Yubeng Village is a secluded Tibetan village tucked away at the foot of Meili Snow Mountain near the city of Shangri-la, in the northwestern corner of Yunnan Province. The only way to reach the village, which is surrounded by mountains on all sides, is by non-motorized means, such as by foot or on the back of a horse or a mule. But the trip, however arduous, is worth it, for Yubeng is a charming little village which, due to its inaccessibility, consists of only 20 households. The only access road over the mountain is suitable for non-motorized traffic only.
Yubeng Village is divided into an upper and a lower section. From the upper village, tourists can visit the site of the former base camp of the joint Sino-Japanese mountain-climbing expedition that ended in tragedy in 1991 (their remains were first found in 1998). The local villagers, as well as Tibetans of the region in general (they all belong to the Zang culture, a Tibetan sub-group that is not recognized by the state as a separate ethnic minority), hold Meili Snow Mountain to be sacred, and believe that scaling the mountain will bring the wrath of God upon them. Oddly – or perhaps not so oddly, depending on your relationship to mysticism – no one has successfully scaled Meili Snow Mountain, though several teams have tried. All have given up, except for the joint Sino-Japanese team, whose members would meet their end on the mountain.
The lower village offers a less macabre and more inviting sight: Yubeng Waterfall. In addition, there are other scenic sites in the lower village, such as an official seal dating from China's ancient past, testimony to the fact that Yubeng Village indeed has a long history.
Yubeng is accessible only by foot or horse. Lower Yubeng sits at 9,950 feet while Upper Yubeng’s altitude is 10,900 feet. The best time to visit weather wise is October and November. Journeys typically start in Shangri-la/Zhongdian and involves traveling 114 miles by bus, minivan or private car to the Fei Lai Temple area (10,800 feet) just outside of Deqin (See The Drive to Deqin). This portion of the trip generally takes 6 hours. From the Fei Lai Temple area it is a 2-hour ride to Xi Dang. Most minivans and tour groups leave the Fei Lai Temple area between 7:00 and 7:30AM. The advantage of an early departure is that if you are planning to take a mule all or part way to Yubeng they will be waiting in Xi Dang for you. Later arrival in Xi Dang may mean waiting up to 30 minutes for additional mules to arrive. Before getting to Xi Dang you will stop at Buc Un Village (7,000 Feet) where you will need to pay an 83 Yuan entrance fee into the area if Yubeng is your destination. If you are going to the Xi Dang Hot Springs or Mingyong Glacier the entrance fee is 60 Yuan. From Buc Un Village you will drive along the Lancang River, goat paths and dirt roads about 50 minutes to the area where hiking or mule rides begin. You will need to show these same entry tickets again just before reaching the entrance point for your climb. From Xi Dang (8,950 feet) you begin your trek on your own or choose a guide and horse and ride to Yubeng. The landscape ranges from forest to panoramic snow capped mountain views.
Hike or Ride The first portion of the journey involves a 3-4 hour hike or mule ride to Yakou (11,800 feet) also known as Nazongla Pass, which is the top of the mountain. The path is rocky and often muddy. There are some steep sections but anyone who has decent hiking shoes, good knees and is reasonably acclimated to the altitude should have no major problems. Even if you choose to take a mule there are at least 2 steep 10-minute sections where you will need to dismount and walk on your own. Pack light! If you take a mule, the guide not the mule will carry your bag. The charge will be 10-50 Yuan per bag. There are rest stops evenly spaced at 1-hour intervals from Xi Dang to Yakou. Food, water, other beverages and a variety of snacks are readily available. Bathrooms are where you make them. There is cell phone service as far as Yakou. From Yakou to Upper Yubeng takes 2 hours and 2.5 hours to Lower Yubeng. This portion of the journey has no rest areas, food or water. The decent is a bit steep in certain areas. Many people who take the mules up from Xi Dang hike down into the Yubeng on their own. On the return portion of the journey it is a 25-minute walk from Lower Yubeng to where the mules depart for Yakou or Xi Dang. The walk from Upper Yubeng is only about 15 minutes. From Yubeng back up to Yakou is about 2.5 hours. A mule from Yakou back to Xi Dang is 2.5 hours. If you hike down it will take just over 3 hours. When you get back to Xi Dang, there are minivans waiting to transport you back to the Fei Lai Temple area for 120 Yuan per van, so the more people the less expensive per person. The weather is very variable, dress in layers and bring a poncho. Ponchos can be rented in the Fei Lai Temple area or at the entrance to the mule departure area in Xi Dang. Fleas are occasionally a problem on the mule rides and you may want to purchase some Feng Yuo Jing oil at any drugstore. You sprinkle it on your pants and socks, not the mule. Mule rides are paid for at the completion of the journey. You may be asked to switch mules and guides ay Yakou. If so you will pay your original guide the full amount owed to him or her and they will take care of paying the next guide for the balance of the trip.
A mule ride from Xi Dang to Yakou is 155 Yuan plus bags A mule ride from Xi Dang all the way to Yubeng is 195 Yuan plus bags A mule ride back from Yubeng to Yakou is 105 Yuan plus bags A mule ride from Yubeng back to Xi Dang is 205 Yuan plus bags
There are about 10 Guesthouses each in Upper and Lower Yubeng. Upper Yubeng will be off to your right and Lower Yubeng off to your left when you arrive in the valley. There are no restaurants in either place and guests eat at their Guesthouses. Both places offer fabulous views of the Mei Li Snow Mountains. Lower Yubeng is smaller, quieter and closer to the lakes and waterfalls that you will likely visit during your stay. Most Guesthouses charge about 40 Yuan per night per person for basic accommodations and shared bathrooms or outhouses. Standard rooms with private bath and nicer décor range in price from 160-200 Yuan per night, not including food which runs about 30-35 Yuan per meal per person. Some recommendations include: the new Eden Inn, which is the first guesthouse along the path to Lower Yubeng. A bit further down the same path is the Hiker Dwelling Inn which offers spectacular views with shared rooms starting at 40 Yuan and more comfortable standard rooms at 180 Yuan. If you continue down along the path from the Hiker Dwelling Inn and across the river you will enter Lower Yubeng. In Lower Yubeng we recommend the Heaven Guesthouse which offers basic accommodations, occasional hot showers, outhouse and great food in a warm and friendly setting. Recent small hydro projects have brought some electricity to the valley but it’s wise to make sure all of your electronic devices, cameras and flashlights are fully charged before departing for Yubeng. The Sacred Waterfall is a 5-hour roundtrip from Lower Yubeng. About 10% of the hike is level ground, 70% is a steep hike and 20% is very steep. Another major attraction for strong experienced hikers is Ice Lake or Holy Ice Lake (7-8 hours from Upper Yubeng) and the former Base Camp that was the departure point for the ill-fated Japanese/Chinese climbing expedition that met their demise trying to climb Mei Li Snow Mountain in 1991. Every Saturday evening there is dancing, music, drinking and an opportunity to mingle with young Tibetan men and women in Upper Yubeng starting at dark and sometimes going all night. Everyone is welcome. Ming Yong Glacier is usually a separate trip that begins by driving to Mingyong Village. Sitting at 8,000 feet, Mingyong Village has become a popular tourist spot with good roads and comfortable hotels. You can walk the just under 5-mile path to Taizi Temple or take a horseback ride for 70 Yuan. Less than a mile down the same path you can climb up to Lotus Temple at 11,400 feet.
Other popular spots in the area include the Napa Seasonal Lake Nature Reserve, the Jinsha River Valley, the Bengzilan Tibetan Town and the Dongzhulin lamasery.
An alternatively to spending a night in the Fei Lai Temple area is to continue on to Xi Dang and spend the night there. The downside is that you miss the beautiful morning Mei Li Snow mountain views and the additional conveniences of Internet access and a much wider selection of food and accommodations. If you want to change routes and bypass Yakou on your return from Yubeng, you can take a steep narrow path along a stream and descend into Ninong Village. A local guide is strongly recommended. Over nighting in Ninong will be an interesting experience. From Ninong you can pick up the trail back to Xi Dang.