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Published: September 19th 2018
The following morning we had vegetable noodle soup for breakfast at a local restaurant before hopping into the car and driving to Tacheng National Park. Once we arrived at the park we hopped into the over sized golf buggy and made our way up the hill.
Tacheng National Park is home to a reasonable sized population (approximately 360) of the Yunnan snub nosed monkey (sometimes called golden monkeys). The monkeys are endangered, as a result of habitat loss, with only about 1700 remaining in the wild. They live at altitudes above 3000m.
After walking uphill for about 45 minutes we came across a group of about 16 monkeys who were probably wondering why so many humans were watching them eat the last of their breakfast, groom each other and play. Fortunately the monkeys were not brave enough to approach humans so I was able to watch them from a safe distance (and keep my monkey phobia was under control).
The monkeys are only active in the morning so once they all settled in for their morning nap we made our way back down the hill and into the gold buggy. Once we reached the car we headed off
north towards Shangri-La.
The drive from Tacheng National Park to Shangri-La was spectacular. As our altitude increased so did the steepness of the mountains we were driving around and the number of landslides we saw (fortunately we didn't witness any landslides). We stopped to admire the view over the valley below at one point and then again for lunch. Excluding stops the drive probably took about 3 hours.
Shangri-La is located on a plateau at an altitude of about 3200m. The city, formerly known as Zhongdian, was re-branded in 2001 in an attempt to increase tourism to the region. It's famous for its 'old' town (which was almost entirely rebuilt in 2014 following a fire which destroyed most of the original old town) and the large population of Tibetans.
As we approached the town we drove down the hill towards Napa Lake, past farms (crops, cows, yaks and dzo (the name for a hybrid cow and yak). 2018 has been a particularly wet year in much of China so a significant portion of the road which runs around the lake was under water. We drove for as far as we could (not far) before the road became
flooded and then hopped out to watch some locals try and catch fish which were swimming on the road. A group of monks arrived not long after we parked our car and they seemed just as keen to have a photo with us as we were to have one with them.
From the lake we made our way through the new town towards the old town. Now that the new town has sprung up I'm not so sure that the town embodies what James Hilton had in mind when he described Shangri-La in his novel Lost Horizon. Fortunately things improved a little as we got closer to the old town.
As we checked into our hotel we were happy to discover that this room didn't have glass walls around the bathroom, but instead was missing a door. Where the door should have been they had provided a curtain.
After checking into our hotel we set off for a walk around the old town with William. After walking through the streets we made our way to turtle hill which is home to a Tibetan buddhist temple and the worlds largest prayer wheel. William explained the significance of the
artwork in the temple (in a little more detail than we would have liked) before we made our way to the prayer wheel. We spun the wheel around three times before admiring the view over the city.
That night for dinner Scott decided to try yak meat which is sold in most of the restaurants in the town. He said it was like chewy beef and that he probably wouldn't order it again unless it was slow cooked. Worth trying though.
The following morning we met up with William and headed to the museum in the old town. The museum had exhibitions on local culture (including the traditional dress of the various minority groups in the area) and one on the First American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force; also known as the Flying Tigers which was particularly interesting (especially considering the American (Trump) position on China at the moment).
After the museum we caught a local bus to Ganden Sumpseling Gompa a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery located on the side of a mountain just outside the city. The monastery was destroyed during the cultural revolution but is now thriving again.
We climbed up the stairs
and then visited the three halls of the monastery. Scott and I both enjoyed the view from the monastery more than the buildings.
From the monastery we made our way back down the stairs and then caught a bus back to the new town. We had a delicious lunch (kung pao chicken, green vegetables and a delicious corn dish) at a local Sichuan restaurant before heading to the fresh produce market.
We walked around the market checking out the produce. I didn't particularly enjoy the smelly yak meat section, particularly as the fur is left on the carcass to prove that it's actually yak meat not cow.
From the market we walked back towards to the old town. We made a brief stop at a Tibetan calligraphy exhibition (which wasn't particularly interesting as we can't read Tibetan!). We spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing and reading before venturing out for a yak meat free dinner.
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