where Four Rivers roar. Four rivers. Three mountain ranges. Two adventurers. One Expedition!

In October 2019, China-based adventurer, Adrian Bottomley (and other yet to be determined adventurers/filmmakers), will embark on the first expedition of its kind to traverse all four of the great Asian rivers that roar down from the Tibetan plateau and carve their parallel, steep-sided river valleys through northern Yunnan, China.

Here, for around 100 km, four of Asia's greatest rivers run roughly parallel to one another, though separated by high mountain ranges with peaks over 5,000 meters.

After this area of near confluence, the rivers greatly diverge: the Dulong and Nujiang Rivers become the Salween and Irrawaddy respectively and flow through Burma into the Indian Ocean, the Mekong heads south through Indochina to Vietnam, and empties out into the South China Sea and the Yangtze flows into the East China Sea at Shanghai.

Adrian on an initial recce into the wild northern reaches of the Gaoligong Mountains with two local Lisu hunters.

According to UNESCO, the region:

may be the most biologically diverse temperate region on earth

For decades, this spectacular biosphere has been a hot spot for plant endemism in Asia and was the botanical backdrop for many intrepid plant hunters of the past, including George Forrest and Frank Kingdon Ward. The protected area is home to around 6,000 species of plants, over 300 of which are believed to be found nowhere else on earth. More than 200 varieties of rhododendron and more than 100 species of gentians and primulas also grow here.

The fauna to found in the area includes the endemic black snub-nosed monkey, the recently discovered 'skywalker' gibbon, the elusive takin, the even more elusive snow leopard, the Asian black bear and the red panda. There are also numerous rare bird species.

Culturally, the region is also a veritable melting pot with many of the twenty-five minorities to be found throughout Yunnan represented here, including the Drung tribe, the smallest of all of China's minority groups, whose oldest women still have full facial tattoos. Some of the other minorities include the Tibetans, Nu, Yi, Lisu, Pumi and Naxi.

Dan Ji - one of the few remaining Drung ladies with a full facial tattoo

The aim of the expedition will be to document and survey a diverse range of ethnographic, botanical, environmental, geographical and cultural issues that are affecting this unique and spectacular biosphere as development begins to encroach on its people, topography, fauna and flora.

In short, just how well is the world's most prolific temperate biosphere coping with China's ongoing rush towards development and modernity?
Our starting point at Dongzhuling Monastery perched above the Yangste River.

The expedition will start on the banks of the Yangste River near Benzilan and first cross the Baima Snow Massif, part of the largest protected nature reserve in Yunnan and home to the endangered Yunnan Golden Monkey, pristine coniferous forests and a huge variety of rhododendrons.

Our first challenge: crossing the Baima Snow Mountain massif

Arriving at the colossal Mekong River gorge near the small Tibetan settlement of Giabe, we will then head towards the rapidly developing village of Cizhong, before climbing up through more spectacular rhododendron forest to arrive at the 4000m Se La Pass that leads down into the beautiful Sekatong Valley. A final traverse of a ridge of Bilou Snow Mountain will once again lead us down, this time into the Nujiang River Valley.

The upper Nujiang River valley near the border with Tibet

From here, the most challenging traverse awaits, a challenging one week trek through thick, untouched forests and high altitude passes towards our final destination - the remote Dulong River Valley. Following un-trekked paths used by local Lisu hunters, this final section of the expedition will explore arguably some of the most pristine wilderness left in China.

Huge swathes of Rhododendron Neriflorum carpet one of the valleys
So that's the plan. What we are seeking now is collaboration on the film making and production front, as well as potential corporate and/or branding sponsors to assist with financing in order to make it a documentary reality.

In terms of the story boarding, we have the framework to pursue a variety of compelling themes, as well as a number of specific ideas around which to develop core content. Obviously though, as on any journey of exploration, there will be a large element of spontaneity as new and unknown experiences unfold in real time.

If you are interested in discussing further please contact us at Adrian@whistlingarrow.com


All photos by Adrian Bottomley

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