Lies in paradise? Shangri-la dreaming

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Saturday, October 18, 2008

I came across this story from the Sydney Morning Herald. The writer, a noted sports journalist, who has taken early retirement, was probably given this freebie trip as a sweetener and farewell present for his hard work as a sports journalist (not everyone can make up some many cliches in such a short space of time).

You can read the full story at

but I will highlight just a few sections which are inaccurate, made up, or myths.

For starters, the story talks about Zhongdian, but uses a picture from Lijiang, a town 4 hours away, lower down and quite different.

1. "Shangri-La is an artificially created paradise; a once remote, cold desert village surrounded by snow-capped peaks, transformed into a Tibetan resort via cement mixers and steel girders ordered from Beijing." Not sure if desert is the right word. And I'd say that Beijing has had little influence over the place, other than giving it money for last year's 50th anniversary, most of the development has been local.

2. "Originally named Zhongdian, the Chinese government renamed it Shangri-La in 2002, exploiting the mythical valley in the 1933 fictional novel, Lost Horizons, in order to boost the tourist trade." The renaming was done by the local government and tourism officials, and later got central government approval.

3. "Very lucky," our Chinese guide in Kunming says when informing us we could enter Shangri-La, one week after the government lockdown. Beijing was concerned demonstrations in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa - sparked by the global journey of the Olympic torch - would spread to Shangri-La and incite the 700 monks in the nearby monastery, built by the fifth Dalai Lama."
From what I heard, the monks were given money to go away, some were put on flights to Shanghai or Beijing while the Olympic torch was in the hood.

4. "The Chinese Government has poured billions of yuan into Shangri-La to appease the locals and perpetuate their Tibetan culture in order to earn foreign exchange from tourists." Foreigners make up a small percentage of visitors to Shangri-la: about 95% of the visitors are Chinese.

5. "Shangri-La lives up to the myth of paradise - if you like the sound of jackhammers, the sight of rubble, the taste of undrinkable white wine at 15 yuan ($2.50) a glass, and walking around with a permanent headache. At 3200 metres, the altitude can create nausea and disorientation and make nights very cold."
There is decent wine to be found, made nearby, from vineyards dating back to the French missionaries.

6. "Insofar as visiting the monastery and shopping are all Shangri-La basically has to offer, one of our group spends more time researching footy scores than walking around Mandala, or the Tibetan Cultural Exhibition."
This suggests rather than have a look around the old town or go to the monastery, he goes in search of an internet bar to find the football scores from Australia - nice.

7. "However, the high summer is a bad time to visit the rest of China because of the oppressive heat and massive movement of tourists."
It doesn't get very hot in mid-summer in Zhongdian, and there are never hordes of tourists.

8. "Shangri-La is accessible by air from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, or via a five-hour minibus ride over mountain passes."
Not many mountain passes, and there are no minibuses going from Kunming to Zhongdian - it is 11-12 hours by sleeper or day bus.
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