8 October 2011

Do Not Harm The Buddhas [Shangri-La, China]

How would you feel if the Government decided to change the name of your home town, in a cheap effort to drum up some tourism. That is what happened to Shangri-La, or ZhongDian as it was known up until 10 years ago. The powers that be decided to rename it after a place mentioned in an British novelists book (Lost Horizon). The thing is; it worked! Tourists flock here. If someone did that to little 'ol Gisborne/G-town/G-troit/Gizzy, I think I'd be pretty pissed.

Shangri-La sits at 3,400m above sea level. Yes, that is almost the height of Mount Cook, New Zealands highest mountain. Another interesting fact; Shangri-La is heavily Tibetan. It actually used to be a part of Tibet, and a lot of the culture, architecture and people remain.

If there is one image that symbolizes Shangri-La, I think that it would be of Ganden Sumtseling Gompa. A huge monastery just north of town. Kieth (CS host in Lijiang) told me that there was a way to get into the monastery for free (normally Y85! that goes straight to the great Chinese Government), so the boys (Khen, Ore and Jef) spent most of a day trying to find it. We jumped on a bus and ended up... in the middle of nowhere, no monastery in sight. We decided to climb the huge hill in front of us for a better view. I'm not sure if you are aware, but the air is pretty thin at 3,400m! About 30 minutes later, we breathlessly reached the top, to find the monastery sitting on the other side in all its glory. It actually ended up being a great idea, as the hill also provided beautiful views over Shangri-La city and the surrounding grass lands.

The trek down the other side was even harder, traversing steep rocky inclines covered in spiky bushes. We finally made it, wandered through a small village and found the side entrance to the monastery. Win!

Ganden Sumtseling Gompa is the most awesome monastery I have seen in my entire life. It is more like a city, with houses, small alleyways and plenty of monks running around, all surrounding three massive temples. The interiors were amazing, with beautifully painted walls, huge Buddha statues and amazing decoration.

The following day Ore, Sam and I hired a bike and cycled out into the grasslands just outside the city. Picture lush green grass, rolling hills, grazing yak, deep blue skies and puffy white clouds. It reminded me a lot of Mongolia.

At the north end of the grasslands is Napa lake. A pretty poor excuse for a lake really, but it was still nice to cycle around. Actually, it was more of an adventure than nice... we often struck wet areas and had to navigate our way around/through them, as you can see in the photos. It made for a dirty trip.

Shangri-La itself was really nice. I enjoyed the Tibetan culture and cuisine. It seems much more relaxed and less touristy than Lijiang or Dali.

From here I plan to haul ass outa China before the national holiday on the 1st October. With a quick stop in YuanYang to check out the rice terraces, I should make it down to Vietnam in plenty of time.

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