Geographically, the contrasts could not be more stark - with three of the mighty Asian rivers - the Salween, Mekong and the Yangtze flowing through at times at merely 50 km apart, we find cultures and peoples tucked in the deep gorges and valleys of the Eastern Himalayas frozen in time and living lives as they have lived for centuries.
Rather than discovering a clear-cut delineation of the tribes, this trip offers us insights into the astonishing micro-variation of the Tibetan world and walks visitors through a multi-ethnic corridor where various cultural realms and faiths have traditionally overlapped.
We find the Bai living in the fertile south with it's lush paddy, tobacco and tea fields at close range to Erhai lake. The Naxi's live along the lower reaches of the Yagtze and the table land just below the Jade Dragon range. The Lisu's who tradtionally were a hunter gathering group make their lives on the steep mountains of lower Salween and Mekong. The Yi's who slashed and burned live in some of the most idylic slopes etching a simple life out of potatoes and corn as if all they cared was for the view.
Part of these influences can be traced to the trading culture that prevailed here and the movement of people through these valleys to sustain themselves and the ancient bartering economy most notably the tea and salt trade that connected these border regions directly with Lhasa.
Meeting in Kunming (Yunnan), we begin our travels lower down in the fertile rice paddys of Dali the home of the Bai where we will visit the Old Town and also the secluded ancient capital of the Nanchao Kingdom at the foot of the Canshan mountains. We then drive up North and make our way through colourful Bai fishing and artisan villages before we ascend higher into the Lijiang basin with the backdrop of the Jade Dragon Mountains. After seeing the sights and sounds of Lijiang's Nashi matriarchical culture, we head up even higher into the blue Tibetan skies of Gyalthang. Throughout the journey, we encounter peoples and ethnic groups who still clinging onto their culture in the face of the rapid changes coming into their door step.