We travelled from Cizhong continuing north up the east bank of the Mekong. As we travelled upstream the valley became even steeper and rockier, landslides more frequent and the views more dramatic. We spent the afternoon and night in Feilai, really just a short street of hostels and hotels overlooking the stunning Meili snow mountain range. Feilai is just 80km east from the official Tibetan border. This area is a bit of a sore point for China and is frequently closed to foreign visitors, especially in March during the anniversary of the Dalai Lama fleeing Tibet in 1959.
The next morning we travelled back east and south to Shangri-La. The route took us over one of the highest roads in China, and certainly the highest Erin or I have ever been. As we climbed slowly we saw the vegetation around us change. The pine trees thinned and suddenly there were rhododendrons as far as you could see. As we went even higher (maybe 4,000m) the rhododendron bushes got smaller, the trees disappeared and the ground was covered in little alpine plants - we've no idea what they were, but it suddenly made sense why George kept on taking such high and tricky routes on his adventures. These were the kind of landscapes that he wanted to explore. At the high point of the pass (at 4,290m) and still well below the nearby Baima snow mountain, we got out to take some photos. It was freezing, literally, and there were wooly yaks grazing in the meadows around us.
On route to Shangri-La we also stopped at the Dondrupling Monastery, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery that we'd had the chance to explore. The monks wear similar robes to Myanmar monks, maroon in colour, but with extra jackets to take account of the wildly different climate. The monastery was wooden and beautifully painted in the wildest of colours. We explored room after room of Buddha statues, mandalas and even one room dedicated to the Dali lama.
It was then just a couple of hours south to the Buddhist paradise of Shangri-La and a few days rest and relaxation for us.