Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chinese Odyssey 4: Shangri-La, Expectations of Eden (Unfulfilled)

Well, I’ve been to the hotel many times in different places around the world but this is the first time I’ve visited the ‘real’ place. The Chinese government anointed this little town of Zhongdian and its vicinity as the location of the fictional place described by James Hilton in his book Lost Horizon. I am quite skeptical about its claims as some of my friends warned me not to have high expectations of Shangri-la.

Actually, this is a nice place to relax and unwind. In autumn, the landcape was quite dramatic, with the red and yellow-coated mountains contrasting strongly against the deep blue sky. The scenery was typical of Tibetan countryside and the sun scorching, almost scalding any exposed skin. The high altitude didn’t bother me one bit as we climbed the highland and reached the plateau near central China and Tibet. Some people were seen dragging along their ‘oxygen’ tanks but frankly, I don’t think the altitude was high enough to cause mountain sickness for relatively fit people. I suspect it was mostly human psychology (you know, the herd mentality thingy). Some people hunger for oxygen madly while I was just very hungry for the delicious Tibetan food.

There was a lovely park which has a large grassland and huge lake. We spent the whole afternoon at that place, shuttling between different lakes, with a biggie called Bita-hai Lake. At night, we went to the town square (Du-ke Zong) to see the world’s largest prayer wheel from afar. The reason why we were only seeing it from afar? Apparently hor, the prayer wheel is in a monastery and no females are allowed into the monastery at night wor so we can only snap up a few pictures of something gold glowing in the dark. Anyway, the town square was cool, too as there were a big group of local people doing some sort of public line dancing.

Kinda expected a few cowboys running around the huge grassland. The trees and shrubs are reminiscent of old Western drama like 'Unforgiven' or something like that.

I guess you can see from my short narration (for once!) that there is nothing much at Shangri-la. We flew back to Kunming the next day for some lessons in geology. The caves, rivers and stones at Shih-Lin and Jiu-xiang were a tad more interesting but too touristy as these two places were also given the Unesco World Heritage site status.

I think I'll include pictures of JX (Jiuxiang) and SL (Shih-Lin) in between my next few posts.

This brings my ‘travelogue’ on China to a much-awaited close. I can’t wait to talk about something else much closer to home as I look forward to the close of 2008.

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