The ride to Zhongdian was beautiful and we got our first taste of Tibet as we neared the city. Apparently the Chinese have decided that Shangri-la is a much better (for tourism) name than Zhongdian, so that's how it's usually referred to now. We were dropped off adjacent to the old town and made our way to the gh recommended by Mama Naxi's. It turned out to be a bit of a dump, unfortunately, so we went down the street to a nicer place.
Our first order of business was to get our visas extended. It took forever to find the place, even with a map. It was tucked inside a nondescript courtyard with an easily missed sign over the entrance. Once we found it we spent almost two hours getting everything sorted out. The friendly man, whose cigarette break we interrupted, didn't speak very much english, so we found ourselves on the phone with some sort of helpdesk twice! On the plus side, we left with our new visas stuck in our passports. He managed to cancel our old visas with the date 2012-07-51. I didn't realize that we were in 2012, or that there were 51 days
in the month of July...
Our first experience with food in Zhongdian was a rubbery yak steak and an undercooked chicken breast. Yummy. Thankfully, after checking Jen's email we got Gourmet (magazine) recommendations for Zhongdian from her mom. It listed one place called Arro Khampa and the food was fantastic. I got a pizza that came with great cheese, homemade sauce, and was cooked to perfection. The chef even came upstairs to ask us what we thought about the food! He was a nice fellow and we were both really happy with our meals. We managed to eat at Arro Khampa about 10 times while we were in Zhongdian. We were never disappointed.
Our really nice place to stay turned out to be not so nice. We were woken up the first night by an impromptu party across the street complete with drunken Chinese men and very loud music that started up at 3 in the morning. Thankfully, one of our neighbors got sick of it (after 20 minutes or so) and yelled at them in Chinese. Things calmed down a bit later. The next evening, we came back to the gh and discovered that they were putting
down lacquer on the floor and the fumes were absolutely overwhelming downstairs and quite noticeable even in our room. So, I went out and found a much nicer (and quieter) place around the corner and we moved locations.
Since we spent so much time in Zhongdian we got a bit bored. So, after a few days we decided to buy a DVD player. I had previously looked at portables, but they were too expensive. So, I headed off to the electronics store to buy a full size player. I was followed around by three salespeople (they always have too many employees in these stores), but I eventually managed to find a decent player for about 50 bucks. I knocked the price down by about $10 and was quite happy with my negotiating skills. We ended up watching several DVD's while we were there. We still have the player, by the way. It's not all that hard to carry -- we just keep it in the box...
The only real sightseeing we managed was a trip out to the nearby monastery. It was a fun trip a little ways into the countryside, but the monastery itself was a bit
gloomy. It was cool from the outside, but really dark and a bit run down inside.
We also managed to arrange our ticket to fly to Tibet. We decided that it made the most sense to fly straight there instead of going all the way back to Kunming and then on to Chengdu or taking the really rough overland route to Chengdu. We paid about $300 each including the Tibet travel permit (great revenue scheme for the Chinese).
That's it for Zhongdian. We used the internet a bunch, but generally just hung out getting ready to go to Tibet.
Stay tuned for Tibet!
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