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Journey to Shangri-La

Shangri-La is one of the highest places in Yunnan, if I'm not mistaken, it's around 3000 meters above sea level. I was a bit groggy from the journey from Kunming, but I was raring to explore this part of China. I felt a slight headache during the first day, because of altitude sickness, but I got used to it after a day.

Exploring the Old Town

Shangri-La is situated at a point where Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet meet. It is part of the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan. It was formerly known as Zhongdian, but formally changed its name to Shangri-La in 2002. There are no railways leading to this county (yet but I've heard works are underway), the means of transport are by bus, private car, or plane. There are many ethnic groups in the county, but the biggest are the Tibetans. I decided to add this stop to my Yunnan itinerary because of its unique culture.

A fire in the past few years destroyed a huge part of the centuries old, old town. However, the local government did all they can to restore sections in the best way possible. I noticed that some of the structures looked new. This didn't ruin my experience while exploring the town.

The old town is very much tourist-friendly and touristy; however, there are still charming streets and alleys that don't have much traffic.

A French lady I met in the dorm traveled with me for a while during my stay in the city. We hiked up one of the hills to get an overlooking view of Shangri-La. The 3000 meters or more level of the county gave me altitude sickness, making it quite difficult to do even  short hike. I found myself catching my breath more often.

While in Shangri-La, visit the famous Songzanlin or Sumetseiling Monastery.

I've heard some of the local speak another dialect other than Mandarin. They also walk around the old town wearing traditional clothes.

Other than the old town and the monastery, Shangri-La is also home to one of the biggest prayer wheels in the world. The best time to visit this is at night where it lights up the night with its golden light (that rhymed :P).

One of the dishes to try while in Shangri-La is anything that has yak meat in it. This particular dish had way too many onions, but was still different and good.

There's this dancing activity that takes place in the old town's square. This is when locals and visitors alike gather to dance. They play (which I think is) Tibetan music, traditional with a mix of modern. It was good fun to see old and young busting a move towards the end of the day. I tried joining the fun but couldn't quite get the steps.

White Water Terraces

I wanted to go to a nearby national park in Shangri-La, but the entrance fee and cost of transport to go there was a little too much than I was willing to spend. So I decided to visit a farther but cheaper destination. Baishuitai or white water terraces, seemed like an interesting destination.

I was the only non-Chinese on the bus bound for the white water terraces. I made it a habit to ask the receptionist to write the name of the place I want to visit in Chinese characters, so if I butcher the pronunciation, I just show the driver, conductor or a random person the piece of paper.

It was a long three hours one way that passed through small villages to pick up some people before arriving at the entrance of the terraces. It was a short hike up to get to the actual site. It was much smaller than I expected but it was still quite unique and beautiful. The terraces reminded me of a smaller version of the ones in Pamukkale, Turkey, which I've seen in photos.

Getting to the white water terraces is easy, just head to the bus station before 9AM to be able to return on the same day. The ticket costs RMB 25 one way, while the entrance fee is RMB 30.

In the Highlands

I took the day bus going to Lijiang. This time around I got to see the beautiful and scenic countryside of Shangri-La. I kept looking out the window to see as much because I knew the bus wasn't going to make any stops. Shangri-La isn't a small town anymore, there are a lot of buildings surrounding the old town. The road to get to the city is serpentine and winding, but paved.

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