You probably have heard of the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, but you may not have heard of Yubeng village. Yubeng village is a small and unknown place in Yunnan. For hundreds of years, it was never discovered, simply because of how secluded and hidden it was. Situated at the foot of the Meili snow mountain range, Yubeng village is extremely inaccessible from the outside world. It takes one whole day to trek to the village from the closest paved road.
Even today, no road has been built to the village simply because of how mountainous the region is. Many villagers still make the daily or weekly hike in and out of the village to procure supplies and sell their produce. This isolation is what makes Yubeng village and its surroundings extremely beautiful and a worthy hike.
Starting out and going up
That being said, the hike to Yubeng village and around it is no easy feat. Yubeng village is situated about 3,000m above sea level, and some form of acclimatisation is recommended before you head up. The trek up to Yubeng village is an approximately 700m ascent, which involves a 12km uphill trek to the mountain pass and a 6km downhill trek to the village.
Before you walk away and say that this is not for you, wait a minute! While I was hiking into the village, I saw many older folks doing the hike as well. Yubeng is possibly one of China’s last untouched areas (not even the slightest signs of commercialisation) and many people would like to see it at least once. Moreover, it is a sacred place for the Tibetans. As such, many Tibetan Buddhist devotees make the pilgrimage to the village to complete their rites.
The hike up to the mountain pass is tough, but the way down to the village makes your sweat all the more worth it. At the mountain pass you can see multiple peaks of the Meili snow mountain range: snow-capped, towering and simply mesmerising. As you walk downhill, Yubeng village is slowly revealed before your very eyes, as if you have discovered a forgotten civilisation.
Yubeng was simply gorgeous. I sat at the viewing gallery for quite some time, admiring just how green the area was, how white the snow-capped peaks were and how peaceful the village was. There is a Chinese saying that aptly describes what I was seeing, “世外桃源”, which translates as a hidden paradise or an undiscovered Shangri-la. There were no cars, no signs of modernization apart from electricity cables and no ugly apartment blocks. It was simple, yet elegant.
Many hikers turned their love for Yubeng into something more tangible. They rented the houses from the villagers and turned them into cozy guesthouses for other hikers. I vividly remembered my nights at the Butter Tea Inn, where the owner cooked up great meals and served us amazing tea, as we cuddled around the fireplace chatting the night away. The nights were harshly cold, but the people were so warm you hardly feel the frost. This was a place where we all truly became ourselves again, away from the competition at work, the politics and the coldness of city life.
Exploring Yubeng and beyond
Thankfully, the trek to Yubeng does not stop here. There are many treks around the area, each taking up one full day. The established routes take you to the ice lake, the sacred waterfall and the sacred lake. The more adventurous can explore and discover for themselves the Nisai glacier and the second sacred lake.
I thought the trek to Yubeng was simply too beautiful to beat. I was wrong. The treks around the area were absolutely stunning. Going to the ice lake was an 800m ascent through beautiful pine tree forests, alongside glacier streams and at the foot of towering snow-capped mountains. It ended with a beautiful birds-eye view of the ice lake, which was surrounded by breath-taking mountain peaks.
The trek to the sacred waterfall was a 600m ascent through forests and alongside a snow-topped glacier. Along the way, you could see the famous mountain peak that looks like the fist of Buddha. After climbing up endless rocky outcrops, you would end up in front of a 30m waterfall that starts right at the peak of the mountain.
Admiring the waterfall and the scenery along the way is only part of the equation. The other part comes from witnessing the Tibetan devotees walking in circles around the waterfall. Nevermind the icy cold waters raining onto you, nor the uncomfortable feeling of soaked shoes and socks. These devotees could walk around the waterfall for hours, completing hundreds of rounds.
Being the sometimes-too-adventurous person I am, I also got together some friends to discover the Nisai glacier. As it was not a developed route, there were simply no signs to follow. After piecing various pieces of information from the locals, we went hunting for the said glacier. The hike to the glacier was absolutely beautiful. We went through virgin forests, walked alongside a gushing stream and ended up at a huge glacier with towering mountains in the background. We lied on the soft snow, jumped and wowed at everything we saw. Nothing could hold back our excitement. Not even the heavy rain that tried to dampen our spirits.
Just as we thought the highlights of the trek were over, we were taken by surprise at how beautiful the trek out of Yubeng was. It was an easy, mostly downhill trek that went alongside a huge gushing river. You could constantly hear the roars of the water crashing onto the huge rocks and feel the ferocity of nature.
The most unforgettable part of the hike was the last seven kilometres, which was on a narrow trail carved out of a mountain slope. On one end is a waterway that pipes glacier water to the neighbouring villages. On the other, a bottomless cliff. With just enough space for two people to squeeze through shoulder-to-shoulder, the hike becomes challenging when a donkey comes in the opposite direction. I was freaking out just watching the seemingly clumsy donkey walk towards me. Will it push me over the cliff or slip and fall off? I shudder to imagine anyone sitting on that donkey along this section of the hike.
The trek to Yubeng village and around it was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done. Pictures do no justice to the area; you have to personally see it for yourself. At Yubeng, it is not just the scenery that amazes. The interactions with the local Tibetan villagers, the camaraderie you forge with the other hikers and the lovely guesthouse owners all play a part in creating this memorable experience. To learn more about the sights in Yubeng, here is a one to five days trekking itinerary in and around Yubeng.
I always tell people that the world is so huge and that there is no time to revisit a place again. I am wrong. Yubeng is definitely a place I have to go back. It is, according to the locals, a place that is closest to heaven. Make Yubeng a must-visit place in your trip to Yunnan, China. Do you already have some ideas of what to do in Yunnan? Here are some places you must visit when in Yunnan. Also, do check out these beautiful ancient cities in Yunnan!
Have you been on any treks before? How does this one sound to you? Share your opinions with me in the comments below. Do also share this article with your friends so that more people are aware of this beauty!