Adventure in the Sacred Mountains of Chinese Tibet : the Meili Snow Mountains

mdili snow moutain from songtsam lodge

View on the Meili Snow Moutain

The Meili Snow Mountains are a sacred range of mountains lying partly within the Yunnan Province of China and on the border with Tibet. This range boasts six peaks of more than 6,000 meters and reach up to 6,740 meters. Kawagarbo, the tallest, is also the most sacred to the Tibetans.

In the past, numerous Expeditions by Japanese, Americans and Chinese have attempted to reach the summit to no avail but at the cost of several lives. Each attempt also provoked Tibetan protests and as a result it will remain a virgin summit due to the governments ban on any further climbs on account of the mountain’s sanctity in Tibetan culture. The idea of being surrounded by tall virgin summits immediately seduced me – I wanted to see this mountain range that resists the attempts of humans to conquer it. Our trip in this remote area of China focused on a hike to the mountain village of Yubeng at the base of these grand mountains.

mekong river in yunnan

Going to the start of the hike

UPper yubeng village

Upper Yubeng Village

There is a legend about the discovery of Yubeng, which suggest how remote this village is. Nobody knew of the village until one day an old unknown man appeared in the village of Xidang (where the hike begins these days) – he bought some groceries and promptly disappeared. When he returned again to do a bit of shopping the villagers made ​​a hole in his bag and followed the trail it left into the mountains. But the old man disappeared behind a rock. The villagers raised the rock and thus discovered the village of Yubeng.

mdili snow mountain yubeng

Not far from the pass going to Yubeng

Meili snow moutain

First Day : The Climb up to Yubeng

The hike begins at the village of Xindang (2200 meters), goes through a pass at 3800 meters, and then heads down to High Yubeng (3200 meters). The climb to the pass has few views and isn’t easy but the slope is straight up because hikers have marked a straight path down the slope. A break at the house of noodles (a small restaurant appropriately adorned by noodle boxes as this is the sole offering) is welcome and we eat our instant noodles with much pleasure… the yak butter tea didn’t go down as well and seems to be an acquired taste). At the the pass we were rewarded with majestic views including a sight of the village of Yubeng .

mdili snow mountain

The ramen restaurant

Second day : Discovery of a lake fed by glaciers

ice lake yubeng village

The Ice lake in the background

Today we hike to the “ice lake” (3980 meters) through the base camp of Kawagarbo. The first part of the climb is tough but once over the pass and a small descent to base camp it is a gentle walk towards the lake. Unfortunately the sky was overcast and we did not see the peaks but we often heard the tremendous sounds made by avalanches hidden way up in the clouds. The glacier here is suspended from the top of the lake and after enjoying the grandeur of the place we headed back down to Yubeng (and the heat).

waterfall yubeng mdili snow mountain

The sacred waterfall

Third Day : Tibetan pilgrimage

On the third day we followed the footsteps of Tibetan pilgrims to a beautiful waterfall located 3,950 meters above sea level. According to tradition the trip to shower in the waterfall is required 13 times to wash away the sins of the pilgrim. We meet some pilgrims soaked but happy despite a icy wash at 0 degrees … our offers of ” tashi delek ” ( hello in Tibetan) were always rewarded with a smile despite their trials. We stopped in a small Tibetan temple on the way down where we saw the portrait of the Dalai Lama, which reminds us Tibet is just the other side of the chain. The mountains once again remain covered throughout the day but we still had a very memorable day.


Start of the pilgrimage in Yubeng

yubeng mdili snow mountain

yubeng mdili snow mountain

Fourth Day : Dizzying descent to civilization

It is time to leave Yubeng and we follow the big river down to the village of Nihong (2100 meters). The descent is very nice but river is very powerful – fatalities have happened as a result of tourists getting too close to the river so care is required. We finished the hike on a trail carved out of the side of the gorge rock face – there is also a channel carved out of the rock that provides water from the mountains to the villagers in the Mekong Valley, where we finish the hike. The last adventure of the day was crossing the Mekong on a suspension bridge as strong winds swept through the valley …. rather a suspension bridge though than being suspended from cables and pulleyed across the river, which is how cargo, horses and humans used to be transported here.

yubeng mdili snow mountain

We did not see the peaks of Meili Snow Mountain every day because these mountains are often covered but when they are revealed the spectacle is magical. There are relatively few foreigners traveling in this area of China but I definitely suggest you visit especially before modern Chinese culture encroaches more and more on the local traditional Tibetan culture.

yubeng mdili snow mountain

yubeng mdili snow mountain

Voyagista’s Tips

  • The village of Yubeng is prepared for tourists so you will not have to worry about finding accommodation . To avoid a back and forth between Higher and Lower Yubeng, sleep the first night at Higher Yubeng and then after hiking the “ice lake ” head to Lower Yubeng to sleep. We slept at Lobsang ‘s Trekker Lodge in Upper Yubeng. The view from the terrace outside the room is wonderful. We then moved to Meili Di Yi Jia Kezhan in Lower Yubeng, which is the last house before the start of the pilgrimage an guarantees incredible views of the mountains (weather permitting of course!).

  • The best time to be here is May or October except during Chinese golden week when the place loses its isolated charm. It is cold at this altitude so you must be prepared… we had a little snow in May.

  • If you have difficulty hiking or if you don’t want to carry your bag, you can hire a mule to Xindang Yubeng.

  • To reach Xindang you can either hire a driver or take a shuttle from Feilasi. Same for the return from Nihong.

  • We spent the last night before hiking in comfort as Songtsam Meili Lodge.

  • The food on offer is basic and consists mainly of instant noodles during hiking. Take some muesli bars, etc for snacks!

mdili snow mountain

Tibetan guide

Have you ever experienced hiking along pilgrimage routes? Which ones?

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