About an hour's bumpy drive from Xidan or a convenient bus ride from Deqin, this sleepy village sits in the shadow of the brooding but magnificent Kawa Karpo Peak, whose mammoth glacier—at 11.7 kilometers long and covering an area of 13 square kilometers—feeds a gurgling tributary of the Mekong.
Kawa Karpo (sometimes referred to as Virgin Peak) is the formidable summit of Meili Mountain. At a towering 6,470 meters it is the highest point in Yunnan and has never been conquered. For thousands of years Kawa Karpo has been sacred to Tibetan Buddhists, and it is the site of a major annual pilgrimage. Locals are fond of recounting the cautionary tale of one of many ill-fated mountaineering expeditions: a team perished on the ascent, Tibetans believe, because it was blasphemous enough to tread on holy ground.
Luckily, the local government has constructed a safer, more reverent—and environmentally sound—way of viewing the glacier. Simply head out from Mingyong's main square where a comfortably graded trail rises alongside the tumbling icefall and cuts through a hardwood forest before emerging onto wooden viewing ramparts. You will be close enough to feel the cool breeze off the ice, but far enough away to keep the glacier pristine.
Two beautiful temples, spaced about half an hour apart, break up the hike and offer simple lodging as well as prayer flag-fringed vistas of the glacier's jagged surface. So far the glacier attracts a mere 6,000 visitors a year, and it's perfectly possible to walk this lovely trail without coming across another human being.
For an even more leisurely ascent, the few clean and inexpensive stone guesthouses in Mingyong can arrange for mules to carry you partially up the mountain. Reaching the peak, however, will still require divine intervention.