In search of Shambhala

This blog is about my May 2015 journey in Yunnan, China. 

Kunming

The stone forest in Yunnan was our first destination for this trip. It was a few hours bus ride from Kunming city center. I wouldn’t say that its worth a trip though. More like a been there done that destination.

Lijiang
From Kunming we took a flight to Lijiang to start our acclimitzation process. We stayed at the No188 boutique hotel for two nights. Its a cute place with lots of friendly staff. The owner runs a local restaurant as well so we went there for lunch before exploring the charming old town. No worries for people who are scared of the local food scene, there’s a Pizza Hut and KFC or check out the food stalls area for snacks. The old town was packed with tourists, mostly Chinese. The old town with its canals, tea houses, and small shops makes a delightful afternoon stroll.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
Today we’ll be spending the day up on the mountain, 4680m, to help us get used to the altitude. Climb high, sleep low. On the way, as the driver suggested, we stopped to purchase two bottles of oxygen just in case any of us run into complications. Since we have no experience at altitude, we thought it’ll be better to not take the risk. We ended up not using it. Jade dragon snow mountain was beautiful and as the name suggested…snow covered. It was cold though even in the summer, so be prepared! From the resting point with its cafe and bathroom, we had the option to climb the stairs up the next few 100m up to 4680m. Surprisingly, the Chinese government have done a great job in making it safe and clean up there. Luckily, unlike some tourists we saw on the stairway, we didn’t have any problem breathing and was up at the top in no time.

Blue Moon Valley

While descending, we decided to stop by the “blue moon valley” before going back to the base point to meet our driver. Its a beautiful walk through the mountains to reach this point. Even though we could have taken the bus, we chose to walk anyway. This stop is worth a visit if you are not in a hurry to head back to Lijiang.

A word of precaution to non-Chinese speakers, it might be a bit difficult to get around these smaller towns. Unless you are adventurous, you might want to arrange everything beforehand.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger leaping gorge is a quick stop along the way to Shangri-La. Its actually not that far from Lijiang and could be done as a day trip. We ended up joining a Chinese tour group going to Shangrila for a few nights, but we won’t be coming back with them. The entire group is all Chinese including the tour guide with people having minimal knowledge of English. With my basic Chinese we were able to get by but this option isn’t recommended for non-Chinese speakers. The gorge itself is a long canyon, it took us forever to get to the tiger. This is at a point where the legend said that the tiger can leap between the two sides of the gorge. The tiger statue is kind of small I was actually surprised by the size. It was also quite far away from us, hence, didn’t get any good photos of the tiger. I wouldn’t recommend this as a day trip but if you’re already on the way to your next destination and will be passing by, you can stop here.

Shangri-La Old Town

It took us several more hours on the road to reach Zhongdian which was later renamed Shangrila. The old town, Dukezong, is a lot smaller than Lijiang, but charming in its own ways. Its ancient. Much of it was burnt down in the massive fire in early 2014 though. So they are still reconstructing. For the next three nights, the old town will be our home. We’re staying at a guesthouse. The room itself was ok, clean and spacious. However, the bathroom was a pain. Imagine trying to take a shower over a squatting toilet. Anyhow, we had a bit of time before dinner, so we climbed up a small hill to visit a temple with the giant prayer wheel. Its the largest prayer wheel in the world. And very heavy! It took us plenty of effort to turn it around three times.

Shambhala 

Finally we found Shambala, the mythical utopian area which was deacribed in the book the Lost Horizon. The view is breathtaking. I wonder how peaceful it was a 100 years ago. Now some of the animals are domesticated. But that doesn’t that the area isn’t beautiful. Miles and miles of grassland, the mountains, and the yaks made it a scene from a movie. The air is so fresh and clean. After spending thr afternoon strolling around, we head to a restaurant to have dinner with ethnic shows. Before we retired for the night, we watched as people joined the locals for a dance around a bonfire. At the end they even put on Gangnam style.

Pudacuo National Park 

Pudacuo or Potatso national park is amazing! Well that is if you love nature, wildlife, and walking as much as we do. The park is situated at 3500-4000m above sea level, so its quite high and might cause difficulties for those who haven’t acclimitized. Both of us were fine though. We easily walked 3-4 hours straight. There’s a beautiful lake (Shudu) and a grassland area. The Chinese government once again impressed us with their management skills. All the buses running in the park are eco-friendly and they arranged everything systematically to reduce wait time. Also, the pathways are all clean and well kept. Its a wonderful place to visit and definitely a highlight for TravelDouble.

Ganden Sumtseling Monastery
At the elevation of 3380m, the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery is perched beautifully 5km away from the edge of Shangri-La. Our journey began around 10am in the old town where we started walking from Timberline Lodge (10km). Our first destination is to grab lunch at Bhaskar Resto, a place serving Nepali, Indian, and Tibetan cuisine. We ordered a vegetarian biryani, chicken curry, and masala chai. The taste was authentic and the price budget-friendly. Actually, we found the food in Shangri-La surprisingly good. There’s a pizza place as well run by an Italian man that we really enjoyed. Since we’re full now, its time to continue the walk.

The UV ray here is very strong, so come prepare with jacket, hat, and sunscreen! The walk took us almost 2 hours (including our stops for food and some shopping). Once at the foot of the monastery, we immediately understood why it is nicknamed Little Potala Palace, the place is huge. It is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan.

Once we passed the ticketed area, we decided to walk around the lake in front of the monastery first. It was so peaceful and relaxing – as if we were transported back in time. This stop is highly recommended and if we remember correctly, the entrance fee is 100RMB per person.

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