Zhongdian / 'Shangri-La' : Welcome to Tibet.
Shangri-La Travel Blog› entry 157 of 268 › view all entries
The Gang and I arrived in somnolent Zhongdian ( âShangri-Laâ ) late afternoon yesterday. A good time to do so as the perfect pitch of ochre gold that the sun shines this time of day flooded through and over the cobbled streets of the âOld Townâ like a gentle glittering river. Perfect for tired eyes and trek weary limbs. These evening colours found their perfect home caught up in the beautiful flowing fur mane of Fifi the gentle, adorable Golden Retriever owned by the friendly, softly-spoken proprietress of Harmony Guest House tucked at the top of a slanting cobbled street that would be just as at home in an old Hovis Bread commercial as here within the cultural borderlands of real Tibetan China.
On this latter point - the dividing line between predominantly Han China and its Tibetan populace and boundaries - of course there is much debate. By the time you reach Zhongdian (renamed very successfully âShangri-Laâ by the Chinese government in an attempt to stimulate tourism through the mystique imparted by such a name) you are firmly in Tibetan cultural territory. From here on in and further to the northwest (Deqin, Yubeng etcâŚ) I am told ethnicity sits at 80% Tibetan origin. In the custom, dress and religious and cultural trappings and structures of this hill-plains town this comes across fairly clearly.
White-washed stupas populate the landscape with their obligatory rainbow coats of Buddhist prayer flags like so many multi-coloured mushrooms.
After our two days of trekking in Tiger Leaping Gorge it is a time for Nick, Vanesha, Emmy and I to relax and unwind a little. To let our muscles recover whilst doing little thatâs more stressful than stroking Fifi, reading books and strolling the small cobbled area of the more ethnically âpreservedâ Old Town away from the newer, uglier, predominantly Han Chinese city-scape that concrete-creeps further out into the valley and modernity beyond.
The main sight or activity in the area of Zhongdian is the large, 300 year old âGanden Sumtseling Gompaâ.
Here we go again. Yes, another wallet-wounding entrance fee. Once you take the number 3 bus outta town (1RMB) you will be deposited at a large Cultural Centre/ Ticket Office building and asked to purchase your entrance for 85RMB ($12.50). This though, as with Black Dragon Pool in Lijiang is one of Chinaâs more easily avoidable entrance fees.
Sat on high, chillaxing to the max, with our wallets none-the-lighter the Four Amigos sit and take in the beautiful view on this prosaic, hot pre-summers day with the butterflies and birds joining us in observing the Monastery and its golden roofs in the distance. Traipsing down and through a Tibetan village with all its grand and pretty homes we are accosted by a large gaggle of kids playing basketball who down tools to come and examine these strange specimens walking through their home.
Entering the Monastery surreptitiously through a side gate we have a pleasant hour or so admiring the elaborate âalterâ decorations and statuary of the various main worship chambers. The main building houses frankly the most spectacularly detailed and impressive âgoldenâ Buddha that I have seen since my visit to Wat Pho in Bangkok.
Although a valley city, Zhongdian sits at 3,200 metres above sea level ( 530 metres higher than the trek highpoint of Tiger Leaping Gorge) so can bring a chill of an evening after the late sunset has played out.
On our final night here Nick and I hit-up the local supermarket for 3 bottles of local produce red wine. Tomorrow we will part company with Vanesha and Emmy so a farewell drink or three is in order. This is my first red wine - one of the pleasures I so miss of Home and near always deny myself whilst on The Road - since being sat in the cold, dirty spare room above a petrol station in the Jordanian desert where friends Thu and Johanna shared a half bottle of âHoly Landâ wine with me. It all goes down a treat. I hope the likes of V and Emmy soon again to meet.