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Tired of group tours to the summer Palace and Great Wall? Would you prefer a peek at ancient Ming villages? Or to seek Shangri-La in Himalayan valleys, where century-old Catholic churches still vibrate to Christian hymns sung in Tibetan.

Such trips are a stark contrast to those run by the staple of state-run Chinese agencies that have long dominated and dictated the direction of mainland tourism. But things are opening up, as evidenced by the offbeat offerings of Internet travel company ( While its director, Mei Zhang, hails from remote Yunnan province, she obtained a Harvard M.B.A. and worked for high-profile...