DEQIN (德钦, déqīn) lies six hours north of Shangri-La across some permanently snowy ranges, only 80km from the Tibetan border. The town is no great shakes, but there are exciting opportunities for hiking around nearby Meili Xue Shan, whose thirteen peaks are of great religious significance to Tibetans. Be aware that a visit to the area should be taken seriously, despite the relatively well-worn trails: always carry food, water, a torch, first-aid kit, full weatherproof gear and good hiking shoes.
It’s better to skip Deqin town altogether and instead head another 15km north to the Meili Xue Shan viewing point just below Feilai Si (飞来寺, fēilái sì). There used to be sublime vistas of the mountain here but, in a demonstration of extreme civic meanness, the local authorities have built a wall, forcing tourists to pay to use an observation platform. From here, it’s a further ninety-minute drive to the Meili Xue Shan reserve entrance at pretty Xidang village (西当, xīdāng). Two trails set off from the main entrance. There’s talk of introducing a single entry ticket for the reserve, but at the moment you pay separately for each trail. The easiest heads east for the three-hour ascent to the Mingyong glacier (明永冰川, míngyŏng bīngchuān) one of the world’s lowest at 2700m, and advancing relatively quickly at 500m per year. The road is reasonably good for the area, and you’ll find a fair few souvenir shops and guesthouses at the glacier viewing point.