A Travellerspoint blog

Shangri-La, China

In 1933 a plane crashed in the Tibetan wilderness. Three English and one American were on board. The pilot did not survive. The passengers were befriended by a local monk and taken to a mysterious monastery in a beautiful valley - it was the paradise of Shangri-La. Or so the Chinese government tells us. In fact this in the plot of a fictional novel by American author, James Hilton. It's called Lost Horizon. It's unbelievably and surprisingly described as an account of a true story in China. But we're pretty sure he made it all up, as novelists tend to do.

In 1995, after deforestation was banned in the area around a small logging town called Zhongdian, the government, desperately seeking a new economic focus, renamed the town Shangri-La in an attempt to boost tourism. Despite the phoney pretext Shangri-La was one of our favourite towns in china. It was a lot less busy than Dali and Lijiang and its central "old town" was full of pretty temples and interesting restaurants.

The town is the highest place we've stayed. It's at 3,300m above sea level and you could really feel it. We were both gasping for breath after the smallest flight of stairs! The town is in a beautiful valley full of idyllic alpine meadows with grazing yaks and a profusion of wild flowers. This was exactly the type of environment George would have spent much of his time exploring. We enjoyed exploring it (very slowly) by bike and on foot.

After several failed attempts, we eventually found the rather neglected Shangri-La Alpine Botanical Gardens. Apart for construction workers who appeared to be building a fancy hotel in the middle of the gardens, we think we were the first visitors for a very long time. Amongst the mud and rubble there were some beautiful plants including amazing lady's slipper orchids and a bright pink primula that looked like many that George discovered - though we're no plant experts. They had a photo of one of George's plants on the wall, the "Rodoleia Forrestii". We were very proud.

We were also delighted to find two samples of George's plants on the wall of the local museum. The museum was one of the most bizarre we've ever visited. It was free to go inside (again, we were the only visitors) and the only exhibit that was open (despite tantalising interestingly-named exhibition halls that were all locked) was about traditional Tibetan medicine. They were beautiful but disturbing coloured drawings detailing symptoms and treatments of a great variety of ailments (mainly focused around penises!). We eventually realised that the whole exhibition was a front for a traditional Chinese medicine shop.

It may not have been paradise but Shangri-La was a great place to spend most of our last week in China. There was just one final stop in the city of Chengdu, before heading back to London and a big dose of reality.

Posted by jofacer 13:16 Archived in China Comments (1)

The Beer of China (or the Yunnan province)

So this is the final beer review of our trip. So far the countries have been ranked for their beer a follows:

Vietnam 8.5 out of 10
Thailand 8 out of 10
Singapore 7 out of 10
Lao PDR 7 out of 10
Cambodia 7 out of 10
Philippines 6 out of 10
Malaysia 6 out of 10
Myanmar 5 out of 10

There have been two particularly surprising aspects to Chinese beer. Firstly it is absolutely acceptable to be served warm beer here. Most local restaurants or hostels will serve you bottled beer straight from the box or shelf. Very odd. It has generally been pretty cold here so we haven't been in such desperate need for an icy cool beer but room temperature lager has taken some getting used to. The other surprising thing is the low alcohol content of all the beer. It is absolutely normal to have lager that is 2.5-3.5% and very difficult to find anything stronger (lager in the UK ranges from 4-5% normally). Unsurprisingly the beer is very ricey and consequently very pale and lacking in flavour. We've mainly been drinking Tsing Tao (the national brand) and various forms of Dali beer (a Yunnan brand). Beers vary wildly in cost from 50p to about £4 with most being about £1.50.

There have been a few nice surprises in China though. In Dali there was a brewpub serving interesting black beer and a nice Belgium-style amber ale. And most exciting of all there was a newly established microbrewery in Shangri-La producing black yak beer, Tibetan pale ale, supernova (a coriander and orange peel flavoured beer only brewed on the full moon) and a slightly sweet barley ale. The little bottles were beautiful and the contents were very tasty indeed.

This one microbrewery has definitely pushed up the China beer score. Though I don't think I can possibly make a comment on the whole of China. We have seen such a small part of it. About a fifth of the population live in South West China, about 250 million people. And we have only been to one of the five provinces of the South West. There is so much more to see.... So anyway, the beer of the Yunnan province, China, gets 7.5 out of 10.

Posted by jofacer 11:11 Archived in China Comments (1)

Majestic Meili Snow Mountains

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Posted by erinbunting 23:56 Archived in China Comments (2)

Feilai (near Deqin), China

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.

Posted by jofacer 23:41 Archived in China Comments (0)

The picturesque town of Cizhong

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Posted by erinbunting 02:31 Archived in China Comments (1)

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