As the clean, cold winds sweep down from the rooftop of the world towards the richness of the Sichuan plains, they converge, and the air wells upward over a vast region. On this upwelling fountain of cold air rests a blanket of moisture, forming the most stable and substantial body of stratus clouds to be found over dry land. Travelers from the Chinese cities on the road south and west to India and Indochina must first pass beneath these clouds, to climb the mountainous paths that form the boundaries of the plain, and indeed, for many centuries, the boundaries of civilization, and the limits of civil society.
Always rising, always climbing, as it continues southward past the terraced foothills and into the mountain strongholds of the fiercely reputed Yi, the long road to the sea finally rises above the clouds, and on the mountaintops of southwestern Sichuan the traveler will behold a sea of clouds extending hundreds of miles to the distant horizons of the north and east. To the west, the rugged and frozen peaks that mark the edge of the Tibetan plain mark the ends of vision. And to the south, a land of eternal springtime and warm, welcome sunshine lies beckoning its surcease to the weary.
Here are the vales of the Lisu and Mosuo, the flowered gardens of the Dai, the palaces of forgotten kingdoms, the libraries of forgotten languages, Naxi, and Drung, and the city of eternal springtime, Kunming. An international mecca for the backpacker, the ancient city of Kunming is now a modern center of commerce and government, offering direct international air travel, and rail routes to the cities of Sichuan and Guizhou. Here, on the emerald banks of Dian Chi, you are truly