An exciting journey across the spectacular shans and vast flowery grasslands of western China, from Yunnan to Sichuan. The floral mix is dazzling with slipper orchids, primulas, lilies and blue poppies alongside multi-coloured Tibetan monasteries and fluttering prayer flags. Beginning in Yunnan and the botanically rich Cangshan, we progress north through Yunnan to the fabulous floral wealth of Zhongdian and Baima Shan, to the granitic lakeland wilderness of Haizi Shan and on across vast grasslands to finish at another botanical hotspot, Balang Shan, near Wolong.
Day 1 Arrive Dali (7 June)
The long but necessary flight sees us arriving at Dali airport in the afternoon on the 7 June and transferring to our hotel (1500 metres). Overnight Dali.
Day 2 Cangshan
The Cangshan rise directly behind the city and a cable car takes us swiftly to the upper slopes where we’ll find an array of rhododendrons and primulas. We’ll walk down at least part of the way in search of many other alpine and woodland gems. Overnight Dali.
Day 3 Dali & to Lijiang
A cultural interlude sees us exploring the old city and lakeside pagodas before the drive north to Lijiang. In the afternoon we’ll drive reach Wenghai to find the lovely Thalictrum delavayi
, Arisaema franchetianum
and stunning sheets of pink Primula beesiana
around the lake.
Day 4 Yulong Shan & Wenghai
Botanising begins with the florally rich limestone areas of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain where the pine forests are brimming with Roscoea cautleyoides
, Cypripedium flavum
and Cypripedium plectrochilon
, Morina nepalensis
and Iris colletii
. Cliffs have the exotic Pleione bulbocodioides
and pretty Primula yunnanensis
as well as the last flowers on George Forrest’s beautiful Primula forrestii
. Further into the park and we'll take a cablecar to a higher meadow with plenty of Stellera chamaejasme
, Incarvillea mairei
and maybe a few sky blue Meconopsis forrestii
. Forest edges have apricot Primula bulleyana
, Calanthe tricarinata
and mixed colours of Salvia aerea
. Overnight in Shuhe (2300 metres).
Day 5 To Zhongdian (Shangri-la)
From Lijiang the road meanders through pine forests and crosses the Yangtse River before climbing onto the Zhongdian Plateau - a botanical hotspot. The turf here will be full of colour with Incarvillea zhongdianensis
, mingled with the remarkable near-black purple Thermopsis barbata
, Anemone demissa
, Aster soulei
and masses of Euphorbia jolkinii
amongst which are orchids, gentians and louseworts. Overnight Zhongdian (3300 metres).
Day 6 Napa Hai
Close to the town is a small botanic garden that encloses an area of natural vegetation including a tract of old forest. Our first blue poppy Meconopsis prattiii
grows here and along the roadsides nearby and within are the sumptuous pouches of Cypripedium tibeticum
, growing alongside Cypripedium flavum
, Cypripedium plectrochilon
and Cypripedium guttatum
as well as Greater Butterfly Orchids and Sword Helleborines. There will be many more of these exotic orchids in the afternoon growing among shrubberies of Rhododendron wardii
and then a fifth species of slipper orchid Cypripedium yunnanense
will round off the day. Overnight Zhongdian.
Day 7 Tianchi Hai
This remote high altitude lake and the surrounding area have many wonderful flowers. Stands of dozens of Cypripedium flavum
jostle alongside the gorgeous pink discs of Nomocharis aperta
, big clumps of Primula chionantha
hint at the feast of primulas on offer today with swathes of Primula sikkimensis
and Primula secundiflora
mingled together around the lake, abundant bells of Primula amethystina
and spires of Primula deflexa
. Darkest purple bells of Lilium soulei
pop up from the dwarf rhododendrons and the sinister spathes of Arisaema elephas
emerge from clumps of Adonis davidii
beside pale yellow Meconopsis pseudointegrifolia
. Overnight Zhongdian.
Day 8 To Baima Shan
An early departure sees us climbing onto the spectacular Baima Shan, where limestone cliffs hold Paraquilegia microphylla
. Climbing onto higher slopes we’ll find the superb tight domes of blue Chionocharis hookeri
amid magenta Chesneya purpurea
, Primula dryadifolia
, Primula calliantha
and dwarf shrubs of deep pink Rhododendron calostrotum
. Overnight Benzilan.
Day 9 Baima Shan and to Zhongdian
More time will be spent on Baima Shan, this time in search of the lovely Corydalis melanochlora
, Lilium lophopohrum
, fragrant Primula gemmifera amoena
and the impressive gentian relative Megacodon stylophorum
. In the afternoon we’ll return to Zhongdian via pinewoods full of the scarlet drumsticks of Androsace bulleyana
and Daphne aurantiaca
. Overnight Zhongdian.
Day 10 Daxue Shan
The dramatic limestone teeth of Big Snow Mountain rises from tracts of mixed conifer and rhododendron forest coloured by dense carpets of Androsace rigida
. The high turf has purple Meconopsis lancifolium
, Corydalis pachycentra
and big domes of Arenaria polytrichoides
, whilst a nearby valley has high screes with the imposing Rheum nobile
and stunning Corydalis benecincta
. All amid stunning mountain landscapes. Overnight Xiancheng.
Day 11 To Litang
Densely wooded valleys frame serene rural scenes of neat Tibetan houses in various styles and immaculately tended fields. High passes have peculiar Soroseris gillii
and Saussurea medusa
, alongside Solms-laubachia pulcherima
, Iris dolichosiphon
and Androsace wardii
. As we descend there is Primula orbicularis
and stands of Iris delavayi
. Primula involucrata
carpets marshy flushes and we’ll stop for flowery grasslands full of Incarvillea mairei
and Iris goniocarpa
and the intriguing black-purple Thermopsis barbata
as we climb to a vast granite plateau that extends north. On the high plateau are many Meconopsis integrifolia
, Aster himalaicus
and tight cushions of Arenaria oreophila
as well as Primula orbicularis
and the creamy-spires of Rheum alexandrae
that crowd marshy areas. The expansive lakeland climbs to over 4500 metres with snow-capped shans in the distance. Overnight Litang.
Day 12 To Yajiang
There will be a cultural diversion in the morning to visit the imposing Litang Monastery with it's vibrant colourful interiors. Heading east the roadsides slopes are full of colour with plentiful Lilium lophophorum
, Incarvillea mairei
, Ajuga lupulina, Meconopsis henrici
and the peculiar rosettes of Pleurospermum
surrounded by prayer flags. Overnight Yajiang.
Day 13 To Danba
Today we will experience the vast grasslands that stretch across this eastern fringe of the Tibetan Plateau. Roadside banks have the soft yellow of Primula prattii
and blue spires of Meconopsis racemosa,
whilst Paeonia anomala
crowd the shrubberies and we'll pass through several typical Tibetan villages with their distinctive houses. The pass near Danba has Corydalis conspersa
, pretty mauve Primula violacea
and Sinopodophyllum hexandrum.
Then we find
various colour forms of Salvia prattii
and maybe a few early Lilium duchartriei
as we descend into lusher woodlands. Overnight Danba.
Day 14 Siguniang Shan
Heading along the deep valley east of Danba we climb steadily seeing Eremurus chinensis
and bushy plants of flowery Incarvillea arguta
before a more serious ascent bring us onto the flower-rich turf of Siguniang Shan with new species of pedicularis, primula and corydalis. Overnight Rilong.
Day 15 Balang Shan
The incomparable Balang Shan is where we spend the whole day. The high turf is smothered in flowers with many drooping red Meconopsis punicea
and various mauve poppywort species mingled with Cypripedium tibeticum
, Fritillaria sichuanica
, masses of wide-faced Omphalogramma vinciflora
, Corydalis curviflora
, many louseworts and primulas including Primula polyneura
, and both Veratrum album
lovely roses and delicate and refined Corydalis flexuosa
. Overnight Rilong.
Day 16 To Chengdu
We'll explore some other delightful areas around the lower Balang Shan including stands of the spectacular lily Cardiocrinum giganteum
, before heading to the big city in the afternoon. Overnight Chengdu.
Day 17 Flights home