Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Leaping tigers and Shangri-la

Until recently, it existed only in a fictional novel and as part of a myriad of resorts and hotel names, but now there is an actual town of Shangri-la, and I'm in it. A few years ago, the Chinese decided that Zhongdian wasn't really pulling in the tourist dollars, so a little nomenclature wizzardway and all of a sudden James Hilton's mythical place has been born in north western Yunnan, close to the tibbetan border. It's more than a little tibettan complete with roving yaks, which isn't surprising as it was once part of Tibet prior to the Chinese "liberation". It's actually a pretty cute place, with a nice old town and a cool athmosphere. Actually it's pretty baltic just now, I arrived to snow flurries at noon and the mercury is well below freezing as I pen this entry. Given that it's two miles above sea level and it's December, I guess it's hardly surprising. But at least the resturants and bars are well equiped with toasty fireplaces. So far I've just wandered about, and visited the local monastry, an impressive and pretty place.

I arrived here after completing the Tiger Leaging Gorge trek, an incredibly beautiful hike through one of the worlds deepest gorges, and just physical enough to give that added sense of achievement. The first day was a bit overcast, and the scenenry nice but slightly underwhelming, but the next morning waking up under the gigantic spires of the mountain and the resulting hike through gorgeous scenery was simply stunning.

I was also with a really nice bunch of people so that made it more fun, though every now and then it was nice to drop back and just enjoy the birdsongs, the sound of the roaring water cascading through the rocks and chasms of the gorge and appreciate the remoteness of such a location in a country of so many people. I'd higly recommend it to anyone with an adventerous bent, especially as the Chinese have damming plans for the gorge.

Prior to the hike, I stayed in the beautifully picturesque town of Lijiang, a couple of hours north of Dali. It's another heavily touristed (by chinese) town but the lovely setting under snow capped mountains and the beautiful winding ancient streets (or at least ancient looking) more than make up for it, and the stay at Mana Naxi's guesthouse is an experience in itself.

Before leaving Dali, I managed to tear myself away from the delicious Bai cooking for long enough to cycle to a couple of local villages and to the nearby lake, and to take the cable cars up the local mountain, which allows you to complete a 10k walk along a path cut into the side of the meandering mountain valleys, which was pretty stunning in itself. Leaving Dali I was quiet sad but I imagine it's somewhere I'll make it back to sometime. Yes, although I'm heading home in a couple of weeks I'm far from finished with China.

No comments: