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ZHONGDIAN 中甸县 TRAVEL GUIDE

Zhongdian (also known these days as Shangri La) is where Yunnan meets Tibet and it is essentially a Tibetan town high up in the mountains of Yunnan. Its relative remoteness has kept the tourist hoards at bay and it is easy to find peace and quiet outside the town in the lush countryside. In 2001 the local government tried a novel method of cashing in on tourism by renaming the town Shangri-La. This seems to have been ignored by many, not least the local Tibetans who call it Gyeltang or Gyalthang.
 
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BEST MONTHS TO VISIT J F M A M J J A S O N D
                         

BEST REASON TO VISIT ZHONGDIAN

Shangri La, the town in the the clouds, is in an area or immense beauty about 4 hours drive from Lijiang. It is a predominantly Tibetan town that gives the visitor a true taste of Tibet without having to cross the border.
 
It has, of course, not always been named after the mythical land of Shangri la in the James Hilton novel “Lost Horizon”. It previously went under the name Zhongdian and is known by the locals by its Tibetan name Gyalthang meaning “Royal Plains”.

It has a small old town in a similar vein to Dali and Lijiang but with far fewer visitors and more of a raw feel to it. In fact there’s very much a feel of being at the last outpost before the wilderness begins. This a place to indulge in one of the many forms of the local delicacy - Yak.

It also has China’s first recognised National Park called Pudacuo which is an area of real beauty and well worth spending the day at.

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TOP ATTRACTIONS IN ZHONGDIAN

The Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery, or Songzanlin Si as it is known in Chinese, is probably the biggest draw of Shangri La aside from the natural beauty of the area around which it is built. The monastery is also known as the Little Potala Palace for obvious reasons and is a working temple with 700 monks practicing Tibetan Buddhism of the Yellow Hat Sect since it’s foundation in 1679 by the 5th Dalai Lama.

It has some seriously impressive decoration inside not least the 8 metres tall gilded statue of Shakyamuni Buddha that stands at the main altar. Make sure you take a good look at the paintings that depict the journey of Buddha’s life as well as having some pretty scary looking temple guardians, kind of gods who protect the temple.

Take a trip along the road outside for about a kilometre for best photo opportunities of the temple.


OUR TOP ZHONGDIAN TRAVEL TIPS

Instead of flying into Diqing airport, make your way here by car transfer from Lijiang. The 4 hour journey is full of amazing and dramatic countryside and you can even take in a tour of the Tiger Leaping Gorge on route. The journey up into the mountains is certainly a highlight of any China tour and something you could quite easily miss if you fly into the town.

Shangri La is high enough in the mountains for tourists here to feel the effects of altitude sickness and it is highly recommended that you take it easy on your first night here and stay well hydrated. Don’t be alarmed if you suffer from shortness of breath while you become accustomed to the high altitude, it is quite normal. It’s extremely rare for someone to develop full AMS (acute mountain sickness). Definitely avoid the local barley alcohol though!


OUR HAND PICKED ZHONGDIAN HOTELS

For me there is only one place you want to stay when visiting Shangri La and that is the Songstam Hotel. It is in fact made up of two hotels - the Songstam Lugu which is right next to the Songzanlin Lamasery and is a beautifully styled small hotel decorated in the traditional Tibetan style and with amazing views across the temple and the countryside that is in front of it. Not the cheapest place to stay but certainly one of the places in China where it really pays to stretch your budget a little.

The second hotel is the Songstam Retreat which is set a few minutes away just behind the Songstam Lugu and with, perhaps, even better views of the countryside around. This is a higher end place to stay with separate villas amazingly decorated again in the Tibetan way. It is more of a spa/retreat place with the same impeccable service that you wont find elsewhere in Shangri La.

By Phil Stanley - TCTC Destination Expert.
 

MAP OF ZHONGDIAN