Zhongdian / Shangri-La

After visiting Tiger Leaping Gorge, we traveled to Zhongdian – better known as Shangri-La since 2002. Thanks to the guidance of our amazing Tibetan tour guide, we were able to indulge in delicious Tibetan cuisine, take part in local dances and explore the old town of Zhongdian all at an altitude of 10,000 feet!

When first arriving in Zhongdian, this high altitude was most apparent. It seemed the sky and the horizon were in much closer proximity than in the Shanghai or Kunming skyline; Pine trees of deep green and lush mountain tops lined the blue sky in stark contrast. But with the air so thin, at our arrival, many of us preferred the relaxing scenery of our hotel rooms than the outdoors. Prior resting after our long bus ride to Zhongdian, we were greeted in the lobby of the Le Fu Ge Dan Hotel with steaming cups of sweet ginger tea. “It tastes like Christmas!” one of us exclaims, inspiring us to start playing holiday spirited music while waiting for our room keys.

At last, settled in our respective rooms, we collectively sighed. Having been so busy the last week with back to back travel plans, it felt wonderful to rest, even if just for an hour or two. As the sun began to dip below the ever-closer horizon, we prepared ourselves for dinner at a local Tibetan restaurant. A feast including yak’s milk tea, potato pancakes, and yak meat dumplings, everything tasted so foreign yet so delicious! Our meal gave us the energy to traverse Zhongdian’s old town, a winding maze of shops and cafes, restaurants and hotels while at the center of it all, a swirling mass of people dancing under the darkened sky.

Similar to the local dancing we encountered in Liming, this dancing circle was just as vibrant, just as inviting, and just as difficult to follow! The accompanying music rippled through the crowd, guiding them through a leg crossing, arm waving, graceful choreography that everyone seemed to know except the scattering of foreigners. It seemed we were just as satisfied stepping back to watch the swirling patterns of traditional dress, smiling faces, and stars in the Zhongdian sky.

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