No other place in China gets as diverse as Yunnan, both in its splendid palette of landscapes and its exceptional mix of minority communities. Here, 25 of China’s 55 minority groups find sanctuary, their traditions shielded from the world by the towering Himalayas. Discover them yourself with these unforgettable experiences that offer a window into the daily lives of China’s colorful South-West.
Naxi: Dinner and dancing with a local family
The Naxi ethnic minority is believed to have descended from nomadic tribes of the Tibetan Plateau, and is famed for their ancient music, shamanistic rituals and animist Dongba faith. Our favorite way to get up close and personal with Lijiang’s Naxi residents is to share a meal with a local family in a traditional courtyard home. Try the light and tangy dishes, as well as the herb, mushroom and flower infused flavors of Naxi cuisine. Feast to the accompaniment of folk music and dance performed by a traditional orchestra and dancers. As night falls, join your spirited hosts and let their music guide you in communal dancing around a bonfire.
Share a special Naxi dinner party with dinner and friends on our classic Yunnan South of the Clouds journey.
Bai: “Three Cup Tea” Ceremony
The Bai people are indigenous to Dali and the surrounding villages tucked between the Cang Mountain and Erhai Lake. Bai people honor guests with the ‘Three Cup Tea’ ceremony, which is often performed at marriages and festivals. Strict etiquette is followed through the 18 procedures of the tea ceremony. The host prepares three different beverages and offers them to the guests. The first is a bitter tea that symbolizes the hard times in life. The second, a sweet beverage, shows how happiness triumphs difficulty. The third is a fragrant tea that calls upon the drinker to reflect on the vicissitudes of life.
Dai: Tea-making in Xishuangbanna
The Dai people are well known for their agricultural skills as they occupied some of the most fertile land in southern Yunnan. According to historical records, the first tea trees in Xishuangbanna were planted by the Dai people some 1,700 years ago. The ancient tea planters have since grown, picked and manufactured the prized pu’erh tea in the historical “Six Famous Tea Mountains” region. Traditionally, Pu-erh tea was pressed or molded into bricks or cakes for easy transportation by overland caravans. See how this specialized tradition is still observed today in Dai tea making and taste the deep aromas of the world’s most ancient tea.
Learn about the culture and traditions behind the world’s most consumed beverage from prominent tea expert Jeff Fuchs on our Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan journey.
Tibetan: Thangka at Shangri-La
The north-western corner of Yunnan is home to many relics from the ancient Tibetan Kingdom. It is a window into Tibet without having to get a special permit to cross the border. Thangka art is a 1,800-year-old Tibetan tradition of painting deities using paint made from local minerals. Deeply imbued with the ideology of Tibetan Buddhism, thangka focuses on the facial expression of the deity. Due to the high level of details and technical difficulty, a completed thangka project can take up to a year even for the most experienced of thangka masters. Learn about the dying tradition at the Tibetan Thangka Academy in Shangri-La.
Retreat into mystical Shangri-La on our Songtsam Circuit.
Experience the culture trail for yourself on one of our many Yunnan adventures.
Photo credits: Naxi people carrying baskets by CEphoto; Naxi women in traditional color-blocked dress by Mike Locke via Flickr; Harvesting pu-er in Xishuangbanna by Morgann via Flickr; Tibetan dancers by Cindy via Flickr; Welcoming villagers by M M via Flickr