Every time I travel the world, I try to participate in a real and important event related to the location. While in Shangri-La, Yunnan, Tibet, China, I was able to attend, along with my friends, to an unforgettable wedding. The bride was the sister of the driver we have hired during our visit. He felt our desire to participate in such a wonderful event and invited us via our translator and guide. It was a phenomenal experience to see a vivid an real tibetan house in the middle of a very important festivity of their lives. We were the only outsiders and we were able to share a fantastic meal in the morning and also at night of the second day of the 3 day event.
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Trekking to Tibet: Does "Shangri-La" Exist?
In the fall of 2009, I was an exchange student in Shanghai and flew to the Yunnan province for 'National Week' vacation. After a sleepless fifteen hour journey through twisty roads and vast mountain ranges on a 'sleeper bus' (with beds only large enough for the average twelve year old), we arrived in "Shangri-La." The town was small with markets hosting yak meat carcasses, and the hostels had hard, cold beds. This didn't detract from the surrounding subliminal beauty and landscape. Originally, the town was called Zhondian, renamed by the Chinese Government as part of an ecotourism project. The name comes from the 1933 James Hilton novel Lost Horizon, Shangri-La being a fictional valley synonymous with mythical Himalayan utopia isolated from the outside world. Whether or not the government initiative commodifies the Tibetan ethnic minority, an autonomous group that has been mistreated by China for centuries, I certainly appreciated the opportunity to engage with the land and its people. The photo above was taken on an afternoon horseback ride led by a group of Tibetan women, who explained to us the ecotourism project provided them with more of an income to compete with Han Chinese migrants dominating the domestic economy of "Shangri-La." The ironic name should only be taken at face value, just like the beauty in this photograph.
Not far from Shangri-La (Zhongdian) on a plain among the mountains is the beautiful Napa Hai lake and its surrounding marshes.
My two companions and I rented bikes in town and rode the fairly strenuous hour-long distance to the entrance of the area. We didn't know the route exactly, but at each intersection we asked a local to point us in the right direction. You can also find directions in several guidebooks.
When we arrived we started riding the circumference of a long path that goes around the marshes and lake. Along the way we met a couple of Chinese women making the same trek, and also stopped to chat with some locals who were building a new hotel along the path.
Unfortunately, we never actually made it to the lake due to bike malfunctions, but the marshes on the way there are spectacular in themselves. Green grass surrounded on all sides by mountains, grazed upon by horses and yaks being led by their shepherd.
Take a whole day to see this, and liberally apply your sunscreen--the temperature is moderate, but the sun is intense at this altitude. If your bike also happens to lose a pedal, beg the bus driver to let you take your bike back to Shangri-La on board. And get a refund from the rental shop!