Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Finding Shangri-La

Shangri-La became a stand-in word for a lost paradise set apart from the outside world, made famous by the fictional utopia in the novel “Lost Horizon” by James Hilton. Many locations claims to be the original inspiration for this place but a Tibetan inhabited region of Yunnan province went as far as renaming itself Shangri-La; this was the Shangri-La I visited. I was heavily warned of altitude sickness because Shangri-La is above 10,000 feet; but besides a resting heart rate in the 90s, I was more than fine.

I find the Shangri-La of the novel to be worrisome, but I found this description in the book to be appealingly true of the highlands: “Meanwhile the sun was warm; hunger and thirst has been appeased, if not satisfied; and the air, clean as from another planet, was more precious with every intake. One has to breathe consciously and deliberately, which, though disconcerting at first, induced after a time an almost ecstatic tranquility of mind. The whole body moved in a single rhythm of breathing, walking, and thinking, the lungs, no longer discrete and automatic, were disciplined to harmony with mind and limb.”

SONGZANLIN MONASTERY—This lamasery is made up of hundreds of individual lama’s residences clustered around a temple mount. The temples’ entrances are draped by a heavy cloth enclosing the desnse incensed air inside. We were warned to go inside the temples at our own risk for some who visits Shangri-La never leaves! Inside were many Buddhist deities, some creepy waxed lama figures, and other worship paraphernalia I wasn’t familiar with.
A sneaker-wearing lama in the early morning light at Songzanlin.
DUKEZONG OLD TOWN—We didn’t explore the town as much as came here to see the giant bronze prayer wheel on top of Guishan Gongyuan Temple. I tried pushing the wheel too and it was not easy. When there were people all around the wheel, it still took some effort to push. When I kept pushing after some people left, it no longer budged! What was amazing were the dedication of the old ladies who would climb up the steps to the temple and push the wheel with beads in hand. Sometimes it is hard to understand what God has in mind for those who do not believe in him yet live in humility of a higher power other than themselves. 
Prayer flags // Prayer wheel, super-sized
Me, contributing!
TIGER LEAPING GORGE—Everyone on the trip came to the conclusion individually that this was the most awe-inspiring place that we visited during the entire trip. It is a river gorge with a huge rock in the middle where legend says a tiger was seen leaping across the river. The rushing water of the Class VI+ rapid paired with the surrounding cliffs gave me at once a sense of my diminutive size in the scheme of the God’s universe without alienating me from that scheme.
Tiger leaping gorge in its milder season.

PUDACUO NATIONAL PARK—Like most of the touristy parks in China now, there is no driving in to the park. You park at an entrance, pay a hefty sum, walk through a row of shops, then board an electric car or park vehicle that takes you to the points of interest inside. Pudacuo includes three stops: Shudu Lake, Militang Pasture, and Bita Lake. Each location was breathtaking! I've seen pictures of these places in other seasons and they looking stunningly different at all times of the year.
Sudu Lake
Militang Pasture
Bita Lake
SONGTSAM LODGES—This seemed like a hotel one could see in the pages of Vogue. It has beautiful ethnic d├ęcor, a stove heater in every room, a porch to enjoy the view, and free quality Wi-Fi. It is located on the back side of Songzanlin, requiring a short drive down a cobbled street through a quaint rural neighborhood. Songtsam actually have lodges in all the major Tibetan cities that one might visit. I definitely want to spend more time in the Tibetan regions of China; partly because I love how untainted and simple life felt in these parts, but perhaps more so just to stay at Songtsam’s lodges! I highly recommend it!
Songtsam Retreat in the early morning light.

BUTTER TEA, TSAMPA, & YAK Butter—A Tibetan food staple is roasted barley kernels, or grounded into flour as tsampa. In fact, barley can be seen drying out on racks in every field. Another staple is butter tea, which is like milk-tea but salty. The tea is drunk from bowls and often taken with a mouthful of barley flour, or with the barley flour mixed into the tea forming an edible dough. Yak butter, which tasted more like crumbly cheese is sometimes mixed in. They tasted aight…
Butter tea, roasted barley, tsampa, and yak butter.

HOT POT—Hot pot can really hit the spot when its cold out. This one is made with yak meat, carrots, turnips, and spinach. None of the ingredients were particularly exotic, but I think it tasted so delicious because of the vessel it was prepared in. I couldn't tell any difference between beef and yak meat; but I can tell you the meat was very tender. Though veggies are precious in these parts, they are always served to visitors. And everything can be dipped in crushed dried peppercorns and green onions. 

Hot pot with yak meat, carrots, turnips, and spinach.


  1. Awesome pics...not all of these are take from your iPhone right?

    1. Thanks Jenn!

      The panoramic pics are with the iPhone. The Bita Lake picture is taken with my point & shoot Lumix LX5. The pic with me in it is taken with my mom's Sony P&S. The rest are taken with a Nikon D200 using an AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G lens.

      TMI, right?!


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