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Published: April 23rd 2010
I listened to classic and hard rock on the way north, staring out and seeing the plentiful hills of the Yunnan countryside progressively turn into bigger and grander mountains. As the bus arrived in Shangri-La, or Zhongdian as it is also known, the transformation was complete as the snow covered mountains could be seen abound. After leaving the station, and noticing the air was quite cool, I wandered through streets (yet again) until I approached the old town. I checked into Kevin's Trekker Inn just outside and then explored. This town is highly Tibetan, as can be seen through architecture, food, and even the people's faces. At one point I had been entertaining the idea of visiting Tibet, but due to the government restrictions in place and the cost just for the permit I said forget it, besides this place would give me a nice taste in all it's Tibeteness.
The main square had some locals doing traditional dancing, and there I watched for a while until bumping into two people I had met in Dali. One was named Corina, she was still hanging around for another day and we agreed to bike around the countryside the following day.
I arrived at her hostel bright and early (enough) and after eating some Baizi for breakfast, we rented some mountain bikes and took off to explore a nearby lake. The bike ride was easy enough, a few uphills but doable. We left the town behind us and rode past the countryside, and many yacks that grazed around. Yaks are everywhere in this area. Tibetan villages followed, and about ten km later we made it to a fort that hovered above land with some Tibetan shrine overlooking what used to be a lake. It turned out to be the lake we were looking for but I guess cuz of the fact that Yunnan province has been going through its worst drought in twenty-five years, it was only a fraction of what it used to be. Still there was some water left and we headed down to it via a dirt road, where we literally started biking through patches of water and got somewhere in the middle of it. Many different types of birds roamed the water and skies.
Once we got our fill of this we headed back towards the way we had come, this time I started feeling tired
and breathless. I didn't think about it at first but once I started thinking something wasn't right I realized it was probably the altitude that was messing with me. Shangri-La was at almost 3200m and since it was only my second day there I hadn't acclimated yet. Luckily I recovered soon after and we moved on, this time through a village and passed by many locals and then Yak grazing fields as we made our way back to the town.
A while later and we were back, giving our bikes back in and then headed off to a cafe and had a local specialty: some yak butter milk tea which was quite rich and tasty. We got a huge pot and spent the next while tackling it down till our bladders were going to burst. We then explored an elevated Tibetan style temple in old town and then went to a local place where we had another local treat: yak burgers, very tasty. I ate till I was stuffed. Corina had a bus to catch to Kunming so I sent her off at the bus stop and then went back to the guesthouse to digest the night away.
My second full day there I went off to a nearby Tibetan monastery on the outskirts. I also wanted to see how this one compared to the one I had stayed at. This was way different however, much bigger and the style was as much a contrast despite being a monestary. The monks seemed colder but maybe it was just my impression. The place had many different temples and gorgeous Tibetan style artwork throughout. I later walked around some wetlands nearby, getting a nice view of the monestary from afar. I headed back after a couple of hours, walked some of the new and old town, then returned to my guesthouse as a cold nights air swept in.
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