Epic Yunnan Torch Festival tour: Fire, flirting, fighting... and lots of rice wine

Culture, Travel | by Sascha Matuszak
Posted: July 7th, 2011 | Updated: August 5th, 2014 | Comments
                                                                        

Summer is here and its time to BURN SOMETHING! July 4th is the "Day of the Grill" in the US and the Chinese, not to be outdone, have their own "Day of the Torch"—three whole days of burning, dancing, flirting and fight-watching, starting in Yunnan this year on the 24th to 26th of July.

The Torch Festival which lights up southwest China each year is mostly associated with the Yi minority, but plenty of other groups burn stuff this time of year, including the Bai, Naxi and Lisu minorities—even scantily dressed fire-gods out in Zhejiang (although he was a couple months early. Too excited). So if you are a teacher or otherwise indisposed for the hot summer months, then take a trip out to the southwest and release the pyro in you.

Need help? Then check out this four day Yunnan hot spots Dali and Lijiang. Torch Festival season begins 24th day of the sixth lunar month and festivities end for good sometime in August usually with three main days of celebration along the way. The Bai minority people in and around Dali celebrate the Torch Festival by building massive pillars which they alight at an appointed time à la Burning Man, after which the whole town or village grab up burning faggots and run around with them, igniting them and innocent bystanders (if there be such abominations) with pine resin and exploding powder.

The night ends with fire-jumps and rice wine. The Xichang-centered Torch Festivals (the original, if you ask them) celebrate the legend of a great warrior and a plague of locusts, which in time has become a festival that includes a celebration of Yi minority feminine beauty, the fighting prowess of local cocks and bulls and various other local and national pastimes such as flute playing, lamb chop sucking and fireworks. And fire jumping and flammable pine resin. With rice wine. The Naxi in Lijiang do a little of all of this, including burning massive pillars of pine, dancing in circles, watching cock and bull fights and fire-jumping. With rice wine.

The Yunnan Torch Festival tour will take you north from Yunnan to the border with Sichuan and from there you could continue on your own, perhaps swinging up to Lugu Lake, home to the matriarchal Mosuo tribe, and then east to Xichang, in southern Sichuan to continue on the Torch Festival trail. Getting from Lijiang to Lugu Lake is a bumpy 6-10 hour ride. You can hire a 4x4 Jeep to get you across the roads, and that is the most reliable (and most expensive) option. Alternatively you can also do a series of Jade Snow Dragon Mountain, stopping in Naxi villages near Fenglian and Zhuangzi and then dropping down into Yongning and then onto Lugu Lake. There are many local tour companies that can offer the hike, or, if you're tight for time, you could string together an organized tour through Jade Dragon Snow Mountain followed by a tour to Lugu Lake.

Learn more about the region in our Yunnan travel guide.

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