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► A TOUR TO SHANGRI LA IN CHINA'S YUNNAN PROVINCE
I was sent to this mythically named town in the clouds in 2012 on one of our regular fact finding missions at The China Travel Company. This one I was particularly looking forward to as I love visiting Yunnan Province, with it’s diverse cultures and stunning scenery, on China tours I take.
First things first, the name! Yes, it is a case of cashing in on your location, which is in the area given that name in James Hilton’s novel “The Lost Horizon”. The real name for this area is Zhongdian or Gyelthang if you are one of the many Tibetans living in and around this town. The name was changed in 2001 to Shangri-la in order to attract more tourists to the area from the already popular and beautiful area of Lijiang.
Lijiang to Shangril La along the road passing Tiger Leaping Gorge
That was to be my starting point, a trip by car for 4 hours and they were to be 4 hours that flew by as I was treated to fantastic scenery pretty much from start to finish. Initially winding up and down the roads that lead towards the Tiger Leaping Gorge, passing the lush fields of Yunnan province that provide much of the crops, and even more of the tobacco, consumed in China.
I wasn’t going to be stopping at the Tiger Leaping Gorge this time but, from this point onwards in the journey, the scenery just got more and more impressive as you ascend through the mountains passing remote Tibetan settlements.
The town itself is a much quieter, smaller and less touristy version of Lijiang, filled with cafes, tourist shops and Yak meat dispensaries. It’s high up enough to be cautious of altitude sickness but I found nothing more than a slight shortness of breath.
The highlights for me were getting out into the stunning countryside such as the Pudcao National Park, which was next to empty when I went in September and the Songzanlin Monastery, also known as the little Potala Palace for obvious reasons. The Songstam Hotel is the best place to stay while you are there, right next to the Lamasery. Kitted out in the Tibetan style it was an oasis of calm and such a beautiful place to relax and enjoy this lesser visited paradise in the clouds. All in all a must for those who don’t have the time for Tibet but want to visit a Tibetan town.