Shangri-la (aka Zhongdian) is Paradise!
To back up a little, Zhongdian is the farthest north into Yunnan province that we go, and also (alas) the closest to Tibet. Turns out that Tibetan culture actually extends far more than the region on maps suggests - this is one of those non-tibetan regions that is full of Tibetan people and culture!
Leaving from Lijiang, the 5 hour bus ride took us through the mountain range that features Tiger Leaping Gorge, and then breaks out into beautiful dry plains with landscapes, flowers, buildings and faces different to anywhere we've been so far. We arrived in the afternoon expecting it to be freezing but it was warm and sunny and inviting (the sky has never been so blue!). Spent an afternoon strolling the old city, similar to Lijiang or Dali but with its own quirks and plenty of yak paraphenalia. Andrew is terribly excited about the new yak belt.
Every evening people gather in the town square for dancing, its so gorgeous watching the older ladies with traditional dress laughing and dancing. The dance is kind of like line dancing in a circle all facing each other.. Kelly gave it a go, struggled to keep up but had plenty of smiles from the woman. As Shangri-la is a little less travelled we found it really fabulous to be welcomed by the locals and have some fun experiences buying things and not feeling as pressured as in the touristy areas. It was so different to only see a handful of europeans around!
The next day we went up to the large Lamasery (basically a monastery but that's not what they call them) on the hill. Shangri-la is 3600m up, so just qualifies for our altitude sickness pills, we didnt feel sick at all but noticed some extra panting walking up the steps to the lamasery. It's a beautiful 300 year old building, with 600 monks there. Some gorgeous entreprenurial girls outside asking for money to take pictures of them in their traditional clothing, Kelly couldnt resist and used up most of our change but got some beautiful piccies.
There was heaps of cool stuff to discover around the town - lots of big hairy sheep dogs, jewellelry, yak-skin belts, houses and a couple of smaller monasteries within the city. One was up the highest hill in town, leaving us panting and sweating despite the deliberately slow pace - but the stunning 360 degree view was perfect with snow capped mountains, old buildings and an airport to boot
Our pills (and our breath) ran out so it was back to Kunming for us. On the way back to Kunming had an overnight in LiJiang and went to the Naxi (local minority) Orchestra. It was fantastic to watch the old guys, many over 80, playing their traditional music. These guys were heartbreakers in their day with songs like "The Heartless Woman" and "The Borrowed Wife" ha! There was even a man in the orchestra who was actor and he sang in a similar style to Peking Opera with fantastic gestures and facial expressions. Well worth it. With great sadness we farewelled Lijiang again and headed back to Kunming, where we are sorting ourselves out now for the next jump to Laos. Ditching clothes, sorting visas and buying tickets - not quite blogworthy I guess ...
Anyway, this is our last post from China, Zai Jian Zhongguo (goodbye China ..we think)! We fly to Laos tomorrow morning...away from what has now become a new 'comfortable' for us and into some great new challenges and a few more good stories.
Thanks for reading - we'll see you in Laos!
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