My Wife Likes Knives

Trip Start Jun 29, 2009
Trip End Nov 06, 2009

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Called Zhongdian until 2003, it was re-named Shangri-La when it 'was realised' that this was the place featured in James Hilton's The Lost Horizon. Given this write up, we were quite confused and dubious when we got off the bus in the New Town (just 1.5hrs into our expected 3hr local journey) that we had arrived in 'Shangiri-la' as the locals pronounce it. A walk 10 mins in the wrong driection with our backpacks didn't give us any more confidence. Fortunately a helpful soul asked where we wanted to be, qualmed our reservations, and put us on the number 1 bus to the Old Town.

We checked into our accommodation, into a nice big and comfortable room. Unfortunately there was a lot of construction work going on in the area (and in the hostel), which didn't hep to recreate the Shangri-La magic. In fact the construction went on 24hrs a day. The water and electricity did not. This wasn't too much of a problem (putting hygiene aside) until the morning we left at 7am to catch our Tibet flight and found ourselves unable to wash and packing in the dark....

Fortunately, apart from the rampant rebuilding, we enjoyed hanging out in Shangri-La. There is a great nightly dance in the Old Square where the locals (and tourists!) join in traditional Tibetan dancing. We loved the music (Caragh bought the CD!?) and to watch everyone in town join in. Another highlight was the Shangri-La Yak Cheese Shop. We'd tried Yak cheese as part of a Naxi breakfast in Lijiang and didn't think much of it; the Shangri-La Yak Cheese Shop confirmed that cheese as 'young' Yak cheese. 'Old' Yak cheese is infinitely better and we enjoyed a plate of it with crackers and a glass of Yunnan red wine. We were tempted to buy a small round of it, but despite the sales girl's promise that it would last a year, we didn't fancy its chances at the bottom of Caragh's bag for another three months.

Surprisingly (after Dali and Lijiang's ubiquitous scarves and marble shops), we enjoyed window shopping in Shangri-La. They have great little Tibetan 'antique' shops that sold original silver pieces and Tanakas (as well as some tat of course!). There is also a great range of weapon shops! Knives, daggers and swords, all elaborately carved or chiselled, were on display. You can also get rifles and cross bows. Awesome. We didn't fancy the chances of (not injuring ourselves or getting pulled over by customs with) those in the bottom of Caragh's bag either... We did a lot of relaxing on several rooftop bars, enjoying the view over Shangri-La old town. Two favourites were: the Artist Space of The Sacred, for providing a little oasis after all that climbing, it included an eclectic art gallery (great if you like dogs) and for helping us run into John again, the intrepid hiker from the Gorge; and The Cow, where they grow Weed on the rooftop and serve mean Ginger Tea (and where we met three lovely Hong Kong girls).    

Shangri-la also excelled in the monestaries and museums department. On our first day we climbed to the town monastery and discovered the rotating prayer column was being turned by the faithful, manually. We also enjoyed the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Museum, which featured Tibetan Minority and Tibetan Medicine over its two floors. Here we were adopted by Dr Gensang, who was a Doctor in Tibetan Medicine, having studied in Beijing and Lhasa. He is on a secondment to the museum in Shangri-La for two years and after talking and walking us through a brief history of the philosophy, some of the main practices and 'amazing healing herbs', we sat and chatted about his background as a son of a father who practised Western Medicine and a mother who practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine. He also revealed his views on living in Shangri-la, the impact of the ongoing construction and 'preparation for tourism' and of the Yunann food on his health. He also tried to convince us to buy some Tibetan Herb tablets. His claim was that "no one in Tibet suffers from Gynaecological problems, arthritis or weight gain". There appeared to be a magic pill for everything - with no side effects. He recommended for Caragh, being a 'little heavy', 20 days of tabelts that would shift 5kgs.. get this.. wthout the need for any change in diet habits and the weight will not return for 5 years. If he hadn't mentioned the great conditions Caragh might have gone for it. But the Northerner in her believes there is no gain without pain.. and it can't be healthy for the liver to be induced to work overtime 'clearing the toxins' without any assistance reducing the volume going in.... For other ailments, we were convinced though and for chronic pains think that there can be no harm trying. Dr Gensang claimed Stage 2 Diabetes could be cured with 8mths of treatment. We walked away without any pills, but were impressed by the doctor and the museum's free entry.

The Scripture Chamber opposite also had an interesting and free exhibition on the history of the Red Army's Long March. Most impressive was the simulation of the weather conditions the Army marched in through across China's varying terrains. There were a few dubious commentaries about how the minorities supported the Red Army and that this was why they were successful, and also some great propaganda pictures on how happy life is in Diqin now that the Han have introdued a better standard of living through modernisation. Images of women in traditional Naxi dress lugging TV boxes and close ups of satellite dishes were the proof. This was also free and inspired some additional reading on our part - so definitely worth an hour or so. On our last evening we made it up to the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa - a 300 year old (though currently under construction is a new 'Potala Palace II') Tibetan Monastery complex housing 600 monks. The approach to the site is breathtaking with a setting that is truly worthy of the Shangri-la name. A marsh sits at the front of the main gates, which you can walk around and the setting is amongst the intimidating Yunnan mountain range. Its all green and fresh and the monastry complex looks magical against this landscape.

Our three days in Shangri-la were a fitting end to our Yunnan Province trip and a good way to acclimatise ourselves in preparation for Tibet. At an elevation of 3200m we experienced some dizziness upon arrival, but after popping some Diamox, have both been fine - if a little breathless upon tackling any steps (...that's not the dumplings, honest!).
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