The Nujiang (Nu River) Great Canyon is a spectacular 315 kilometre long marvel of nature in northwest Yunnan province in southwest China. The Chinese call it the Grand Canyon of the East: a direct comparison with the more famous Grand Canyon in the USA.
There is only one way into this beautiful part of China. It is difficult to get to, and is not on the way to anywhere else. A visitor must retrace his/her steps. This inconvenience however, is the reason why the Canyon remains untouched by the excesses of tourism.
The road in follows an old caravan route into Tibet. It’s a two lane bitumen secondary road which generally follows the riverbank as it winds its way north, every turn offering another aspect of this incredibly beautiful part of China. Sometimes it rises above a narrow gorge via a road cut into the cliff-face high above the rapids below. In other places it narrows suddenly into a single lane. This can be dangerous.*
Steel-cabled suspension bridges traverse the gorge and connect small communities with the main road and the larger villages. Local people depend on these unstable constructions because river transport is impossible. Too many rapids.
The scenery is magnificent. Almost too good to be true. But there it is before your eyes: overwhelming memories of other beautiful places you have seen with its colour, scale and grandeur. Farms and villages mottling this riverine wonderland which is home to Nu, Lisu, Drung, and Tibetan minority people. Forests, streams and waterfalls adding their particular features to the bigger picture. Now I understand why one quarter of China’s flora and fauna species thrive here in this unique environment.
This wild river has its source in the Tangalla Mountains on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau to the north. From there it flows southeast through a dry Tibetan gorge before tumbling south from the Plateau into a lush green Yunnan. The Gaoligong mountains (average heig