Continuing our travels in Yunnan province of China brought us to a small city variously called Shangrila, Shangri-La, Zhongdian, Jiantang or Gyaitang! And the airport is called Diquing. There are ethnic reasons for this surplus of names but it does make travel more stressful, trying to be sure we were heading in the right direction. In the early part of this century the name was changed to Shangrila in the hope of boosting tourism. Some call the name change crass but I think it is brilliant. Some towns put in some cobblestone paving hoping to attract more visitors. But changing the name of the whole place is a masterstroke. Nobody is sure where the mythical Shangri-La was based, so these people are using it anyway. Would you be more likely to visit Shangrila than Zhongdian, or Gyaitang? To complete the confusion, within the County/City/Town of Shangrila is the 1300-year old original townof Dukezong. Sadly a fire destroyed much of the old town earlier this year albeit with no human casualties.
Shangrila is at the top of Yunnan Province, and at about 3,300m above sea level is is the highest of the cities in the province. And the coldest. We’d come prepared although there were times when we were wearing all the clothing we had. Much of what we carried only got a wearing in Shangrila.
Shangrila town is predominantly Tibetan and the countryside is entirely Tibetan. We’d toyed with including Tibet in our travels, but travel there is all highly organised and regimented, and expensive. We figured Shangrila would give us a near-Tibetan experience, and so it proved. Near yet far. Where better to start than the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery called variously Sangzanlin, Ganden Sumtsenling, and also known as Sungtseling and Guihuasi. Or as Little Potala Palace after the real Potala Palace in the real Tibet.
The Monastery is about 5kms out of town and we got adventurous and caught a local bus. We could see the monastery gleaming on the hilltop well before we got there.
The front door is a beauty – very impressive.
And the ceiling of the entrance hall is stunning.
The monastery is a huge collection of temples and other buildings and alleyways and lots of steps.
The reward is great views out over the monastery and surrounding area.The doorways and entrance-ways were wonderfully decorated.
It is an extraordinary jumble of buildings and alleys and stairs.
The fireplaces seemed to be for burning incense and/or (juniper?) branches.The prayer flags are very Tibetan – wind-powered praying.
It seems that life as a monk is not all about meditation. There is still rubbish to be dumped.
It is a view that requires a wide-angle lens or a panorama feature to be able to capture the expanse of it all. Gleaming golden on the hilltop, it really is an awesome sight.
What with all the steps and the altitude, exploring the monastery was quite enough adventure for one day.