The Missionary Trail: Catholic Footprints in Northwestern Yunnan

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8 Days
May 16th - 23rd, 2022
Lijiang
Dali
Max People: 11
About this Journey

The far-flung slopes of northwestern Yunnan still remain isolated from the outside world today. However, to believe you are the first outsider to step foot into these remote villages would be to err. Throughout the region, the cross of the Christian faith can be seen silhouetted against the bluebird sky, a remaining symbol of the ambitious missionaries who trekked their way to these remote Tibetan communities almost 200 years ago. Any given Sunday reveals that their efforts were not in vain, as pious local villagers file in to these churches for Sunday services.

To dive deeper into the history of the Catholic missionaries who left their mark on these small Tibetan villages, Beijing-based existential wellness counselor Michelle Mope Andersson D. Min. has made it her mission to follow the routes they took and learn their history from every available source – travelogues, academia, and, of course, the oral accounts of local residents. With Michelle at the helm, embark on a journey of spiritual and historical discovery, following the trail of pioneering missionaries laid almost two centuries past.

What we love
  • Learning from existential wellness counselor Michelle Mope Andersson D. Min. an avid researcher of missionary history in China
  • Visiting a still active vineyard started by French and Swiss missionaries
  • Immerse in the stunning natural landscapes and biodiversity along the Yangtze and Nu (Salween) Rivers
Map
Your WildChina Host
Michelle Mope Andersson

A counselor in Existential Wellness, Michelle Mope Andersson has a Doctorate in Ministry focusing on reconciliation and the arts as well as Master’s Degrees in Counselling, Spirituality and Political Science. 

A few years ago, Michelle had the chance to live and work in Pyongyang, North Korea, for the UN Development Program (UNDP) as a crisis counselor for the international community.

This was a life-changing experience, shaping her ideas about brokenness, diaspora, and the gift of interior freedom and the divine.

As an avid traveler, Michelle is particularly interested in sacred art and architecture and well-versed in the history of missionaries in China.

Itinerary

Day 1 (Mon May 16, 2022)Arrival in Lijiang

First Stop: Lijiang, Yunnan Province

Yunnan Province—which literally means “South of the Clouds” due to its location just south of the Tibetan Plateau—is home to some of the most diverse cultures, ecology, and terrain in China. The city of Lijiang lies in the shadow of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and has entranced visitors for centuries with its singular architecture, quaint bridges, and narrow canals. Although Lijiang has transformed from its quaint roots into a tourist hub, there are still quieter side lanes to explore that hold encounters with Lijiang’s Naxi residents who depend on the mountain water that flows through the town’s canals. Classified as a World Heritage Site in 1997, Lijiang is a charming home base for accessing Yunnan’s authentic and lesser-known communities.

Arrival in Lijiang

Today is the day, the start of your WildChina adventure. Step off the plane in Lijiang and meet your local WildChina guide in the airport arrivals hall. They’ll be waiting to welcome you and will have your private vehicle on standby, ready to whisk you off to your hotel for check in.

Welcome Dinner in Lijiang

Join your fellow guests for a Welcome Dinner. During dinner, you’ll get to know each other, your WildChina guide, and learn more about the journey ahead.

Meals included: dinner

Day 2 (Tue May 17, 2022) Lijiang to Tacheng

Drive to Tacheng

The ride from Lijiang to Tacheng will take around 3.5 hours.

On the Way: Shigu Old Town

We’ll make a stop in Shigu Old Town, once a bustling market town along the Ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Trail. Here, stroll around town and barter with locals at the fresh produce market (keep an eye out for local delicacies such as wild honey and rainbow trout).

The town takes its name from the large, carved stone drum that is said to crack at the outbreak of a conflict. It is also the site of a sudden, sharp bend in the Yangtze River, called the first bend. Here, the water flows slowly and it has long been a place for passing armies to make the crossing. The Red Army itself passed through this area during the Long March in 1936.

Visit a Family in Hada Village

In Yunnan’s luscious tapestry of alpine farms and fields, Hada village sits in an unforgettable spot. In this culturally and ethnically diverse community surrounded by Weixi County’s countryside, you’ll stop in to visit a local family. With them, you’ll learn about life as a farmer in rural China. More than a simple cultural exchange over tea, you will go as far as learning how to make two staples of the local diet: soy milk and tofu.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 3 (Wed May 18, 2022) Tacheng to Cizhong

Tacheng Snub Nosed Monkey Sanctuary

Deep in the mountainous forests of northern Yunnan lives one of China’s strangest, rarest, and most adorable creatures. The snub-nosed monkeys in these parts were once the stuff of legend, coveted for their fur and the supposed medicinal properties of their bones. These monkeys were first discovered and documented by the same French and Swiss missionaries who built the churches in the region, spreading the fame of these creatures to Europe in the late 1800’s. Today, they are protected by nature reserves like the Tacheng National Park, where you’ll head into the wild with a local conservationist and hopefully catch a glimpse of these rare and endangered primates in their natural habitat.

Xiao Weixi Catholic Church

The Xiao Weixi Catholic Church was erected in 1870 by French and Swiss missionaries. Combining Western and local architecture styles into the final building, one hailing elements of both a traditional Chinese temple and a European Catholic church, complete with vineyards for the church wine. This building is believed to have the longest history of all the missionary relics left in Weixi County, it is also the best-preserved.

Drive to Cizhong

The ride from Tacheng to Cizhong will take around 4.5 hours.

Cizhong

Hidden away among the misty, terraced hills above the Mekong valley, the picturesque village of Cizhong was settled by French Catholic missionaries 150 years ago. Today, the town is home to Lisu, Yi, and Tibetan people, who still tend the vineyards the French grew and attend the church built in a captivating blend of Chinese and European architectural styles. You’ll have the chance to sample the local wine and attend a Catholic service on this bizarre but unique edge of the Tibetan plateau. Afterwards, a priest will show us around and speak about daily life.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 4 (Thu May 19, 2022)Cizhong to Dimaluo

Cizhong Church

Cizhong Church was first built in 1867 by French missionaries from the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris. It was destroyed during the Tibetan Revolt of the early 1900’s and rebuilt in the center of the town. Originally built in a predominantly European style, you’ll notice today that during the reconstruction a Chinese pavilion was added to the top of the bell tower. The church survived the wrath of the Cultural Revolution as it was being used as a primary school at the time and even today, it continues to be the center of the local community. Inside the church, you’ll see where Red Guards erased religious drawings on the walls and you’ll hear villagers singing Catholic songs in Tibetan as their ancestors once did.

Xiaoling Vineyard

Besides religious and architectural concepts, French priests also introduced the very European practice of grape cultivation and wine production, both in Cizhong and downriver in Xiaoweixi. They also accumulated a large library of books in both French and Chinese.
Today, we will visit one vineyard called Xiaoling, managed by local Tibetans, and have the chance to taste some of their fine wines.

Drive to Dimaluo

The ride from Cizhong to Dimaluo will take around 4 hours.
The drive will pass by forest, snow-capped mountain pass (Mt. Biluoxueshan pass is around 3,890m above sea level).

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 5 (Fri May 20, 2022)Dimaluo

Baihanluo Church

A mystifying blend of western and Chinese architecture, Baihanluo is a church like no other, set in the bucolic wilds of northwest Yunnan. Built by French catholic missionary Annet Genestier at the end of the 19th century, the structure was razed to the ground by an angry mob in 1905, only to be rebuilt soon after. Standing beneath the vaulted ceiling by candlelight is a transcendental experience, as is the wild fruit wine – a legacy of the church’s French origins – said to be among the region’s finest.

Dimaluo Village

Once the domain of missionaries and explorers, Dimaluo is an anomaly in this remote part of Yunnan. The town is an enclave of Tibetan culture in an area otherwise inhabited by Lisu, Nu and Dulong peoples, and is predominantly Catholic, a legacy of the early Francophone preachers who scoured these lands. Nestled at the bottom of a deep, thickly forested valley, arriving in Dimaluo is like stumbling upon a hidden world. The village is perpetually shrouded in effervescent clouds, adding to the mystique of what feels like an imagined utopia from the pages of 19th-century fiction.

We will enjoy a dinner at at Aluo’s guesthouse, the ingredients are just from the villages, fresh and organic. The guesthouse is the house of Aluo’s father and his grandfather.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 6 (Sat May 21, 2022)Dimaluo to Gongshan

Chongding Church

Of the many religious structures in this curiously catholic corridor of Yunnan, the Chongding church is the most famous. The building, with its twin belfries, is vaguely South American in style but with the distinctive Chinese flourish of curved temple eaves framed by the snow-dusted mountains beyond. The current structure is from 1996 and is smaller than the 20th-century original, the latter having been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution when the anti-religious fervor sweeping China reached this remote section of Yunnan.

Wuli Village

Tread the storied trail of the Tea Horse Road past splintered wooden bridges to reach tranquil Wuli, the definition of pastoral idyll. Around 60 households makeup the village, whose quaint wooden structures on the luxuriant slopes of the Nujiang Valley make for a dreamlike apparition. The ancient trading route is precipitous at this point, a narrow path hewn into sheer cliffs that all but cuts Wuli off to the outside world, creating a self-sufficient, pollution-free village paradise in this hidden corner of Yunnan.

Qiunatong Church

Qiunatong is the end of the road in Yunnan, the final village before arriving in Tibet proper, and it is truly a case of saving the best until last. This Nu settlement is an irresistibly charming ensemble of wooden homes with slate roofs, surrounded by fruit trees and set against virgin forested slopes, which give way to snow-capped peaks as the terrain climbs to the north. An equally endearing church stands at the center of the village’s cobbled lanes, which are freely occupied by the local cattle, donkeys and dogs.

Bingzhongluo

Lose yourself in the dramatic landscapes of Bingzhongluo, the self-styled gateway to Tibet nestled 350-kilometers into the Nujiang Valley. The town is more substantial than the surrounding settlements, and it makes for a striking visual and cultural experience to see low-rise administrative buildings rather than wooden huts set against the same dizzying canyon backdrop. A melting pot of the region’s ethnic communities, Bingzhongluo also offers markets, restaurants and an exciting hubbub that can’t be found in the sleepy hamlets further down the valley.

First Bend of the Nu River

In the northwestern corner of Yunnan, the Nujiang river courses out of Tibet with an abrupt, handbrake turn. The resulting curve is a sight to behold, reminiscent of Arizona’s famous Horseshoe Bend but with the lush, verdant coverage familiar to the highlands of Southeast Asia. On the far bank, as the river contorts an impossible 180 degrees, a small patchwork farm sits encircled by water on three sides. This scene encapsulates the emotive beauty of the entire Nu Valley, and is easily appreciated from the well-placed roadside viewing platform.

Drive to Gongshan

The ride from Dimaluo to Gongshan will take around 1 hour.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 7 (Sun May 22, 2022)Gongshan to Liuku

Drive to Liuku

The ride from Gongshan to Liuku will take around 5 hours.

On the Way: Laomudeng Village

Laomudeng means ‘the place people like to come’ in the local Nu language, and it is exactly that. The village is more prosperous than its neighbors, having benefitted from increased tourism to area in recent years thanks to the indescribable views it affords down the Nujiang Valley, especially at dawn, when heavy, moisture-laden clouds rest atop the canyon slopes. The church at the heart of the village is more utilitarian than some, but is nonetheless one of the biggest and the centre of a thriving religious community in Laomudeng.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 8 (Mon May 23, 2022)Liuku to Dali

 

Drive to Dali

The ride from Liuku to Dali will take around 3.5 hours.

Next Stop: Dali

Tucked between Cang Mountain and Erhai Lake, Dali is a Ming-era town that has retained much through the ages. It was once the chief city of Yunnan and the capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom, an empire that at its peak, stood up to the imperial Chinese armies. Though the Nanzhao Kingdom fell long ago, the indigenous Bai ethnic minority who comprised its population still accounts for the majority of the residents of Dali and surrounding villages.

Your guide will return you to your hotel at the end of the day or escort you to Dali airport, journey ends.

Feel free to continue exploring the coffee regions and missionary history around Dali as extended trip. Or let your Travel Designer know if you need any help.

Meals included: breakfast

Hotels

The Bivou, Lijiang


The Bivou, which derives its name from the old Swiss word for ‘temporary encampment’, offers itself up as both an ideal resting spot, as well as a convenient launching point into the vast wilderness of Southern China. This charming establishment is located at the foot of the Yulong Mountain and everything from the interior bamboo floors to the solar-powered heating system is a testament to the establishment’s sustainability pledge.

Wake up every morning to an array of fresh fruit and homemade granola, complimented nicely with seasonal jams and local honey. Then, once you feel energized from the healthy offerings and crisp mountain air, set out to slake your wanderlust.

Habuda Yungu, Tacheng


Nestled atop lush rice terraces in a quaint farming community, Habuda Yungu, meaning ‘cloud valley,’ is a peaceful, cozy base for exploring Tacheng. Opened in 2018, the bed and breakfast was designed by the owner, a former soldier, and is filled with local charm. Spacious and airy, each guestroom is comfortably appointed in a contemporary, minimal design and features sweeping views through floor-to-ceiling windows. The authentic experience continues in the restaurant, where guests can dine on a prix fixe menu of homemade, seasonal favorites. Although English service is extremely limited, your guide will happily translate as needed – whether it be requests for extra towels or stories from the owner.

 

Songtsam Cizhong Lodge


Here in the reaches of the Upper Mekong River Valley, it’s hard to imagine many outsiders journeying to these remote lands before. The chimes of a central Catholic church, still holding Sunday mass for the local Catholics, is a symbol that you are indeed not the first to have made it here. In fact, 150 years ago, Swiss and French missionaries were settling in these areas along side the Tibetan locals, spreading word of faith and foreign ideals. Today, the Songtsam Cizhong Lodge provides a stunning place to lay your head and eat locally-sourced meals while enjoying the history and scenery of this beautiful area.

Gongshan Aluo Inn


There is a purity to the stripped-back, timbered style of the Aluo Inn that perfectly resonates with the essential beauty of the mountain landscape outside. Opened in 2020, spacious, immaculately clean rooms prioritize comfort above all else, and afford leafy views of foliage and canyon that chime well with the slow, spiritual lifestyle en route to Tibet at the end of the valley. Sights like Dimaluo and the Baihanluo church are a short drive or hike away, although the meditative quality of the lodge itself is a worthwhile experience on its own.

Gongshan Canyon Hotel


The Canyon Hotel is one of the newest hotels in Gongshan, has been renovated in 2021. Guests will find Gongshan County, Catholic Church and Sanjiang Mingzhu Square just a short distance from the hotel.
This hotel makes a great place to kick back and relax after a long day of sightseeing.

Hilton Garden Inn, Nujiang


The newly renovated Hilton Garden Inn Nujiang is already a Lushui landmark; Conveniently located in the heart of Nujiang and surrounded by an abundance of attractions and nature, the Hilton Garden inn, grants its guests a den to rest after a long day. The Hilton Garden Inn is a popular choice by travelers seeking the old Tea Horse Road and other hidden treasures in the region. Among the many amenities, the Garden Grill and Noodles bar, are a must-try for its guests.

Photos
Details

Dates

Monday, May 16 to Monday, May 23, 2022

What’s Included

  • All accommodations based on double-occupancy including breakfasts, as indicated in the itinerary
  • All meals, as indicated in the itinerary, and drinking water
  • All admission fees and activity expenses, as indicated in the itinerar
  • Ground transportation, including airport transfers
  • Services of an English-speaking WildChina guide

What’s Excluded

  • International and domestic flights, domestic trains, plus relevant taxes
  • Chinese tourist visa, which is required for most foreign passport holders
  • Travel and medical insurance
  • Meals, apart from those included in the itinerary, and alcohol
  • Expenses of a personal nature
  • Excursions and activities not included in the itinerary
  • Discretionary gratuities for guides and drivers

Recommended Flights

Arrive in Lijiang

From Beijing:
CA1469 (06:55/10:50)

From Shanghai:
MU9720 (07:50/11:25)

Depart from Dali

To Beijing:
MU9723 (18:55/22:30)

To Shanghai:
MU9725 (17:25/21:05)

Why WildChina

We’re on the ground with you

Our team of advisors will design every detail of the trip with you through close consultation, then orchestrate your entire journey while on the ground. We’re in the same time zone as you, so we can fulfill requests and handle issues without a hitch. With over 40 staff in China and an expansive network of operational partners across the country, we have the manpower to ensure your journey is safe, reliable and comfortable from beginning to end.

Your trip, your way

Flexibility is our highest-ranking compliment. We pull off journeys for pioneers with a 6-hour layover to Hollywood’s elite, and everywhere in between. Our team regularly pulls off unprecedented logistical feats; nearly any time frame or budget is within our realm. No matter how you wish to experience China, we are here to bring that dream to life.

We embody passion

WildChina guides are carefully handpicked for their knowledge and charisma, then meticulously trained to maintain our exceptional service standards. They are expert storytellers and passionate natives of the regions where they guide, having the perfect combination of local insights and service know-how to bring you seamless once-in-a- lifetime moments all across China.

The little things, the big picture

Supporting inspired local economies allows you to experience the soul of the destination, while also protecting and cultivating China’s artisanal culture. From watching artisans creating their handcrafts, to picking organic vegetables for dinner on a local farm, our tours are designed to showcase and protect China’s heritage, both natural and human.

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