Special Six: Shangri-La Experiences

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.

  1. Early morning walk to temple

This was my favourite part of my stay in Shangri-La.

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Taku turning the wheel of the golden temple, photo credit: Mami Sato

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.

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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.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Taking a break and enjoying the blue trumpet gentian flowers, photo credit: Mami Sato

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.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

Songzanlin Monastery 2

Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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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.

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Photo credit: Mami Sato

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?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday, hosted by Lauren on Location, Snow in TromsoThe Sunny Side of This and What a Wonderful World; and

the newly started Faraway Files, hosted by Untold Morsels, Oregon Girl around the world and Suitcases and Sandcastles]

Wanderful Wednesday

Faraway Files - Untold Morsels
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19 thoughts on “Special Six: Shangri-La Experiences

    • I think you would love the hike to Songzanlin monastery, Lauren, as well as the treks along the old tea horse road trails, which were the ancient routes by which tea was transported out of China. There were lots of shorter mountain treks that my friends enjoyed but which I could not join in, due to my mobility issues. That area is a very inspiring and beautiful region.

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  1. Oh, your photos bring back so many memories! I worked in the Shangri-La area for a while and really miss it. I’ve been to all of the places that you mentioned and spent some time with Jeff Fuchs a while back — glad you mentioned his book! I haven’t been to Shangri-La since the large fire though, has it recovered?

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    • How lovely to hear that you worked in Shangri-La for a while and that you know Jeff. He was the one who introduced my friends and I to pu’er tea. I haven’t returned to Shangri La since the fire as well but I read articles that the recovery is well in progress and I was happy to see that Afang’s and Tara’s places are in business.

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  2. What an amazing experience Ahila. I love the photos with all the colourful flags. Do they have a special significance? Shangri-la looks like an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place. I would love to visit there one day. Thanks so much for joining our #FarawayFiles link up.

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  3. Just the name Shangri-la conjures serenity, but I didn’t have any images to fill out the vision any more. No longer! Thank you for sharing – what a beautiful place. All those Buddhist prayer flags alone are swoon worthy! I was curious – can anyway stay at the Karma Lodge and tibetan houses? That looks very special. Thank you for joining the #FarawayFiles community – we are so happy to have you! Thanks for linking up and cheers from Copenhagen! Erin

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  4. So beautiful, Ahila. What an amazing experience. I loved seeing the prayer flags in Dharamsala and Kathmandu. I think you can argue that taking tea is an integral part of the Chinese experience so you didn’t miss out on not going on that second trek! Thanks so much for being part of our very first #FarawayFiles

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    • Thank you, Clare and yes, taking tea is indeed an integral part of the Chinese experience and especially more so in Yunnan province, the birthplace of tea. The hike to Songzanlin monastery was actually on the morning of the next day but I had not recovered physically and chose instead to do a couple of hours volunteering at the Yunnan mountain heritage foundation’s handicraft center.

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  5. What an amazing monastery! I nearly made it there when I was in Yunnan but the old town had burnt 2 months before I was there so cancelled the trip to Shangri-La.

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    • It was sad that almost half the old town was burnt down two years ago. Even with the reconstruction work undertaken, it is impossible to recover the old houses that were lost. However, Shangri La’s essence is its nature and peaceful surroundings and that is still there.

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  6. Pingback: Faraway Files #2 – oregon girl around the world

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