As close as you can get to Tibet without a separate visa, Meili mountain range feels like a piece of the heavens. Though we traveled three days deep into Deqing, China get here, Meili’s beauty is so accessible it felt too good to be true. Mountains like this usually don’t come without porters and oxygen tanks and they definitely don’t come with luxury hotels at their base…unless they are Sontgsam Meili. Sitting at 12,000 feet in a rural Tibetan village, the hotel (that speck in the deep valley above) faces the virgin Meili mountains, slashing through the sky with peaks above 22,000 feet. Our stay here let us into the remote world of Tibetan life and snow-capped beauty that only the Annapurnas can rival.
The roads seemed to twist into knots all the way from Benzilan to Meili but the surreal mountain views made the roller coaster well worth it.
On the small road leading up to the hotel, we passed the neighboring Tibetan farmhouses, trimmed in a rainbow of color. With huge racks of drying straw and yaks milling about the yard, each home seemed out of a storybook.
Not wanting to waste a moment of daylight, we dropped off our bags and we quickly went back out to explore the neighborhood. We didn’t have to walk far before a farmer and father of one of the Meili staff invited us over. He was milking his dzo, a cattle-yak hybrid, and before you know it Mike was too (video coming soon).
After tending to the animals, we were invited inside for a pot of yak butter tea and fried flatbread. Unlike any house we’d ever been in, the ground floor was actually the barn for the animals and the second a huge open kitchen and simple living space. Watching the lady of the house cook in her wood-powered kitchen, lined with copper pots and hand-thrown ceramics, felt like a window into another world.
We made it back to our room just before sunset and it took our breath away. The sky was getting dark but the snowy peaks stood brightly on the horizon. With two walls of windows, the peaks felt like they were inside with us.
None of the mountains in the Meili range have ever been summited do to their sheer verticality, holy status, and likelihood for death falls…so we opted to hike the foothills. Views to the snowy mountains were bound to be incredible but the colors and textures of the trail impressed us just as much. Traces of landslides from the rocky peaks cut through fall’s red and yellow shrubs keeping us in awe and on our toes.
I love that in Tibetan Buddhism it seems that the hardest-to-reach cliffs with the most jaw-dropping views are the places for worship. At the top of the hardest hill we stumbled upon this stupa in a tangled mess of prayer flags whipping in the chilly breeze.
We made it to the top for lunch and soaked up the pure peace of this place.
The next morning we were exhausted from our 25k hike and decided to take in the mountain from the comforts of our window seat. (We’ve often trekked for days to get to views like this during our trip, but this time we just had to roll out of bed and pour some french press.)
Before catching our bus back to Shangri-la, we motivated to leave the remote and beautiful Songtsam Meili to check out the nearby town of Dechin. You know your getting close when white stupas line the mountain pass.
In town we grabbed lunch at the local market and found an exotic salad bar that still stands as one our favorite food stalls of our trip. Bamboo shoots, lotus root, glass noodles, shitake mushrooms, and loads of mysterious goodies mixed with a chili soy sauce was a spicy sensation in all senses of the word! See the slideshow for more scenes from this rugged Yunnanese market. (To the vegetarians and the faint of heart, you may want to skip the butcher section.)
Between the Tibetan culture and the 20,000 foot mountains, the Meili mountains was our favorite place in Yunnan, if not all of China. It’s as far-flung as it gets but worth every bump in the road to get there.