Shangri-La city, in northwestern Yunnan province, is considered to be the inspiration for James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon’ so much so that the official Chinese name of Zhongdian was changed in 2001 to Shangri-La. The city’s traditional Tibetan name is Gyalthang or Royal Plains. I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful city at the foot of the Himalayas, for a few days, with half my APLP cohort in 2012. It was tragic to hear that a devastating fire destroyed most of the historic old town of Dukezong in 2014. The place has been rebuilt and while I haven’t visited the city since the fire, I did check whether some of my favourite places survived the fire.
My experience of Shangri-La was special and the following are six experiences I recommend to the traveler to this city.
- Early morning walk to temple
This was my favourite part of my stay in Shangri-La.
2. Visit to Shangri-La Thangka Academy
The Thangka academy is a place where aspiring artists are trained in the traditional Thangka art. It is a wonderful experience to visit the center, and learn of the years of training that the artist goes through as well as see how the colours are mixed etc. There is a shop attached to the center, where you can buy local handicrafts including Thangka artwork.
3. A Hike to the 100 chicken temple
This temple apparently received its name from the chickens roaming around, though I didn’t seen any chickens on the afternoon I visited. It is a short hike but has steep inclines, which can be a bit difficult for those with mobility issues especially when combined with the change in altitude from Beijing to Shangri-La. I did make it to the temple at the top but when the group decided to go on a further hike through some woods, I decided to turn back with my room-mate and we went back into the old town for some tea.
4. A visit to the Songzanlin Monastery
I was too tired to go on the third hike, which was a longer one. The photos, taken by those who went to the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, also known as Songzanlin Monastery, were amazing. I would highly recommend visiting the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, founded by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1679, which is the largest in Yunnan province.
5. Stay at Karma Cafe and Lodge.
Our group was split up to stay at three guesthouses. I was delighted that I had the opportunity of staying at this traditional Tibetan house, which had lovely gathering places on the first floor. The verandah space, where breakfast was served, had great views of the temple and the indoor gathering space around the fire place was really cosy. The restaurant also served great local food.
6. Eating at Tara Gallery cafe and bar
We had a couple of meals here and enjoyed the fusion of Indian, Yunnan and Tibetan food.
The old town is a lovely area, with its narrow streets, and where vehicles are not allowed. Though the shops are targeted at tourists, they are fun to explore. The Yunnan Mountain Heritage Foundation‘s Handicraft center, at the edge of the square and away from the tourist centre, is a non-profit organization that supports local cultural heritage, handicrafts and eco-tourism in Diqing prefecture and is worth visiting.
Shangri-La is also a great base for mountain hikes and treks, especially for those interested in going on the old tea horse trails. Do read Jeff Fuch’s The Ancient Tea Horse Road before going on one of the old tea horse road treks.
Hope you enjoyed the photo series of my recommended special six experiences in Shangri-La! Which of these experiences would you enjoy?