Located in Yunnan Province, Southwest China, Wenhai village is accessible from Lijiang by foot, horse or jeep over unpaved roads. Whichever method of transport you choose, you'll be impressed by the magnificent views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain as you descend into the village.
Nestled in the valley at the foot of the mountain, this small community of Naxi farmers, along with their goats, pigs, horses and cows, lives on the lush green fields around the lake that fronts their village. A lack of decent roads has kept Wenhai relatively free from the tourist hordes, though in addition to the local Naxi dialect some people do have a smattering of Mandarin. On the far side of the settlement, you'll find Wenhai Eco-Lodge, owned and run by 56 local families, each of whom has shares in the business and contributes a percentage of profits to community development.
The project was started with help from the Nature Conservancy as a way of supplementing villagers' income and encouraging residents to view their natural environment as a resource, while at the same time discouraging the common practice of cutting down trees in the area to be sold as firewood. Many of the 'eco' aspects of the project have since fallen into disrepair, but the lodge still employs villagers, who work on a rotational basis-as long as there are visitors.
Guests can go horseback riding, amble through the rustic village, hike to Tiger Leaping Gorge or simply relax in the courtyard of the guesthouse.
Hiking possibilities range from short afternoon ambles to ambitious multi-day backpacking loops. A short hike around the lake, dodging the grazing animals, offers splendid views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
A little further afield, you can walk to the neighboring village of the Yi ethnic minority. For more ambitious hikes, the guesthouse can arrange local guides (even English-speaking ones if you call ahead).
Homestays with families in nearby villages can also be arranged for multi-day treks to Tiger Leaping Gorge. The converted Wenhai farmhouse offers rustic double beds, with electric blankets should the temperature drop at night. There's a shared bathroom with Western-style toilets off the courtyard, and hot water and laundry facilities. Included in the price of a night's lodging are three meals, prepared and served by local Naxi cooks. Beer, wine and coffee are available for an extra charge. The cooks can also make a packed lunch to take on your hike, but be warned, the main meals are so good you might want to plan to be back in time.
There's one small shop in town, but if you need anything specific, it would be best to take it with you.
For more information visit www.northwestyunnan.com/wenhai_ecolodge.htm.
Guests must book ahead for lodging, transportation and English-speaking guides.
(That's Shanghai December 27, 2007)