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In the far south-west of China lies theprovince of Yunnan. Bordering Vietnam,Laos, Burma and Tibet, it contains amosaic of ethnic groups, but its north-western corner is Tibetan, once part of theancient Tibetan province of Kham. Schoolatlases show the extreme altitude of thegreat Himalayan range and the Tibetanplateau in purple, and this spills untidilysouth-eastwards into China. Here, threegreat Asian rivers - the Yangtse, theMekong and the Salween - emerge fromthe heart of Tibet and forge their waytowards the sea, carving a path through thehighest mountains in the world. In south-eastern Tibet and Yunnan, they chart aclose and parallel course, separated bymountains that rise to 6,000 metres andmore, before going their separate ways: theYangtse in a dramatic bend to the east tofertilise one of the greatest of allcivilisations, the Mekong into Laos andVietnam, and the Salween into Burma. This dramatic region has always beenconsidered remote by the Chinese, letalone Europeans, and it was not until late inthe 19th century that intrepid Westernersfirst penetrated the wild region of Kham.Amongst these explorers were some of thegreat plant-hunters, who came in search ofone of the richest temperate floras in theworld. In particular, the cool, temperateclimate of the Yunnan highlands, togetherwith plentiful summer rainfall, made plantsfrom this region ideal for establishing inBritish gardens. The plant-hunters ErnestWilson, George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward, therefore found rich pickings. Trees,shrubs and herbaceous perennials hithertounknown to science were brought back inabundance following their adventurousjourneys in the early years of the 20thcentury, and today provide many of ourclassic garden plants. After flying to Kunming, we begin ouradventure in Lijiang, in the west of Yunnan.This is an ideal place to start as it issituated at a relatively low altitude (2,000metres). A couple of days in the region willtherefore allow us to acclimatise before weexplore the higher country to the north.Lijiang is a World Heritage Site and hometo the Naxi, a colourful ethnic minority witha matriarchal society; we will stay nearby inYuhu, a peaceful village beneath thebeautiful Jade Dragon Mountain, where ourcomfortable lodge provides an ideal basefrom which to sample the region's botanicaldelights. We will then cross the Yangtseand head into the higher country, spendingtwo days in the village of Haba. Along theway, as we travel through forests andmeadows amidst spectacular mountainsand gorges, we will enjoy the rich waysideflora. The lily Nomocharis, for example, isso abundant that local children collect themlike daisies; Iris bulleyanaand bright blueCorydalisgrow abundantly beside ripplingstreams, and a greater range of Arisaemaspecies is found here than anywhere elsein the world. Next, we travel to Zhongdian. Nowrenamed Shangri-La by the authorities, butstill known as Gyalthang by its Tibetaninhabitants, this small regional capital sitson a 3,000-metre plateau surrounded bytranquil farmland, forests and mountains,and dotted with villages with splendidlybuilt and ornamented wooden houses. Wewill stay for three nights near the restoredTibetan Buddhist monastery, a base fromwhich we will explore the surroundingvalleys, lakes and hills. Here, wholemeadows are brim-full with Primula-especially P. secundifloraand P. sikkimensis- interspersed with multi-colouredPedicularis, carpets of Incarvilleaand thelarge flowers of slipper orchids(Cypripediumspp.); rocky banks arecovered with the blue poppy Meconopsishorridulaand grasslands with beautifulEuphorbiaand scented Stellera, whilsthigher up, forests of lilac give way to aplethora of Rhododendronspecies, manynow introduced into Britain. Driving north, we next focus on Big SnowMountain. We will explore this region onfoot, staying first at Geza and then nearWengshui for two nights as we search themountain for its alpine flora, and also thehighly biodiverse Birang Gorge. Then wewill descend to the bottom of the YangtseValley, where we will feel the change to anear tropical climate, before ascendingagain, through forests of rhododendronsand meadows of primulas, peonies andother exciting plants, onto the Baima Passat 4,000 metres. This marks the watershedbetween the Yangtse and Mekong Rivers,and the mountains around the pass arespectacular and full of fascinating alpines.Depending on the weather, we will eitherset up camp near the pass to explore, orbase ourselves in Deqen, a small townbelow with views across the Mekong (2,000metres below!) to Kawakarpo, theunclimbed holy mountain of the Tibetanswhich stands between the Mekong and theSalween. After four days of botanicalexploration in the region, we must driveback across the Yangtse to Zhongdian forour flights home.This exciting and pioneering trip is not onlyan introduction to a botanical paradise, butto some of the most spectacular andfascinating country in the world, still barelytravelled by Westerners.China (Yunnan) - A Plant-hunter's ParadiseAn adventurous 19-day holiday to a botanist's paradise, the mountains of north-western Yunnan, following in the footsteps of such pioneering plant-hunters of the last century as Kingdon-Ward, Forrest and Wilson.Saturday 25th May - Wednesday 12th June Cost: £4,995 Outline itineraryDay 1Depart London.Day 2Kunming.Day 3/4Fly Lijiang; transferYuhu.Day 5/6Haba.Day 7/9Zhongdian.Day 10Geza.Day 11/12Wengshui.Day 13Zhongdian.Day 14Baima Nature Reserve.Day 15/16Deqen and Hong Po.Day 17Zhongdian.Day 18Kunming.Day 19Fly London.AccommodationThe best available hotels andlodges (some simple but clean).FoodAll included in the price.Grading B/C. The walking on this tour ismoderate rather than strenuous,but travelling in this part of Chinacan be demanding.Focus Botany, though birds and the richlocal cultures will not be ignored.LeaderJohn Shipton. Single room/tentsupplement£550.Web quick search: CHN03218Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryYUNNANLAOSMYANMARVIETNAMDEQENZHONGDIANLIJIANGKUNMINGMeconopsis horridulaOld lady spinningPrayer flags, Melung Glacier

In the far west of China, where the atlasmarks in streaks of purple the greatplateau of Tibet tumbling to the southand east into the plains of China, the greatprovince of Sichuan lies. Its subtropicalfertile plain, known as the Red Basin, isringed by mountains, and its remotenessfrom the centres of power and its relativeinaccessibility, until recently ensured thatthis region was China's 'Wild West', toboth Chinese and foreigners alike. Thewest of the province, dominated by thosegreat mountain ranges with peakstowering to over 7,000 metres, was part ofKham, an old province of Tibet thatremained under the control of the DalaiLama until early in the last century. Todaythe Tibetan people of western Sichuancling fiercely to their distinct way of life,language and culture, as do other ethnicminorities such as the Hui and Qiang,despite the upheavals of the 20th centuryand the incursions of the Han Chinese. The great range of environmentalconditions here, from alpine slopes totemperate forests and high grasslands,has given rise to one of the richest andmost diverse temperate floras in the world.Towards the end of the 19th century, andinto the early 20th, the great plant-huntersErnest 'Chinese' Wilson, George Forrest,Joseph Rock, and Purdom and Farrertravelled through Sichuan and collectedwhat, today, are some of our best-knowngarden plants, and introduced them forthe first time into cultivation inEuropean gardens. It is only in recentyears that Sichuan has becomeaccessible again to travellers fromoutside China, making it possible forintrepid plant enthusiasts to see inthe wild some of these species. Thesheer range of plants is breathtaking,and there is still a long way to go inassessing their potential in horticulture.Change is happening very fast but thevast reaches of western Sichuan are stillinfrequently visited by Westerners. We begin our journey in Chengdu, thecapital of the province, which lies on thewestern side of the Red Basin. Then,leaving the subtropical plain behind, wehead into the mountains to Kangding, thegateway to Tibet. We break the journey atYa'an, in order to provide time in which totake in the countryside and, of course, itsplants. Kangding, with its monasteries andbustling market, is an ideal base for plantexploration. It is surrounded by mountains,including Gonga Shan (western China'shighest peak at over 7,500 metres), and acountryside composed of a varied mosaicof lakes, steep forested valleys, grasslandand high passes. Within easy strikingdistance are fertile plant-hunting grounds:rhododendron forests, moist meadowsabounding in Primulaand Pedicularisspecies, grasslands holding Meconopsisintegrifoliaand screes where the bluepoppy Meconopsis horridulamay befound. With four nights in Kangding, we visit the 4,300-metre Zheduo passwhich looks out over the Tagonggrasslands (a 3,700-metre plateausurrounded by snowy peaks), as well asKandingxian Lake and the Dadu River. Leaving Kangding, we skirt the base ofErlang Shan, and then head north up theremote Baoxing Valley to the small town ofBaoxing where we spend the night, theslopes of the valleys we pass throughproviding ample reason for regularwayside exploration and new plantdiscoveries. We then continue north beneath several 5,000-metre peaks beforecrossing the Balang Shan pass andentering the Pitiao Valley and the WolongNature Reserve. Wolong is now well knownas the largest of China's 20 Giant Pandareserves, as well as a haven for many birdand animal species. However, it is thePitao Valley and its many side streams, aswell as the Balang Shan pass, on whichwe focus, for they are a botanicalparadise. To do this we will spend threenights at Wolong and explore hillsides ofIris chrysographeand meadows wherePrimula sikkimensisand AnemoneandPedicularisspecies grow in profusion,amongst them such treasures as thestatuesque Veratrum nigrumand theslipper orchid Cypripedium tibeticum. Near the pass we may find the scarletMeconopsis punicea, a plant that Wilsontravelled 600 miles to collect! Leaving Wolong we head north up the Min Valley, through gorges in which we will look for Lilium regale. Stopping for thenight at Maoxian, a town overlooked byvillages of the indigenous Qiang people,we head the next day to Songpan, and thereserves of Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou.Set in the Min Shan range, and nowdesignated World Heritage Sites, thesereserves provide some of the mostspectacular scenery in the world. Despitethe arrival of Chinese tourism it is veryeasy to get away, appreciate the countryand discover botanical wonders. Wespend four nights at Huanglong with itshundreds of impossibly blue lakes, andthree at Jiuzhaigou with its Y-shaped valleyset amongst snow-covered peaks fringedin thick forests. Heading south again, wereturn to Chengdu and the outside world,having sampled a small portion of thebotanical and cultural wonders of this little-known plant-hunter's paradise.China - Plant-hunting inSichuan, Land of the PandaA pioneering 21-day botanical tour to Sichuan Province, following in the footsteps of the early plant-hunters.Monday 17th June - Sunday 7th July Cost: £4,995Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationSICHUAN TIBET QINGHAI GANSU SHAANXI HUBEI GUIZHOU YUNNAN CHENGDU KANGDING WOLONG HUANGLONG JIUZHAIGOU Outline itineraryDay 1Depart London.Day 2Arrive Chengdu.Day 3Ya'an.Day 4/7Kangding.Day 8Baoxing.Day 9/11Wolong.Day 12Maoxian.Day 13/16Huanglong.Day 17/19Jiuzhaigou.Day 20Maoxian.Day 21Fly London.AccommodationHotels of varying standards; mostwill have private facilities but in morerural areas this cannot beguaranteed.FoodAll included in the price.GradingB/C. Moderate walking, but travellingin this part of China can bedemanding.FocusPlants.LeaderJohn Shipton.Single room supplement£550.Web quick search: CHN02219Meconopsis puniceaRheum alexandraeYakherderParaquilegia anemonoides