Shangri-la is located in a Tibetan county in northwestern Yunnan Province in southwest China, about 1,000 kilometres east of Lhasa. It is the capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, close to the Myanmar and India borders. In other words, quite a remote place, but well worth a visit! Shangri-la used to be called Zhongdian until 2001 when it was renamed after the fictional land of Shangri-La in the 1933 James Hilton‘s novel Lost Horizon, in an effort to promote tourism in the area. The local Tibetan population refers to it by the name Gyalthang. I have just spent a few days there, at the end of my stay in Yunnan, and I loved it! It is quite high in altitude (3,300 metres or 11,000 feet) so you often find yourself out of breath. In fact, you can take a cable car to Shika Snow Mountain, where there are everlasting snows; at 5,000 metres high (16,500 feet) you feel on top of the world, trust me! The area is mostly Tibetan. There are few Han Chinese and everyone speaks and writes Tibetan. Of course they also speak Mandarin, even if heavily accented at times. The people are delightful, polite, curious and very friendly. The food is divine. Songzanlin monastery is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan, one of the famous monasteries in the Kang region. Construction of the monastery began in 1679 and was completed two years later. The monastery is composed of two lamaseries, and hosts 700 monks. A trip to the Pudacuo National Park is also worth a visit. There are two beautiful lakes that you can walk around, Shudu and Bita Hai lakes; at times the landscape reminded me of Alaska. Shangri-la is truly an enchanting place, so much so that I found it really hard to choose which pictures to post here!
Filed under China, Travel
One of the things I love about China is how people dance in public, mainly in the morning or in the evening. People gather in a park or in a public area, someone turns on the music, and sometimes up to a hundred people will dance together. There is usually someone who leads the group. What is fantastic, apart from the spectacle itself, is that the Chinese are not as self-conscious as most people are in the West: you will have people of all ages, males and females, young (sometimes very young!) and old dancing together. I can’t imagine many male Westerners doing the same thing. I was surprised to see that it also happens in Tibetan China, as was the case in Shangri-la last week. I am posting two short videos here to give you a taste of what it’s like.
Filed under China, Travel
What a beautiful name! And what a beautiful place! The Tiger Leaping Gorge is a canyon on the Yangtze River, one of China’s longest rivers. The gorge is located near Tibet, where the river takes its source, about 60 km north of Lijiang. It is part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas World Heritage Site. Around 15 km in length, the gorge is located where the river passes between the 5,596 metre (18,360 foot)high Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the 5,396 metre (17,716 foot) high Haba Xueshan. The legend says that in order to escape from a hunter, a tiger jumped across the river at the narrowest point (30 metres). The gorge is supposed to be the world’s deepest river canyon. In any case, with 2,000 metres (6,600 feet) high cliff towering above your head, it feels very deep indeed…
You can hike the entire gorge’s length. It takes two full days to do so, but if you prefer to take it easy, you can stop mid-way and go down until you reach the road, and from there either go back to Lijiang or continue to Shangri-la. The lower level trail has disappeared and been replaced by a bitumen road (unfortunately) which travels along the gorge. It allows access for tourists who just want to have a look at the rapids and are not interested in hiking. An observation platform has been built at the bottom; it offers little interest. The road has just opened but is not used much because of impressive rock falls (see photo below).
We drove round those rocks with our wheels only inches from the ravine… scary! However, the upper trail is still intact and is a paradise for hikers. You will hardly come across anyone except birds, goats and villagers. The landscape is stunning and the gorge impressive. High peaks tower over your head, and if you are lucky, the sun reflects in the snow above. In spring the area is covered with beautiful flowers. The air is pure (a bonus in China!) and the high altitude gives your heart an excellent workout. You can sleep in farms turned guest-houses, which offer delicious food and great company (practice your Chinese!). After hiking the gorge for two days, we felt on top of the world. We then continued our trip to Shangri-la, in Tibet, a mere 100 kilometres from the end of the gorge. Highly recommended!
Filed under China, Travel
I posted an interview of Kathleen Valentine on this blog a little while ago (You can read the interview here). The last few weeks have been crazy but I have now found the time to read her novel, Each Angel Burns. I usually don’t read books in the romance genre, with the exception of Twilight, which I still found hard to finish, so this was a bit of a novelty for me. I really enjoyed Each Angel Burns and read it very quickly. Valentine’s writing is beautiful. Her descriptions are evocative and make you feel you are there. In fact, after reading the book, I bet you will want to see the place for yourself. The story takes place in Massachusetts, where the self-titled “wild bunch”, who played football together back in high school, gather every Thursday night for dinner and beer. More than thirty years have passed and the group has changed, but they are still together. The novel takes us through their journey, a journey of friendship, of loss, and of love. There is also a mystery to be solved. It’s easy to get into the characters’ heads and to like them. They’re real. The plot is good, with an interesting twist at the end. The only negative for me was one or two weird jumps in time; these flashbacks themselves are not the problem but it is how they are placed in the story that feels weird. It does not affect the story however, and Each Angel Burns is a beautiful read.
Filed under Books, Reading
I am back in Hong Kong after a few weeks in Yunnan. It is such a beautiful place that I fell in love with it and with its people. I spent my last week there travelling around and I will be posting a few pictures for you to see what it looks like. Lijiang (丽江) was my first stop. It is about 40 minutes by plane from Kunming or a whole night by train. You choose… Lijiang is quite high: 2,300 metres ( 7,600 feet). It is inhabited by the Naxi minority, one of China’s 55 minority ethnic groups.The old town of Lijiang has been listed as World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1997. It was once the centre of Lijiang and continues to maintain its original flavor, the local lifestyle, the typical buildings and the cultural heritage of the region. The road from the airport (some 28 km away) is currently being rebuilt and is in a very bad state, so get ready for some heavy bumps… If you arrive late at night, there are no taxis, but a cheap shuttle bus tot he city. Be warned though, the first stop at the Crown Plaza is the stop for the old town. You’d better hop off if you are staying in the old town, otherwise you run the risk of finding yourself wandering helplessly in the new city, with taxi drivers who cannot speak English and whose Mandarin is heavily accented, to say the least. These cabs can only take you to the gate of the old town, from which you must walk to your hotel or call them and get them to give you a lift in one of their electric cars. Quite a hassle late at night, but definitely worth it!
Filed under China, Travel