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Published: August 7th 2007
The trip to Zhongdian only took 2.5 hours but it seemed like we were entering a different country. The climbing road levelled out onto a plateau on which low pink- and purple-flowered bushes were commonplace (and were being picked), women were wearing pink-hatted outfits, yaks started putting in an appearance as did a profusion of shops selling yak tail brushes, the buildings were unmistakably different (being sturdy in a Tibetan style), and the sky took on an extremely vivid blue.
Though the bulk of Zhongdian was an uninteresting modern town (and completely unworthy of the rebranding to Shangri-la that has taken place), the Old Town was most enjoyable to stroll around. With its cobbled streets, souvenir shops, and hordes of Chinese tourists it reminded me of Lijiang Old Town but with Tibetan architecture and culture instead of Naxi/Han. We happened to be in the main square our first evening just as a handful of women in traditional costume started dancing to music being pumped over a PA system. Gradually more and more people joined in, a mixture of locals and Chinese tourists, each of whom seemed to have at least a vague idea of what the motions were. After about
45 minutes, there must have been more than 100 people dancing away, which was mightily impressive and a celebration of heritage that you just don' t see in the UK.
We also paid a visit to the Ganden Sumtseling monastery, home to 400 Tibetan monks and possessing a large number of colourful murals depicting scenes both mundane and cruel.
We used Zhongdian as a base from which to visit Meili Xue Shan (blogged separately), and had to return in order to extend our visas at the town's PSB. The Zhongdian PSB had a reputation for processing the extensions quickly and with no fuss, and that was our experience too. A mere 30 minutes of waiting, and our visas had been extended until 1st July.
The day we extended our visas was also LA Woman's birthday, and we celebrated both events by going Western and having pizza at a local restaurant. Contrary to expectations, it was both tasty and a decent size, resulting in us both feeling sufficiently stuffed that we turned down an invitation to appear as paid extras in a film being shot in the Old Town and instead returned to the guesthouse to digest. Dull but possibly useful info Getting there:
Take a bus from Qiaotou to Zhongdian - there is a scheduled one at about 10AM - or take any of a number of shared taxis costing 20 yuan and taking about 2.5 hours. Stayed at:
Kevin's Trekker Inn. Cost 50 yuan for a double with the cleanest shared facilities you're ever likely to see. 24 hour piping hot water and a friendly English-speaking owner with plenty of information to hand. However the Internet access is twice as expensive as the main Internet cafe in town. Would stay here again. Ate at:
Helen's Pizza Hut - a surprisingly good pizza. Also try the various small noodle places near the crossing (there are 3 interspersed among the outdoor stores). Notes:
i. Visa extensions are very quick and easy at the PSB here (30 minutes, no questions asked). They cost 160 yuan (for 1 month) but you may be able to get them cheaper or even free if you are from certain countries (see the guestbook there for comments on this). You can probably forget that though if you have an American in your group
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