Shangri-la has been a bit of a funny one. The old town was destroyed by a huge fire just over a year ago and is in the midst of being rebuilt; the place is like a building site rather than a traveler’s oasis. It can give a bit of a sad feel to the place, I can count on my hands the number of other tourists we have seen here; so cafes, restaurants, hostels are all deserted. Even the stall owner’s start their opening prices much lower than you’d expect, which can take the fun out of bartering when you can tell they’re just desperate to sell something, rather than see who can charge the highest price of the day.
The place is still a lovely base to explore the surrounding area. The town sits in a basin surrounded by rolling hills which are easily accessible by public bus. On our first day we went to the end of line three to hike up into woodland there. Clambering up then along several ridges brought us to the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa monastery perched up above lake. The monastery is residence for about 600 monks and you can freely walk around the complex and even into their main building.
We entered during a prayer session so the main room was closed, but the low humming of the prayers reverberated around the entire building giving it an amazing atmosphere added to by the fact the place was devoid of visitors other than ourselves. You could explore the full four floors of the building and even access the roof where we found a monk getting the best reception for his iPhone! In another of the buildings the shrine to demons featured an array of truely terrifying demonic statues; multi-faced, weapon waving, human eating beasts, that would definitely get you focused on your prayers.
The remainder of the hike was lovely, giving panoramic views around the valleys and we even managed to eventually find the long-distance bus station on the way back to book our night bus for the following day. That evening we hiked up the hill behind our hostel to watch the sun set with a few beers. We’re at 3200m here, so even though the days are shorts and T-shirt weather, in the evenings it gets freezing. The cityscape is unusual in the dark, with the new city lit up the odd neon billboard glaring. There’s the large central temple aglow in an orange light, but then there’s the large corner where the old city lies, not yet reconstructed enough to have lights so glooming away into the night.
Today we went on a cycle to find a hot spring that’s located a bit out of town. The directions we had weren’t brilliant and we overshot it by about 10km, before missing it again on the way back, then eventually finding it. The water however was a grim cloudy colour, especially in the designated swimming area. We went for a bit of a hike and climbed down to the stream eventually finding where the sulphur springs enter the water. It still wasn’t very appealing to jump in though so instead we continued our cycle back. A nice undulating route through the hills with some long climbs, but also fast curving descents. Once we got out of town the traffic wasn’t too bad, but you still had to be on top of your guard as the Chinese are terrible drivers and don’t have any regard for cyclists.
A little highlight of Shangri-la was finding this small Nepalese restaurant with the most friendly owners imaginable. I’ve always been a fan of the Nepalese people since visiting Nepal, but this family went beyond that. The town is deserted, so business can hardly be booming, yet whenever we ordered we’d always recieve extras as ‘service’. To the point where we ordered a main each, yet recieved said main along with soup, two sides, a salad, watermelon for desert and unlimited tea with imported shortbread biscuits.
Tonight we head on our first overnight bus all the way back to where this journey started, Kunming, the only place in Yunnan that does cheap fights. Gonna be a fun 12 hours.
Update: Arrived in Kunming, bus ride wasn’t fun.