Meili xueshan (snow mountain) in northwestern Yunnan by the China/Tibet border was the initial inspiration for my trip to China. In a sense, I wanted to reimmerse myself in the kind of beauty and purity that I’d found hiking the Annapurnas in Nepal back in 2014. And I also wanted to get a glimpse into Tibetan culture without having to go into Tibet, which now requires a separate permit that stipulates group tour option only.

My original plan was to leave Kunming for Shangrila right after arriving from Vietnam, go to Meili, then trace my way from Shangrila back to Kunming overland. I’d booked my flight to Shangrila but had to ditch at the last minute. I fell horrendously sick right before the trip. Ran a high fever for a couple of days and actually had to take pills (first time that I could remember in my whole life.) By the time I boarded the plane to Kunming, my coughing fits were still unstoppable and chest splitting. I decided I’d better go by bus, making a couple of stops along the way to buy myself more time to recover. Those 5 extra days were exactly what I needed. But although my cough did get better, it proved to be way more persistent that I’d expected. My lungs couldn’t handle much exertion. Whenever I started to walk uphill, they’d send up loud protestations.

From Shangrila, it’s another bus to a town called Deqin. I was really excited because we would go over the famed Baima pass. But it wasn’t passable due to snow, and our driver had to detour to take the low road. The 5 hour ride turned into 9 hours, not too bad in itself but really draining when you weren’t expecting it. It was also on this road that I first experienced the notorious Chinese public toilet. I’m very far from being squeamish and have also lived in India where hygiene is not a well-understood concept, but this was easily the most revolting I ever had to put up with in my life. By a far margin. All the shitty stuff (not so figuratively) that people use the toilet for gets exponentially more disgusting as it lies visible and accumulates instead of getting flushed away or properly thrown into trash cans.

The next morning, I took a van to the trail head and was relieved to find 3 other Chinese who planned to spend the same amount of time in Yubeng – the village that sits at the foot of the Meili – and then walk out a different way. This second trail I was told was much less used and less defined so I wanted to tag along with others. I didn’t quite want to walk in with them, however, afraid that I’d hold them up and they’d be too scared listening to me trying to spit out my lungs. But no they were not gonna leave me and patiently waited at each turn. I almost teared up at their thoughtfulness and really wished I spoke Chinese. Thankfully it was only 10kms – not 20kms like someone had told me.

I hadn’t seen proper snow like this since my New England time, which was already 6 years ago. I’ve never been a fan, but it was indeed a refreshing sight that brought back much memory. Prayer flags kept us company along the whole way, a sure sign that we were indeed in Tibet land. And at the top, they hang thick and heavy across tree branches in all directions. We walked around laughing delighted like little kids at the colorful fluttering fabric.


Meili xueshan, Yubeng, Yunnan, China, hiking


There are quite a few rest stops along the way because this is an important pilgrimage route, but this time of the year everything is closed. My companions were lively among themselves, but didn’t seem as inclined to socialize with the few other hiking groups. If we had a break and saw that others were coming, we’d get up and start walking again. And one of them even picked up litter along the way. I was so impressed! They truly shined after we got to the guesthouse, where they took out a dozen kinds of Chinese snacks, dried green tea, aloe vera face masks, and then promptly went to get hot water for the three plastic basins. And thus I was ushered to put my smelly feet into the hot bath and got my face pampered while sipping hot tea. I don’t think I’ve ever ended a day of hiking with such style.