Tiger Leaping Gorge (pinyin: hu tiao xia) is a canyon on the Yangtze River – locally called the Golden Sands River – located 60 km north of Lijiang City, Yunnan in southwestern China.
Around 15 km in length, the gorge is located where the river passes between 5,596 metre Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and 5,396 m Haba Xueshan in a series of rapids under steep 2000 metre cliffs. Legend says that in order to escape from a hunter, a tiger jumped across the river at the narrowest point (still 25 metres wide), hence the name.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is a contender for the world's deepest river canyon, depending on the exact definition used. The inhabitants of the gorge are primarily the indigenous Naxi people, who live in a handful of small hamlets. Their primary subsistence comes from grain production and foreign hikers. The gorge is not considered navigable. In the early 1980s, four rafters attempted to go down the gorge and were never seen again. In 1986, the first known successful attempt to sail through the gorge was made by the first expedition to float down the entire length of the Yangtze, starting at the river's high source at the Gelandandong glacier lake.
The area was officially opened to foreign tourists in 1993, but had attracted adventurous backpackers already in the 1980s. Officials plan to improve the existing trails and roads, bringing tour buses and more development. These plans arouse highly varied reactions among the local population, from strong opposition to strong support.
Natural crystals are mined from areas in and surrounding the Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Hiking the length of the gorge is possible. The hiking path ("the high road") is well-maintained and marked, although sometimes narrow, and is used by the Naxi as part of everyday life. This trail is longer than the lower road, approximately 22 kilometres (14 mi), but more varied, with fantastic scenery—mainly mountain views—a challenge for most but well worth it. It features a surprising variety of microecosystems, waterfalls and a fair number of guesthouses for trekkers. These guesthouses are not well heated, which combined with the unpredictable nature of high mountain weather makes this trek unadvisable during the rainy season.
The higher road, stretching about 195 km (121 mi) from Qiaotou through the Gorge, is a stretch of pavement (until recently a simple mule track) crossed by several waterfalls, and frequently beset by rockslides. Some portions of the road have been known to disappear into the river below. The road follows the Yangtze, so there are more views of the river, and a stronger sense of being in a gorge than on the upper trail. Where the high road descends to meet the lower road, one can climb down to the river near the Tiger Leaping Stone, the point at which the tiger is said to have leaped.
Although Tiger Leaping Gorge is an essential part of the World Heritage protected "Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan", the Chinese government has floated proposals for a hydroelectric dam on the Jinsha River since 2004. However, according to the South China Morning Post on 21 Dec 2007, the Yunnan provincial government has scrapped this project.
Details of the scrapped project follow: Construction has already begun on the other 12 dams of the same project which lie just outside the boundaries of the heritage area, even though it has not been approved by the State Council. Media reports suggested that the Lijiang city government is waiving standard procedures in order to facilitate the project.
The project would displace up to 100,000 people to the north, mainly the Naxi minority, to a Tibetan area with harsh climate and the staples are such unfamiliar crops as barley and potatoes; virtually stop the flow of the upper Yangtze River, and irreparably alter the landscape of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. The project was shelved in Dec 2007. This project is also related to the Three Gorges Dam and the South-North Water Transfer Project, both of which are causing, or will cause, massive environmental damage and the destruction of thousands of cultural heritage sites.