Nestled in the heart of a mountain along the road from Lijiang to Shangri-La lies a quaint hostel that has been playing host to weary tourists for the past two decades.
It was a curious set of circumstances that led Feng Defang to set up what has come to be known as the “Half Way” hostel.
It was the summer of 1993, Feng recalls. He was lounging at home, when an unusual visitor greeted him at the door.
The British backpacker was extremely unwell and had spent the night inside a cave in the mountains. The man had run out of food and water and was in desperate need of help, recounts Feng.
He offered the man shelter for a night and also ensured that he received herbal medication to regain his strength. Rejuvenated, the man continued his journey in the morning, but he did not forget Feng’s timely assistance.
Upon returning home, he wrote an article for the Lonely Planet, describing Feng as a doctor and a savior, resulting in a steady stream of tourists beginning to trickle in to Feng’s place over time.
“I was just helping people in the beginning,” Feng says, explaining how the idea of the Half Way hostel came to be.
“Slowly more and more people began coming. There were both foreigners and Chinese nationals. Eventually, I decided to make additions to my home so that I could accommodate more people,” says Feng.
So what is it that draws tourists to these mountains, and how is it that this rather remote hostel has been attracting regular crowds?
“Thousands of people come to visit here every month to enjoy the view and get close to nature,” he explains. “But,” he adds with a tone of caution, “we need to also take care of the environment, so that nature can keep surprising us with its beauty.”
Feng’s Half Way hostel is an example of how a boost in tourism over the years has led to greater opportunities for locals in China.
In 1978, merely 1.8 million international tourists visited China.
That meant that the country accounted for only 0.7% of the global tourism pie, ranking 41st in the world.
However, the reform and opening-up policy of the last three decades has changed all that. In fact, in the late 70s and 80s, then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had laid special emphasis on developing tourism.
“We should speed up the development of the tourism industry and bring out its potentialities into full play,” Deng had said.
And it is that vision that has led to China becoming a leading destination for tourists over the years.
In fact, as of 2012, China was ranked 3rd globally in terms of the total number of international tourists visiting the country.
While infrastructure, good policies and greater interest among international travelers have fueled that growth, what has sustained it, is the gracious hospitality that people like Feng have afforded visitors.