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Shangri-La, Yunnan Province, China

October 31, 2010

By Lauren Chew
San Diego Reader
October 28, 2010

Shangri-La, Yunnan Province, China Songzanlin Monastery, the largest
Tibetan monastery outside of Tibet.

Referencing the book The Lost Horizon, the P.R.C. changed this town's
name to Shangri-La (originally called Zhongdian) in order to attract tourism.

We arrived after a long, long sleeper bus ride from Kunming, the
capital of Yunnan Province. The elevation and the brisk weather
caught me off guard -- especially in comparison to the tropical
temperatures of Kunming. Shangri-La is home to a large Tibetan
population, making it a vibrant, beautiful location to visit.

We visited the Songzanlin Monastery, the largest Tibetan monastery
outside of Tibet. The monastery is located two to three hours up a
windy mountainous path, and it's well worth paying a driver. In fact,
we were just a hop away from Tibet. Not only does the monastery have
one of the most ornate, exquisite temples I've ever visited, but we
also ended up befriending the driver. He invited us into his home and
served us yak butter tea and yak cheese, which is more appealing than
it sounds.

The town of Shangri-La itself is very touristy and cute, with many
vendors selling knick-knacks and the like. I found the rocky,
sometimes-slippery paths to be charming. Additionally, the streets
are lined with delectable food, from Indian to Thai, Tibetan and Chinese.

We also went on a touristy horse ride to discover the area outside
the town. Although I had my reservations about anything touristy, we
were able to enjoy majestic surroundings while observing how the
typical ethnic Tibetan lives. I cannot even to begin to describe how
beautiful Shangri-La is, with its bright blue skies and green,
mountainous scenery.

Although Shangri-la may be the Chinese government's version of a
tourist trap, I still believe it's possible to have an authentic
Tibetan experience here.
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