An expanse of terrain so varied as China hardly feels like one country at all. Striking mountains, snowy vistas, grassy plateaus, wetlands, bamboo forests, coastal regions, and of course, urban epicenters, China holds some of the most drastically contrasting landscapes in the entire world. Even one locale can experience extremes unlike any most humans will experience.
For instance, the deserts of the Turpan region in the northwest will fluctuate between almost 50°C in summer to -30°C in winter. No one understands the sensitivities of the land and its climate as intimately as China’s rural populus, who are most vulnerable to its unforgiving climes. Naturally, different communities have adapted their ways of life to develop cultures in step with their surroundings — none more so than the rural and nomadic peoples of Tibet and the far west. Migrating twice yearly as the seasons roll, an entire community takes to horseback and thunders across the jade prairies, meandering through mountain passes and halting at blue lakes to refresh. Now through I Like Local, visitors can accept the invitation to join Tibetan nomads on their annual expedition and take in the staggering sights and crisp mountain air firsthand.
Rivers ribbon across the landscape boldly, often flowing through miles of territory before encountering any human settlement. Home to the Yangtze River, which journeys from west to east for 6300km, China boasts the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world. Shaping grooves and valleys as they flow, Chinese waterways outline the rugged network of mountain ranges that stud the horizon. China’s mountains are some of the most colorful on the planet, with minerals illuminating the badlands in Gansu with candy cane tones of red and white. Its purple-grey glaciers to the north reveal the raw wrath of nature in all of its terrible beauty. Forming shapes that one can hardly imagine, the improbable rockscapes have to be seen to be believed, and luckily for us, some of the most intrepid photographers have gone where many would struggle to reach.
Qingchui Mountain, Chengde
Few things can humble us like an immovable ancient monument. Like Thor’s hammer slammed down from the very skies or a horse head gently lapping from water’s surface, the sheer magnificence of such an improbable formation cannot fail to inspire. Trekking on foot as you ascend above treetops into the jutting stone structure, you may feel awestruck by the expansive panorama – or simply amused as you think about the ‘thumbs up’ shape of the mountain.
Mount Huangshan, Anhui
Nowhere in the world has a rockscape quite like the quirky shapes and shades of the Yellow Mountains. Every granite curve bursts with an expression as smooth sloping rock face suddenly give way to the jagged cliff edge. Quirky geology, towering pines, oceanic clouds, and steaming hot springs mark the ‘four wonders’ of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yamdrok Tso, Tibet
If Nepal is the roof of the world then Tibet is the heavens above it, as drastic ever-changing clouds rumble above endless slopes.
Wolong National Nature Reserve, Sichuan
Giant panda bears are China’s treasure, and surely one of the country’s most precious natural beauties. Long considered a symbol of peace, Chinese philosophers connect the black-and-white bear to the Yin and Yang, a two-tone symbol which represents harmony and balance of opposite energies: male and female, dark and light, old and young.
Mount Siguniang, Sichuan
Golden-green trees pepper the faces of the highest peaks in the Qionglai mountain range, a UNESCO Heritage Area sheltering 30% of the world’s pandas.
Xumishan Grottoes, Ningxia
You don’t get more off-the-beaten-track than this mainly desert region of northwest China. A network of over 130 hidden Buddhist caves nestles among the startling orange-and-red streaked hillsides. This wild landscape is constantly in flux and could be swept into a totally new form by earthquakes and wind storms.
Zhangye Danxia, Gansu
Blistering scarlet and burnt umber ridges of rock roll along the land strip between Tibet’s northern border and the southern reaches of Mongolia. Its layered sandstone stripes look more like fantasy landscapes of Dr. Suess than planet Earth.
Mineral-rich azure waters glisten in the forested mountain valleys of Sichuan province in central China. Jiuzhai Valley National Park is a remarkably diverse retreat for nature-lovers, studded with waterfalls and open lakes.
Furong Ancient Town, Hunan
Fed by crisscrossing rivers, Furong or ‘Hibiscus town’ is rife with stunning waterfalls, rushing whitewater rapids and emerald treetops. Rediscover the powerful musicality of nature as you clamber among hundreds of interweaving rivulets.
Kharola Glacier, Tibet
Ice, hard rock and biting winds carve a frenzied and frenetic landscape in the coldest regions of China. But the glaciers of Tibet are nothing like the pure arctic white of the polar deserts; misty purple, smoky blues, and raw reds evoke mineral majesty in these harsh climes.
Grasslands, Eastern Tibet
Grasslands sprawl across the plains of eastern Tibet, where several nomadic communities migrate as the season’s change. Eager to share their close-to-nature way of life, nomadic herdsmen are welcoming small groups of foreign visitors to ride alongside them.
Nam Tso, Tibet
Bare-handed, exposed to the sky, the chill wide water of Nam Tso seems to wash the landscape clean. A spirituality arises from the serenity of the lake. Home to the highest saltwater lake on the planet and 1km closer to the sky than Lhasa city, this remote region is known intimately by the yak that live there.