the same way you went in or hike around the mountains through Ninong. This route is 38 km but it’s mostly down hill from Yubeng to Xidang. The change from the old growth forests of Yubeng area to the moon landscape of Mekong river valley is huge. But this route is also a bit dangerous as sometimes you need to cross water flowing over the path balancing on slippery stones and sometimes the path is very narrow and the fall down is hundreds of meters. If it’s windy or raining you also have to pay attention to falling rocks. Three tourists have died on this trek.

Along the Yubeng river (Photo by Katja Järvinen)

About half way on this trek there’s an empty house. The Tibetans believe the house is haunted. In the picture that my cousin took of it there’s a ball of light in the pitch black doorway into the house. Also bears sometimes come in there at night. I stayed in this house for two nights with a friend of mine. I have to admit that I didn’t sleep very well and a mouse looking for food outside of our tent almost scared me to death.

On the way to Ninong

On the way to Ninong (Photo by Katja Järvinen)

Ninong (Photo by Katja Järvinen)

The most demanding hike around here is the kora around the mountain range. The whole pilgrimage takes 6-12 (or more) days depending whether you use cars when possible or walk the whole way. The route goes over 4 high passé into Tibet and the back to Mekong river valley. In principle, you need the Tibet permit for this about there’re ways to get around that. You can also walk part of the kora and turn down to Nujiang valley.

My family

My Tibetan family consists of mother, father, grandma and grandpa and two brothers. Our family also includes two cats, one dog, two mules, six pigs, two cows, four yaks and a rooster and a few chickens. Our old dog just died recently and we kill two pigs every year, but some new ones are born as well. And the next baby yak is going to be mine! The cows and last years baby yak are moms, and dad and the brothers each has a yak bull. It’s time for me to have one. Last years baby yak loves pigs. When she was weaned of her mom, she took the pigs as surrogate, and likes to suck their ears.

Our baby yak

All the animals run around free in the village except during the planting season. They return home every night (well, at least most nights). During the tourist season the mules have to work daily carrying people up the mountain, but now they also can have a rest. I feel so sorry for the dogs. If they aren’t shepherd dogs they spent all of their lives chained down in a short leash. We need the guard dogs as the animals roam around free, so they would come inside the house and eat all the fodder and vegetables mom has worked so hard to get. We need to listen to the dogs. Especially goats are excellent climbers and able to get anywhere. On the other hand, the cats are really enjoying their lives here. Cats are of course necessary as there’s food everywhere for the mice to eat. But the cats are also especially loved. They get treats from the table and mom would even let them sleep with her. The Tibetans say that one hair in the fur of a cat is blessed by the Buddha.

When I came to Xidang we agreed on the rent that I would pay every year, but now the family has practically adopted me. I’m the daughter that especially mom always wanted. Of course I can’t pass as a real Tibetan daughter because I’m no good in the field work, which is womens job. The only thing mom let’s me help her with is washing dishes. But at least I’m female companionship for her in a house full of males. Although farm work is womens job, it doesn’t mean that the men spent their days doing nothing. Everybody works very hard from morning till night, and men also participate in larger farming projects. The older of the brothers drives tourists up from Lijiang which means he’s never home. He also married a Han Chinese girl, so they are never going to live here in the village. In practice, this means that the younger son has to marry a Tibetan girl regardless of his own wishes. Mother can’t keep doing most of the field work alone for much longer.

Me and my family except for dad and big brother

Xidang Village

There are about 75 houses in Xidang and approximately 350 people. The village is located in the Mekong river valley near the Tibet and Myanmar borders. Xidang is a part of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture which consists of the counties of Zhongdian, Deqin and Weixi Lisu autonomous county. In 2001 Diqing officially changed its name into Shangri-la, although it’s mainly Zhongdian which is known by that name now.

The nearest town from Xidang is Deqin which is about two-hour bus ride away from here. The local bus leaves to Deqin every morning between seven and nine o’clock in the morning (not very punctual) and leaves Deqin at three in the afternoon. So, the trip to town takes all day. Not that I visit Deqin often anyways. The locals go there to do shopping but other than that there’s nothing to do. Nowadays you can’t even use internet there unless you have a Chinese ID-card.

Deqin is located 3 500 m above the sea level. As Xidang is in a river valley, we are only in 2 400 m. So, the temperature here is much warmer and even wine grows here. Farming is the main source of livelihood. Well, that and tourism. We get two harvests a year; the first is highland barley and second is corn. Every house also has a vegetable garden for their own needs. Every family also owns walnut trees around the village, and walnuts, corn and grapes are the money crops. The rest of the harvest goes to the needs of the family and their animals. From the mountains they collect mushrooms (i.e. matsutake) for sale, and many of the herbs of Tibetan medicine grow here (i.e. snow cabbage, which grows only at an altitude above 5 000 m).

Tourism has brought some opportunities, for example every family owns mules with which they transport tourists up the mountain to Yubeng. Many (especially young men) want to do guiding. There are a few guesthouses in the village. Now many boys wish to buy cars to drive tourists up here from Shangri-la and Lijiang. But tourism has also brought many side effects with it. Obvious one is garbage. There is no garbage disposal in the village. We burn what can be burnt. For example, empty beer bottles can’t, so they are dumped everywhere. Another one is the so-called sex tourism. It seems to be fashionable among the wealthy Han-girls to have a holiday romance with a Tibetan guy. They buy the guys cell phones, computers and even cars (many of the cars in the village are acquired this way). But some of these girls also fall in love with the guys braking up their marriages with Tibetan girls and disturbing the traditional family structures.

Background information

I graduated as a forestry engineer from Kymenlaakso Polytechnic in 1997. The previous year I had been an exchange student in Harbin, China. After graduation I couldn’t find a job, so I decided to study East Asian Studies in Helsinki University. I thought that being able to speak Chinese must be an advantage in future. Now I’ve finished my studies except for the Master’s thesis.

So, this is the background for my decision to move to China. While searching a place to complete my research, I ended up in Zhongdian which nowadays is better known as Shangri-la. The population of Shangri-la is mainly Tibetan but there are also other minorities, such as Naxi, Bai, Yi and Lisu, and of course the majority Han as well. I fell in love with this area and my plan was to open up a bar in Shangri-la in spring 2009. Unfortunately the economic depression is felt here as well, although quite differently compared with many other places. Many previously wealthy Han have lost their jobs but they have savings with which they want to open bars, restaurants and guesthouses in Yunnan. So the property prices and rents have rocketed. After searching for a while for a place for me I realized that my savings weren’t enough.


The previous autumn I had also spent some time in Yubeng village which is located in the Meili Snow Mountains nature preserve. I had friends in Yubeng, so I decided to check out, what would be the possibilities to have by bar/hostel in there. Unfortunately, I found out that the rents in Yubeng were also too high for my budget. On the way back down I met my friend Renqing Pinchu, who told me that his family was building a new house in Xidang village. The trek to Yubeng starts there. He said that I could rent part of the house for my bar/restaurant/guesthouse. And after negotiations this is what we decided to do. So my bar in Shangri-la had turned into a guesthouse in Xidang.

Tashi dele!

I’m Sonja. I was born in Kuusankoski, Finland, but now I live in Xidang Village in Northwestern Yunnan, China. I came here in July 2009 and set up a guesthouse with a local Tibetan family.

That's me wearing mom's dress