Off the beaten track, discover a beguiling world

FROM the heights of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to sparkling clear lakes, breathtaking gorges and a multitude of ethnic minority cultures, Yunnan is rightly known as one of the most diverse provinces in China.

For those who don’t like scenery that comes with crowds, go off the beaten track a bit and enjoy the splendor of the Puzhehei Scenic Area in the Wenshan Zhuang Autonomous Prefecture.

The reserve covers 388 square kilometers, with a core area of 165 square kilometers. It contains as many as 83 limestone caves in karst mountains that tower over 56 lakes harboring an abundant array of flora and fauna.

In popular Swan Lake area alone, one can find more than 100 bird species. The lake attracts the most visitors from June to September, when 300 varieties of lotus flowers come into bloom together, including several rare varieties.

To view the lotus close up, visitors can choose from several boat excursions.

Another must-see site on tourist itineraries is Qinglong Mountain, which lies a little west of Puzhehei Village.

It takes about half an hour to hike to the peak, which affords a magnificent bird’s-eye view of Puzhehei and is a favorite spot for sunrise and sunset watchers.

In addition to its gorgeous landscapes, Puzhehei also offers a distinct culture experience.

Every year in midsummer, the Yi ethnic minority here celebrates the Painted Face Festival by smearing each other’s faces with black ashes collected from the kitchen.

According to Yi tradition, the practice exorcises evil spirits, and whoever has the darkest face is the most blessed. Young men and women also use the rite to express their feelings toward one another.

Tourists are invited to join in the festival fun.

During the summer Torch Festival in the village of Xianrendong, the Yi people honor Atilaba, a legendary figure who is said to have dispersed a plague of locust with torch fires.

The villagers are members of the Sani branch of the Yi ethnic minority and they have retained a unique courtship culture. As their children come of age, parents build a flower chamber for the girls and a lovers’ chamber for the men.

To win a girl’s heart, the young lads have to serenade beneath the window of the flower chamber. If a girl is receptive, she will offer a ladder to the lucky man. He then takes her to the lovers’ chamber.

Unlike most Han Chinese, the Sani often marry after having babies.

How to get there: It takes nearly four hours to fly from Shanghai to the Yunnan capital of Kunming, where twice daily, half-hour flights to Puzhehei are available. It takes another hour to drive to the scenic area. Buses to Puzhehei are also available at the Kunming East Station. It’s a 290-kilometer trip. You can stay in Qiubei County, which is only 13 kilometers from Puzhehei Scenic Area. Shuttle buses ply the route every half hour.