Shangri-La


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August 26th 2018
Published: August 27th 2018
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Shangri La




I begin this great journey from the town of Zhongdian, also known as "Shangri La", even though the name sounds evocative, the town, nowadays, has lost its magical ambiance that it used to have a long time ago.







This is my second experience in the Tibetan world, after the "Labrang monastery" in Xiahe, Gansu province.







Zhongdian is a good place to hang around for some day with interesting temples and monasteries, coloured prayer flags, beautiful stupas and friendly people.




I stayed in a guesthouse just a few steps away from the White Chicken Temple and with a beautiful view over the entire city. The White Chicken Temple is a place worth to check out, even if, the day I was there, there were some labourer working inside, so I could only walk around it but the lookout from the temple were just sensational.







Another good place to visit is the Golden Temple and its giant prayer wheel. The best time to come to visit it is early in the morning, otherwise you will have an absurd crowd

of tourists the will prevent you even walking around there.



The old city is OK but it is too much commercial, shops and restaurants are very expensive. A fire, in 2013, destroyed most of the city so very little remained of what was the old town.


Within the city there is also the Songzalin Monastery, but I preferred to miss it because the entrance fee was definitely too much expensive and, along the way, there are still interesting monasteries to visit.




The city, all in all, was ok and if you like a bit of trekking there are numerous stupas scattered in the outskirts of town, so two or three days are fine to visit Shanri La.




Xiangcheng







Left Shangri La, I headed to my next town called Xiangcheng. We departed at eight o'clock in the morning, the trip took a punishing fourteen hours drive due to the fact that the bus has broken down and we had to wait for another one for a few long hours. Apart this inconvenient, the road to Xiangcheng was just outstanding, the mountain scenery was gorgeous, a winding

and narrow road running along a mighty river caused me to worry a bit, for a good stretch of the drive, because it was not paved and it did not have a guardrail, so not only the scenery took my breath away but also the road conditions did. During the drive, there were a lot of cows in the middle of the road and the bus driver had also the hard task to dodge those cows.


Eventually, we got to Xiangcheng, the first impression of the town was not great, I found a hotel next to the bus station, that avoided me to spend extra money for a taxi. About the hotel, the room was just OK, very basic but it had what I needed and nothing more.




About the city itself, Xiangcheng is not that interesting but there are a few places in the outskirts that are really worth to see. One is the "Gedansangpiling monastery", it is a Tibetan monastery of the 16th century.




The day I went to see the monastery, it was pouring rain down and I was a almost drenched from my trousers down to my shoes when I

made it up to the hill. Inside the monastery there were some Buddhist monk spinning the prayer wheels, I said hi and joined them for three round of spinning wheel, they seemed to appreciated and, before leaving, they united their hands smiling to me. Just a few meters ahead on the right there was a hall with some bucket of paint, on the ground, a bit of gold paint was spilt, the hall seemed recently painted and the decorative motif were beautiful. Some other parts of the monastery were not accessible so I just walked back in town. It was free of charge and I would recommend to have a look to this place. Nearby the monastery there was a Tibetan pastoral village, down a road to be followed for about 500 meters. Looking at the village from the hill, I could see plenty of corn fields, orchards, lovely Tibetan style houses and farmers at work. Wherever you look, you just see marvelous mountains extending as fa as the eye can see and little monasteries that resemble small, yellow spots perched on the mountain side.


I think that Xiangcheng deserves a couple of days to be explored and

do not be misled by the first impression you might have at your arrrival, there are some good trekking trails and places to visit out there.





Litang




Next stop was Litang, the drive in was also remarkable and it is located at 4700 meters above sea level.




In Litang the population of Tibetan is much larger than the one in Xiangcheng, they are very welcoming people. On my arrival, the grassland views were superb, hordes of yaks roaming the land and nomads on horses following them.




This time I have chosen a hostel for my stay in Litang, the summer youth hostel has got a vibrant ambiance, the staff can speak a bit of english, the rooms are clean, per night, in a dormitory you spend 40 yuan and they can also help you in booking some tours if you wish. After checking in the hostel I went to visit the Litang monastery; this monastery was built in 1580 by the 3rd Lama and it became one of the biggest monasteries, in the area, with more than 4000 monks. The monastey comprises the Temple of Buddha, the

Assembly Hall and the College and Tantric Hall. When I went in the Buddha temple, I saw some young Buddhist monk cleaning the giant Buddha statue using a long stick and a rag. It was quite funny how they cleaned the statute of Buddha, one of them spoke a bit of english so I stopped, for a few minutes, to talk with him, he gently offered me a cup of tea with salt, I am not accustomed to drink tea with salt but I pretended that the tea was fine, he also showed me the sutras written in gold on the walls. The monastery has go a fantastic view over the town and the grasslands.


The Litang old town is pretty good to visit and it has got a nice market displaying so many kind of fruits and vegatables that you can easily spend a few hours browsing around there. I just love to walk in the old town, you can see people dressed in traditional clothes, very colourful, people with biblical faces staring at you, it really looks authentic and this part of the town was my favourite.




In this region is also practised the

ancient cultural ritual called the "Heaven Burial Altar". One day I woke up early at five o'clock to witness it, but taking picture were not possible.


I got a ride from a couple of people staying in the hostel with me and when we got there, we were the first visitors to arrive at that spot. Soon after, the Lama and all the crew arrived to commence the ritual.




This ritual is very ancient and I just briefly explain how it is organised; The Lama begins the ritual calling the voltures, the body of the deceased person is cut to attract the voltures, after the voltures have eaten the body, the bones are broken into small pieces so that the birds can just eat everything and nothing will be left behind.




I was a bit far, I did not want to approach too much, I am a bit sensitive about these things but I think it was interesting to witness this ancient funeral ritual, personally.




After the ritual was over, I just walked where the ritual took place and I could still see some little bones scattered around the place and also

the bayonets that were used to cut off the body, very impressive.


Later, I went to visit the "Zha Gar" holy mountain. When we went there to visit the place, it was almost dark so, unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to explore the whole area, properly. I just fell in love with this place full of prayer flags everywhere and, carved on the rocks, there were the sutras.




The prayer flag is my favourite symbol of the Tibetan culture. Every colour has got a meaning; the blue represents the sky, the yellow represents the earth, the green represents the water, the red represents the fire and the white represents the clouds. The prayer flags represent the five elements and the natural environment. " Peace and harmony be with me".




My time in this beautiful place is over and I move forward to my next destination which will be Tagong.







Tagong




Tagong is the smallest town along the way and it looks like a bit of those Swiss rustic villages you find in Europe. The town itself is nice, I like the small places, Tagong has got

one main road, no bus station, so the bus just leave you in front of the square where all the minivans wait for the travellers before leaving Tagong for other destinations. Trekking is fabulous and the surroundings are utter gems that will leave you breathless.


I arrived in the afternoon, having not much time to explore well the area, I walked a bit around the village and I was impressed to see whole mountains covered with the prayer flags, I have never seen then, even on TV, I was really dazzled at that sight, yaks and horses grazing the grassland and the Tibetan nomads greeted me with their salutation "Tashi Delek"




I was also impressed to see a huge presence of the police, in this little town, a hundred or even more cops marching along the main road.




I found an accommodation at the end of the road nearby a yellow painted mechanic shop. The hostel was very rustic, I got a single room for forty yuan with a shared bathroom. Later I found out that there was a nicer place to stay called the Khampa Café, the environment Is very warm, the staff

can speak english and is very helpful. I stopped there to have dinner, they had a good menu with western as well as Tibetan cuisine. I talked for a while with the owner of the hostel and she recommended me some places to visit around Tagong.


Ani Gompa is definitely a place that must not be missed out. You will visit some of the most beautiful places of the entire trip. Tibetan were riding horses over the grassland, marvelous carpets of yellow flowers made their way as far as the eye can see. I trekked for several kilometers until I, eventually, reached Ani Gompa. Just before entering into the town, there was a beautiful monastery with glittering golden roofs, long lines of white stupas built over a stoned wall and rolling hills to the background made of it a perfect place to linger for a while.




Also in this place are practised the sky burial funerals, if you are lucky to be here on the right day.




I like the Tibetan village, I observe the old ladies wearing their traditional dresses together with their old men walking up the road, I like this atmosphere

of lost horizons and ancient culture.


Suddenly, it started to rain heavily and I found refuge in a tea shop nearby the village. I was the only person inside the shop, the ambiance was quiet, great views I had in front of me, sipping my puer tea while watching the rain coming down, it was a true spectacle.




I, personally, really enjoyed to be in Tagong and I think it deserves at least three days of exploration and make sure you drop by Khampa Café, they are very friendly and helpful people.




Seda




The next place I will talk about is a bit particular and getting there was all but easy. Seda, also known as Sertar, is a place housing more than 40,000 among the monks, lamas, nuns and buddhist students. Larung Gar is a very different place, I was struck by its diversity, those little houses, where all the monks live, seat on top of the hills and, if you are lucky enough to get here, you will be rewarded with wonderful views of thousands of little red houses attached one another and great golden temples.







Entering Larung Gar it will not be easy, because the government has forbidden the entrance to the foreign nationals and only chinese people can get access to this place.




I was helped by a chinese driver that asked me to hide inside the boot of his minivan and, luckily, that time the authorities did not check the vehicles and I made it to escape the check point before entering the town of Seda.




When I arrived in the monastery area, it was hard ti find out a place to stay, but after an hour of search I encountered a very gentle monk that spoke english and kindly guided me to a hidden dormitory inside the labyrinth of alleys.




He also helped me out in finding the necessary places, during my stay, for instance the dormitory where I stayed it had no toilet and he showed me how to get to the toilet of the hotel without being seen by the staff, there were some concrete steps leading to a narrow passage that eventually finished in the toilet.




The accommodation was purely basic but clean and cost me about 60 yuan per

day. Around the town, it is probably the cheapest place you can get but finding it is a bit hard.


The places to see, here, are numerous, I just mention a few like; (tancheng), it is a beautiful temple with a lot of fine decoration motif of Buddha and prayer wheels that many people are constantly spinning, every day. It is a good place to take some fine photos of the local people, it is like entering in another world and a must see place.




Just a little bit down the road, there is the Sutra Prayer Wheel (zhuanjinglun), recently built but worth to check out.




In front of my dormitory, there is the temple built in honour of the founder of this buddhist college in Larung Gar called (nanzhongzonghelou). The name of the founder of this Buddhist college was (jinmeipengcuo) who died in 2003 and his body was embalmed and kept in a special golden room housing Buddhist relics, very beautiful.




Behind this temple, there is the Lama Palace. That day, when I went to visit it, the visitors were not allowed to enter the palace. I stopped for a while

outside of the palace looking at the monks passing by, some asked if I could take a picture with them, some said only hello, how are you and then, with a big laugh, kept walking past me.


I had an odd sensation of being the only foreign person in this town, but everyone always showed me a great respect and that was very appreciated.




I could spend hours and hours wandering around this place, at every corner there is always something going on, the town is growing, there are quite a few construction sites, which I tried to avoid because they bring a good amount of dust which is not nice to breath in and discovered some shortcut passing through the endless little houses where I could see the daily life of the monks living in there, sitting around the table eating or sleeping on the bed, it was cool.




If I have to pick up a favourite spot, here, in Larung Gar I would choose the Tancheng temple, I spent a long time there, it is a very fascinating place, on top of the temple there is a shrine, I stopped for a

moment to watch at the believers walking around it, from time to time they rang the (fengling) which are little bells and then continued their march around the shrine for several times, the Tibetan believe that walking around the temple, spinning the prayer wheels, for three times brings you a lot of fortune.


It is a place where you can observe the local people practising their old traditions; I observed with particular attention the (kechangtou) which is a kind of meditation that the believers practise, uniting their hands before stretching down on a mattress and repeating it for a few times. The believers always hold their (nianzhu) which is a kind of neckless that they keep coiled on their left hand and their little sutra prayer wheel.




I am very glad to have met this Buddhist monk that helped me in understanding this ancient culture and he also invited me to participate at a sutra class, one day in the evening.




I was very excited that day, the only foreign person inside the sutra hall, it was a great privilege for me. The monk also gave me, as a present, a Vajrasattva Thangka (jingangsaduo)

which is colourful scroll painting developed in the 7th century in the Tibetan area, it has got a Bodhisattva painted on it, it is absolutely splendid and a (hada) which is a piece of silk, white in colour, used as a greeting gift among the Tibetan ethnic groups. He asked me to bring these present to the Lama Khenpo Sodargye to receive the benediction by the lama and, at the time of the ceremony, I was also given the book about Buddhism written by the Lama Khenpo Sodargye. The monk also asked to the staff taking care of filming the ceremony if I could enter in the room where there was an english interpreter translating the sutra in English.


It was my first time to participate at such an event, the class would have lasted two hours.




During the class, I felt a sensation of positivity, one moment to ease your mind, positive words were spelt, it was one of those moments that someone really needs, considering that, out of that hall, the world is different, we always live in a rush, busy, working hard, we do not have much time left to enjoy a bit

more our life. From time to time I need to take some time off, I want to see what is going on in the world, we are distracted by so many things nowadays, it said very well that T.S. Elliot " We are distracted by the distraction that distract us".


I am immensely grateful to this monk that gave me the opportunity to participate to such a meaningful event that I will remember forever and I am also glad to have been to such a unique place, even though I risked of being caught and sent back home.




Chengdu




Chengdu is my last destination of this trip, it has been three weeks that I have not been in a city proper and one week that I did not take a proper shower.




Chengdu is a huge metropolis with a population of sixteen million people, I picked up a room nearby the bus station, I was so tired that I did not want to go searching for a place to stay and plus it was very hot. The room I found had got air condition, a shared bathroom, it was not so

clean but I did not mind that and cost me 100 yuan a night.


Chengdu is a city with plenty of places to visit, I spent five days, here. On a hot day, a fine place to stay is People's park, there is also a tea place and some restaurant if you are hungry, wide and narrow alleys is very popular to taste some local street food, wenshu temple is very interesting and it is possible to admire some fine Buddhist shrines with elegant statues of Buddha and other saints, Chunxi street which is basically the central business district with all the luxurious shops, shopping centers and restaurants, Tianfu square which is the biggest square in south China and the science museum.




If coming to Chengdu, it is worth to have a look at the Le Shan Buddha which is the tallest Buddha in Asia, but I will talk about it in my next blog.



















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27th August 2018

You certainly have avoided tourist off the beaten path...
and you were quite brave to get smuggled into areas where foreigners are banned as you could easily have been spotted by the police.
30th August 2018

You certainly have avoided tourist off the beaten path...
Hello, you said it, quite brave!!!
30th August 2018

I will be passing through Rimini, you early childhood home, in two weeks...
Oh, very nice to hear, it is a long time I do not get back there, you will certainly like it, it is a pretty town.. I would recommend you, if stopping in Rimini, to visit the art gallery of a great Italian photographer from Rimini. The name is Marco Pesaresi, he was a great photographer, the gallery should be in the city center but I do not remember well but you can ask to some visitor center about it. Have a nice time in Rimini, take care. Bye
27th August 2018

I will be passing through Rimini, you early childhood home, in two weeks...
on my way to San Marino.
27th August 2018
Beautiful view of Seda' red houses

Seda
What an adventure Marcos. I hear the road from Yunnan into Sichuan can be particularly scary due to the altitude and precipitous roads. But what treasures you have found. WOW!
30th August 2018
Beautiful view of Seda' red houses

Seda
Hey Dave, that is just right, Seda was a treasure!!!!
27th August 2018
Xiangcheng

Xiangcheng
Beautiful
30th August 2018
Xiangcheng

Xiangcheng
Beautiful as all the places up there...
27th August 2018

Shangri-La
I was in Zhongdian in early 2003. The snow was so heavy that I didn't risk going to the rug shop in case I couldn't get back! We headed into the massive monastery on the hill then into the mountains where we mixed with Tibetans and Yi peoples. In those days it truly was remote and the airport had just been built so it was before it was converted into a tourist mecca and 10 years before the fire. In those days it was akin to Heaven.
30th August 2018

Shangri-La
Well Dave, I wished I was there in 2003, now it is just a touristic town but the prayer flags........
28th August 2018
Young monk in Litang

What an adventure!
I really enjoyed this blog Marcos. And so many interesting photos of the beautiful people, landscapes and temples! You really are having some amazing adventures this summer :)
30th August 2018
Young monk in Litang

What an adventure!
Hello, yes you said that, Amazing adventures, truly magical, I love southwest China... Thanks so much byebye
1st September 2018

Terrific Blog!
Stay safe, pretty risky going to some of those locations. A good story to tell now.
1st September 2018

Terrif Blog!
Hey, yes you said that, pretty risky, but absolutely worth of it, unforgettable experience... Thanks for you comment, really appreciate!!! Bye bye

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