Leaving it all behind to explore the world together
Into Thin Air – Shangri-La (Zhongdian), China
We pulled into Shangri-la, were feeling ’bout half past dead,
We just need some place where we can lay out heads,
Hey Mary, can you tell us, where some Canadians can find a bed?
She just grinned and shook our hands, “Ni Hao” was what she said.
Shangri-La, or Zhongdian as it used to be called, used to be the last the major stop on the “Tea Horse Road” between China and Tibet. It was the last chance for caravans to stock up with supplies and animals before heading into the Himalayas-proper. Nowadays, Shangri-la seems to exists for tourism. In the early 2000s the government decided to try and increase tourism to the area by renaming the city after the fabled city/monastery from James Hilton’s 1933 novel, Lost Horizon.
Today, Shangri-la remains a gateway to Tibetan culture, which is evident in the Old Town by the number of stores advertising “Tibetan Handicrafts” or “Tibetan Food”. In and around the city we also started seeing prayer flags, which are common in Tibet and throughout the Himalayan Region. The Buddhism practiced here is noticeably different from the traditional Chinese version.
We spent three nights in the city, which in truth was probably one more than necessary. But Shangri-la is at 3200m above sea level, so we wanted to give ourselves time to aclimatize to reduced oxygen content in the air. There is around 33% less oxygen in the air at 3200m than at sea level. This was noticible right away, even compared to Tiger Leaping Gorge. Walking uphill or up stairs had us breathing heavily, especially if we are carrying our packs. We are going even higher in elevation after Shangri-la, so the extra day is time well spent.
We rented an e-bike and went out of town to visit Napa Lake and the Li Ti grasslands, located just north of the city in a beautiful valley. We pulled up expecting a huge lake, but in truth it took us time to find it – despite the open fields. This time of year the lake really is more of a wetland, and is quite small in size.
We would have driven around the lake, but we were concerned with the range of the battery on our e-bike. The store we rented it from didn’t speak any English, and we couldn’t tell if they were saying 14km or 40km range. After nearly running out of battery in Angkor Wat, we have learned to stay on the safe side. Next time we will stick with a gas scooters or motorbikes.
Shangri-la is undoubtedly touristy, but we really enjoyed our time here. The people were friendly, and the scenery was excellent. Plus, we saw lots of yaks.
For most travelers, Shangri-La is the end of the road in Yunnan province. But our plan is to travel north overland, onto the Tibetan plateau and into the historical Tibetan province of Kham.
Doug and Emily / June 11, 2017 @ 11:00pm / Litang, China @ Potalo Inn