Day 6: Zhongdian

Ah a good night’s sleep. I feel pretty refreshed with a nice room and a warm bed. I woke up pretty early all the same, though apparently around the same time as the guys. I had the opportunity to enjoy a nice breakfast too at the Hotel, a mixture of east and west in equal proportions. I forgot to ask where to get their black tea, I really want to bring some home with me. I’d feel tacky swinging by though on our way out of town though since we don’t want to spend the money for another night there.

Yesterday we decided to head to Shangri-la and try to be back the following day as early as we can to take a trip up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain mid day before maybe visiting a bar and going to bed. So today we got up and had a great breakfast at the hotel, packed up, and caught a bus. The Zen Garden Inn arranged a rickshaw to carry our bags and hail a taxi with instructions to take us to the Bus Station on the meter, and buy the bus ticket. The price was a strikingly low 7 yuan which is making me think we’ve over paid the one time we took the taxi in Guilin.

The Chinese pronounce Shangri-la as Shen gri li LA. The word itself comes from an English work of fiction written by an author who didn’t speak Chinese nor ever visited Chinese. The town was originally named Zhongdian and was changed in the recent past to Shangri-la for tourist reasons. It struck me that this change in pronunciation is almost like a subtle rejection of what could be seen as a foreign name. Maybe I’m over analyzing. Maybe it’s something like there not being a “gri” sound in the language.

The 4 hour bus ride was an adventure in itself to me. Elmar seemed to enjoy it for the most part as well, but Danny seemed bored to death and slept half the ride. The spectacularly dynamic weather we experienced today was a great backdrop for miles and miles of rural farmland of many different kinds. We wound our way around wooded valleys and for part of the trip we followed a rushing river. The mountain passes eventually giving way to high planes. My parents had remarked about never really getting out into the country side, well we sure did today.

On the bus we met a Chinese student from Shanghai who spoke good english and was incredibly helpful, he took us with him to the hotel he had picked on the outskirts on Old Town in this quaint thoroughly Tibetan guest house. The price was good and it has a ton of character. He was also able to make sure we received the best deal we could on the taxi and that we ended up at the right spot. I’m hoping the 5 of us can share a beer later, I want to thank them properly.

After dropping off our bags we set out to see as much of Shangri-la as we could. First grabbing a bite to eat, being sucked in by a touristy restaurant that was poorly run serving up yak burgers, who could resist that? We then took the bus just outside of town to see this giant monistary that houses some 700 monks. The area open to tourists is small and contrived, but the views were quite nice. From here we could see that Shangri-la isn’t much bigger than say Huntington Beach. It is growing amazingly fast like the rest of China but at what seems like a very recent start. A great many buildings look like they’re no older than a few years. Returning to town we walked in to see this prayer wheel and took a chance to participate in prayer turning it clock wise 3 times. Both of these involved a number of stairs which you start to feel at 11,000 ft of elevation.

There is a noticeably larger police and military presence here. My running theory is it has to do with the unrest a few years back and the large Tibetan population. All the same it’s so much easier to get to Shangri-la than it is to get to Tibet, and I’m quite happy I was able to make this trip.

I’m finding that I’m quite enthralled with all of the cultural differences across the slice of China we’re visiting and relish any chance to participate when I can. Danny and Elmar on the other hand have little to no interest in any of that. Their interests are more towards the food and the location and for Danny a chance to perhaps party. That’s all fine and good, but just something I need to keep in mind. Now more than ever the culture here in Shangri-la is getting me excited for Bhutan. I think ending in Bhutan may be the best because so much is taken care of, I really just have to worry about the next week and a half. I’m loving my time here in China over the last few days, and I wish I had more time. I think if I ever came back I would want to avoid even more the big cities and stick to places like Shangri-la and Lijiang.

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