Lijiang and Shangri-La, Yunnan


Lijiang is ridiculously pretty, and ridiculously crowded. Imagine willow-draped canals, cobbled streets, curving bridges over said canals – and then imagine every square foot of those lovely streets packed with tourists, and you’ll have some idea of what Lijiang is like.

After a few days in Lijiang, we really needed to get away from the crowds. So we headed north to Shangri-La to relax for a while in the foothills of the Himalayas. The ‘real’ location of Shangri-La is still debated and there are several places in Yunnan Province that are referred to (for the purposes of attracting tourist dollars) as Shangri-La; the town featured in the pics below is the one known in Chinese as Zhongdian.

Zhongdian/Shangri-La is a mostly Tibetan town in northern Yunnan province, close to the border with Tibet. It’s situated on a high plateau at 3270 m, with 5000m+ mountains encircling it, but the land is much lusher than in Tibet itself, with fields of barley and thick grass growing everywhere. It also houses a couple of important Tibetan monasteries, the biggest of which, Songzanlin, looks like a mini-Potala Palace and has about 600 monks, and the largest prayer wheel in all of China.

While there, we spent a day cycling out in the grasslands around a seasonal lake (it appears only for the hottest, wettest months of the year and is basically just a bog for the rest of the year) that attracts heaps of migrating birds. Its shore is dotted with ranches and villages and herds of goats and yaks. Spectacular scenery, although we were both completely exhausted after riding 40 km at 3300 metres altitude with 20 kg kids on the backs of our bikes.